Nothing else comes as close to bottling reality as the moving image. Maybe that’s because a film unspools in a continuous progression – just as life does. And video has sound as well as images – putting it ahead of photographs, bare sound recordings and even biographical writing in terms of capturing personality. So when it comes to keeping our loved ones alive – even cheating death in a way – the best option is a memorial video.
Memorial videos are usually played at the funeral during the memorial service. Typically, it is a 7 to 10 minute funeral slideshow somewhat hastily assembled by a son or daughter who knows a bit of PowerPoint – or it may be the funeral home which puts it together. For older folks, the slide show is usually a steady progression through their baby photos – to school pictures – through wedding shot – to snaps of the kids – to pics with the grandkids. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the passing of a loved one gives us the chance to create something memorable. Something that truly reflects the personality and the legacy of the deceased. Something that will be kept and handed around and treasured. And with the wonders of modern technology, it has never been more true that “surviving death has never been easier”.
Don’t wait for death
The best memorial video celebrates a life and features the person – in person. How many of us say, after a passing, “Oh, I wish I had spent more time with them,” or “I regret I didn’t record some of their stories.” As humans, while we know that death will visit, we are very good at pretending each day that it won’t be today. And we are always right. Until that one day when we are not.
So, don’t wait for death. Get started on that memorial video before you need it. Dig out that video recorder, set it up on a stand, and film the oldest members in your family. Capture them talking, laughing, crying. Ask them about the happy times, the challenges, what their hopes are for their family. You don’t need to do anything with it now. Its value will become apparent, and you will make use of it, when the subject passes.
Find out who all those people are
When a person does die, so much information goes with them. So much knowledge is lost. Have you ever had the experience at looking at an old photo album and wondering who all those people are? You know some, but there are many others who seem important – but who are they?
Before it’s too late, spend time with your subject and go through the old photographs. Get a pad of those yellow sticky notes and write down who’s who. Ask about the people, their relationship to the family, what the occasion was, and where it took place. Maybe you are able to scan and upload the images to a photo-sharing site and have members of the family – who may live some distance away – add details.
A life in words and print
Few things are as revealing as old letters. Letters written between siblings or lovers – or to a parent or child – often show a side of a person that you may never have guessed at. They can be very personal. They can explain some of a life’s big turning points. Intelligence really shines through in a letter – even more than the spoken word.
Encourage family members to hold on to their letters. And within the limits of propriety, include them in your memorial video. Ask your subject to read them. Film their handwriting. Have them talk about the times. Look at the addresses – who was living at those places at the time?
Assembling the video memorial
The key to a really meaningful video memorial is the diversity of material you include. This is where you go beyond the ordinary funeral slideshow. So, you should include interview footage if you have it; you should include home movies – maybe from a vacation or a special occasion. You must include photographs of course – it wouldn’t be a memorial video without photographs. But take care to bring back some luster to them – these days it is easy to retouch a photograph with digital editing software. And be sure to include captions on the photographs in “lower third” text.
Did the subject have a favorite author or poet? Ask someone to read a bit on camera and include that in your memorial video. Are there significant documents – diplomas, discharge papers, immigration documents, a first pay stub? Bring those in.
Often, after a passing, friends and relatives visit. Sit them down and ask them about the deceased – record them on video. Have them speak to their eulogy – if they have written one. What about the ancestors – do you know anything about them? Where did they come from? Where did they settle? If you know those things you can include them as narration to the memorial video.
Give them wings
Once you have assembled your video memorial, you will want to send it out to the world. Again, today’s technology gives us endless possibilities. First off, you will want to burn your memorial video to DVD. And make a nice box cover using your best images and with important details of the life. If you are organized, you will be able to give out copies at the service. If you have interview material to incorporate, it will follow later.
Inevitably, some people will have been unable to attend the service. Maybe there were grandchildren who are at school in another state. So why not upload the memorial video to YouTube or another online video hosting service? You can compress it for an iPod or even a phone.