It is the refrain I hear most often when I am explaining my work to someone for the first time: “I wish I had known about you before my father had a stroke…before my mother died…before grandmother broke her hip….” We want to believe we are mortal, and yet everyone’s time comes. Most people have long fantasized about the day they might search for a biographer for hire, but never took the first step towards reality.
Once our loved ones have become ill or incapacitated or are gone forever, their first-person stories are gone with them. I have written biographies posthumously by interviewing those who knew the person and by gathering his or her letters and various writings and artifacts. These are also wonderful books, but they do not allow the subject of the book to tell his or her own story the way he or she wants it told.
This is why I want more people to know about the work of personal biography: so we can capture the stories now. Rather than saying, “If I had known earlier,” be proactive and begin interviewing your loved one now about his or her life. Before it is too late, capture those memories yourself or consider hiring a biographer to do the work for you.