Local man helps remember legacies of seniors with custom books

Legacies of Life helps older people pass their stories on to loved ones

Legacies of Life helps older people pass their stories on to loved ones

GATES, N.Y. — When you die, who will remember your story? Who will carry on your wisdom, your experiences, your beliefs? Who will tell your great-grandkids your best jokes? Through a local organization called Legacies of Life, you will (in a way).

Nicholas Gatto founded Legacies of Life exactly 30 years ago. In the decades since, he has recorded the histories of dozens of people at the end of their lives. He works with clients to turn their memories and experiences and lives into a book that can be passed on to their loved ones. 

He got the idea early on in his career as a geriatric social worker.

When he came to seniors’ homes to talk finances and help enroll them in services, seniors tried to pull the conversation elsewhere. 

“They were veering away from that, and wanted to talk more about the pictures on the wall, where they’ve been, all those experiences,” Gatto said. 

So he developed an outlet for them: Legacies of Life. If someone’s interested, Gatto starts with several interviews. 

“[They] talk about their history, their childhood, the grown-up years, their family, what they’ve learned, their work experience,” he said.

Gatto works with them to collect photos, songs, drawings, and anything else the client might want in the book. After several rounds of editing and revising and tweaking to perfection, the finished manuscript goes to a local book binder. 

“Family members from out-of-state, out-of-country, locally attend the meeting where I present the book,” he said. “And they are – tears come out, a lot of ways.”

Over the years, Gatto said he’s only seen the need for this kind of service grow. While Gatto himself doesn’t keep a copy of the manuscripts — as he sees the stories as the properties of the storyteller — some of the memoirs stick with him.

One of the most powerful legacies he’s recorded was for a Holocaust survivor. 

“[The] person was in a concentration camp in Auschwitz,” Gatto said quietly. “Showed me her tattoo, and what she went through … yeah.”

Every interview poses challenges, but he said that person’s life in particular was a struggle to condense.

“I let our elders know — I let her know — that it is impossible to capture your entire life within 70, 80, 1,000 pages. The library downtown can’t house as many volumes that [you] could produce from what you experience. Especially, what she had to go through. But we have to start somewhere, and lets start somewhere.”

These services do come with a cost. Gatto’s packages range from between $800 to over $3,000, which he realized early on may be out of range for some people.

“I had someone approach me 20 years ago, and someone was like, ‘That’s wonderful! What a beautiful project. It’s too bad I can’t get it done,'” he said. “Gear switched. Of course, I still do the private. But I also need to acknowledge that a lot of seniors, a lot of elders, a lot of end-of-life — they don’t have the resources, and that’s okay. Let’s get it done.”

To help facilitate low and no-cost legacy creation, Gatto is working with several others in the area to create the Finger Lakes Legacy Center. This would be a space for people who are at the end of their lives who don’t have the resources to seek out private legacy creation.

Gatto’s the first to say he didn’t invent this style of record-keeping, and he’s eager to keep it going in Rochester beyond his own work. 

He’s been helping to train graduate-level social work students in his method of boiling down a life into a short book. And he’s been doing it for years, oftentimes for free. But with the creation of FLLC, he hopes to formalize and expand the process.

If all goes well, FLCC could be formalized in the next year or so. 

If you or a loved one are interested in recording a legacy, click here to email Gatto. To reach Legacies of Life by phone, call (585) 247-7855.

Legacies of Life at 6 p.m.

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