I have just pre-ordered a book called Having The Last Say – Capturing Your Legacy In One Small Story, by Alan Gelb. The author offers to explain how to write short personal narratives that serve as a powerful form of life review.
I think it sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to read it. I particularly like the phrase life review. Can we look back over our own lives as if they were a book or film and review them? It would be quite brave. What if we’ve fallen short of our own expectations or the expectations of others? What if we wanted our life to be Terminator, but we accidentally made it Terminator Genisys?
Gelb might not mean review in that sense. I’ll let you know when I’ve read the book. He has already helped me though. He has helped me to form my thoughts about Neil Vines. I helped Neil ghost his memoir Powerful Beyond Measure last autumn. He died on April 20th this year. He was only 22. I haven’t blogged since because I wanted to write something very special. Ironically perhaps for someone who is always telling people: “Don’t get it right, get it written,” I didn’t know how to say what an absolute honour it was to help Neil and what a privilege it was to be trusted to write his memoirs.
Neil, a personal trainer, was 21 when I met him. His sister Sarah contacted me because Neil had a brain tumour and wanted to write a book. I spent three days with Neil, his mum Judith, and Sarah at their home in Gloucester. Neil had the kind of beautiful, easy character that comes from being the baby of a close and devoted family. I was prepared for my time with Neil to be tough. We would be talking about cancer after all. I was going to be asking him about death. But Neil was light hearted and amusing. His life-after-death plans were to haunt his brothers and sisters. And he was so positive. Not positive like some naff Facebook meme but thoughtfully so. We talked about the dark times but Neil wanted to inspire others. He set out to do some physical fundraising challenges during chemotherapy, and he did them.
One of the main reasons people read memoir is to live through someone else’s experiences and consider, consciously or not, how we would do things differently or the same. Many times we are reading memoir to see how someone else has survived and to be inspired by their triumph. Each session, each day with Neil gave me that feeling. I could say that I aimed for Neil’s book to be inspirational too but actually it couldn’t have come out any other way. Neil was inspiring. All I had to do was shine a light on that.
Neil and I talked a lot about his heroes. Rocky and Arnold Schwarzenegger were two of his. Neil made a phenomenal YouTube video of his story that includes some of their quotes. You won’t regret watching it. When I went home, since Neil wasn’t able to go his beloved gym any more, I became more dedicated to fitness than ever. Above the leg press machine at my gym is a photo of Arnie. I texted Neil to say I was giving Arnie a little nod from him each time. I still do that although I did shake my head the visit after seeing Terminator Genisys. I’ve forgiven Arnie now. I think Neil would too.
As well as the brain tumour chapters, Neil’s story was a life review. We talked about everything he’d done in his 21 years. He’d had loads of adventures with his siblings and his mates. Gelb suggests we can write a small story but while Neil’s was short in size – since he was only young – it is huge in its message of love and courage. As one of the reviews of Neil’s memoir says, his life was “fantastic and fulfilling.”
I wish Neil had never had cancer. I wish I had never had to meet him. But since I did I’ll forever be grateful and I won’t forget him. Gelb promises that we can write short personal narratives that serve as a powerful form of life review. Neil did that. He was powerful and so is his story – Powerful Beyond Measure.
You can read more about Neil, donate to The Neil Vines Trust and buy a copy of Neil’s memoir through his website.