Nothing else comes as close to bottling reality as the moving image. Maybe it’s because a movie unfolds in a continuous progression, just as life does. And video has sound as well as images, putting it ahead of photographs, pure sound recordings, and even biographical writing in terms of capturing personality. So when it comes to keeping our loved ones alive, even by cheating death in some way, the best option is a memorial video.
Memorial videos are usually played at the funeral during the memorial service. It’s usually a 7-10 minute funeral slideshow put together in some haste by a son or daughter who knows a little PowerPoint, or it could be put together by the funeral home. For seniors, the slideshow is usually a steady progression through baby photos, school photos, wedding photo, kids snaps, and photos with the grandkids. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But the passing of a loved one gives us the opportunity to create something memorable. Something that faithfully reflects the personality and legacy of the deceased. Something that will be saved, given 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 introduces the person: in person. How many of us say, after a death, “I wish I had spent more time with them” or “I’m sorry I didn’t record some of their stories.” As human beings, even though we know that death will visit us, we are very good at pretending every day that it won’t be today. And we are always right. Until that day when we are gone.
So don’t wait for death. Get started on that memorial video before you need it. Get out that video recorder, put it on a stand and film the oldest members of your family. Capture them talking, laughing, crying. Ask them about the happy times, the challenges, what are their hopes for their family. You don’t need to do anything with it now. Its value will become evident, and you will make use of it, when the subject passes.
Find out who all these people are
When a person dies, a lot of information goes with them. So much knowledge is lost. Have you ever had the experience of looking through an old photo album and wondering who all these people are? You know of some, but there are many others who seem important, but who are they?
Before it’s too late, spend time with your subject and review old photographs. Grab 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. Perhaps you can scan and upload the images to a photo-sharing site and have family members, 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 to a person that you may never have guessed. They can be very personal. They can explain some of life’s great turning points. Intelligence really shines through in a letter, even more so than the spoken word.
Encourage family members to keep their letters. And within property lines, include them in your memorial video. Ask your subject to read them. Film your letter. Ask them to talk about the times. Look at the addresses – who lived in those places at that time?
Montage of the memorial video
The key to a truly meaningful memorial video is the diversity of the material it includes. This is where it goes beyond the ordinary funeral slideshow. So you should include interview footage if you have it; it should include home movies, perhaps from a vacation or special occasion. You must include photographs, of course; it would not be a commemorative video without photographs. But be careful to bring some shine back to them: these days it’s easy to touch up a photo with digital editing software. And be sure to include captions on photographs in the “lower third” text.
Did the subject have a favorite author or poet? Ask someone to do some on-camera reading and include it in your commemorative video. Are there any significant documents: diplomas, discharge papers, immigration papers, a first pay stub? Bring those.
Often after a death, friends and family visit. Sit them down and ask them about the deceased, record them on video. Ask them to talk about their eulogy, if they have written one. What about the ancestors? Do you know anything about them? Where do they come from? Where did they settle? If you know those things, you can include them as the narration of the commemorative video.
give them wings
Once you’ve assembled your memorial video, you’ll want to send it out into the world. Once again, today’s technology gives us endless possibilities. First, you’ll want to burn your memorial video to a DVD. And make a cute cover using your best images and with important details of life. If you are organized, you will be able to hand out copies on the service. If you have interview material to incorporate, you’ll follow along later.
Inevitably, some people will not have been able to attend the service. Perhaps there were grandchildren who are in school in another state. So why not upload the memorial video to YouTube or another online video hosting service? You can zip it up for an iPod or even a phone.