Re/composing Memories: Aging, Emotion, and Autobiographical Memory


  • Meridith Griffin
  • Kelsey Harvey


Aging, Memory, Emotion, Dynamic Reminiscence, Memoir


Memory is an elusive and yet compelling concept. In this paper, we explore the narrative complexity of autobiographical memory, from Randall and McKim’s (2008) existing framework that outlines four overlapping angles: truth-wise, self-wise, time-wise, and other-wise. We seek to take up and extend each of these angles, or dimensions, aiming to bring them to life with empirical data - and we propose a fifth angle, emotion-wise, highlighting the affective nature of autobiographical memory. Based on participant observation, life history interviews, and the written memoirs of older adults who participated in (primarily) library-based writing groups in Southern Ontario, Canada, we employed narrative inquiry to investigate the process and activity of writing as a leisure practice. In our data, participants discuss their unconscious and/or deliberate blurring of fact (reality) versus imagination in their memory-based accounts. They reflect on their shifting conceptions of past, present, and future selves within the stories they tell as well as their recounted experiences of self-discovery and self-exploration. They also explore the role of others in shaping their stories and memories. Throughout, the influence of emotion is palpable. We posit that dynamic reminiscence, such as that represented by the crafting of memoirs within writing groups, enables the exploration of these dimensions of autobiographical memory. As such, the capacity of participants to engage in narrative practice is nurtured, and the greater is the concordant capacity for development, growth, (self-)wisdom in later life.