‘Til death do us part

Allie: Do you think our love, can take us away together?
Duke: I think our love can do anything we want it to.
Allie: I love you.
Duke: I love you, Allie.
Allie: Good night.
Duke: Good night. I’ll be seeing you.

 

So ends the life-long love story of Noah and Allie, expertly penned by Nicholas Sparks in the bestseller The Notebook. It is a bittersweet moment and brings the audience to tears. At this end of both the book and the movie, the main characters pass away. Yet it can be an uplifting ending, as we feel comforted that they get to do so together, in a loving embrace, on their own terms.

There are numerous accounts of long-time, married couples dying within minutes, hours or days of each other. More common are the stories of long-time, inseparable couples passing away within several months of each other.

We now know that dying of a broken heart is very real and that deep love is powerful enough to keep couples together in life, and in death. In fact, it is considered one of the best-documented examples of social relations on health. (Christakis and Elwert, University of Wisconsin, 2008).

In loving memory of my parents, Shirley and Nate.

For the family members left behind, the death of a beloved mother or father is always a devastating blow. But the death of the second parent so close in time to the first comes with special meaning of its own. In addition to overwhelming grief, feelings of vulnerability increase. It can intensify our childhood memories and force us to ask one of greatest of life’s questionswhat is the meaning of it all?

The legacy of wisdom, values and stories passed to us by our parents cannot adequately replace the hole left in one’s heart after their passing. It can, however, provide peace, guidance and hope during the dark days of grief. Our parents’ visions, dreams and lessons-learned (and shared) can serve as beacons in navigating the days, weeks and months following their death.

There is solace and comfort to be found with the concept that their love was so strong it didn’t know the bounds of life and death. There is a simple beauty in the end of a story in which the loose ends aren’t just tied up, but are bound together for eternity.

I recently lost my father (Nate Wagner died at 95) and subsequently my mother (Shirley Wagner died at 90) passed just a few months later. It does offer me much comfort that I had them as a very important part of my life for so much of my adulthood.  This blog post is dedicated to their beloved souls bound up in eternity. I miss them both dearly everyday.

 

P.S. On July 1st Canada celebrated its’ 150th Anniversary of Confederation with lots of festivities and fireworks across the country. It is amazing to think that Canada was only 55 years old when my Dad was born and the 20th century history he witnessed in his 95-year lifetime. Happy Birthday Canada!

Virtual Reality – A New Frontier for Legacy

Have you ever looked through old photos of loved-ones who are deceased and wondered where the pictures were taken or which family members were in it? As a friend recently discovered after her grandmother passed away, this predicament left her frustrated and saddened. There was no one left who had the knowledge about these family archives.

VR to the rescue

Imagine sitting around the Thanksgiving table and reminiscing about Grandpa’s old war stories  when you realize no one remembers where he was stationed during the war. Now imagine being able to ask Grandpa and get the answer directly from his likeness. Not long ago we would have thought this only possible in the realm of science fiction, but with the development of Virtual Reality (VR) technologies it is now closer to being attained than ever before.

Photo via TED, Duncan Cheng.

Photo via TED, Duncan Cheng.

Coming soon

Performance artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, creator of The Hereafter Institute, offers virtual reality reconstructions to deceased loved-ones.This experience allows living family members to step into a reconstructed scene with their deceased loved-ones and listen to the retelling of  memories pertaining to the dearly-departed. It leaves users with the feeling of being with their loved-one, connecting to the sights, sounds and stories that are cherished.

When asked if his art could become a viable company, Barcia-Colombo concedes it does serve a useful purpose. “I am hoping the Hereafter Institute (will) make us think about the ever present role of technology in planning future memorials and rituals – how we want to be remembered.”

VR and legacy preservation

At Memoirs Productions, we use today’s cutting-edge technology– drone shooting and 4K High Definition video– to record and preserve our productions on archival DVDs. This enables future generations to see and hear the stories told by their loved-ones. Add the gestures and unique body language that VR allows one to see, hear, and feel and soon we will be able to offer an immersive legacy experience beyond anything thought possible only a few years ago.

VR technology is advancing to the point where we will record stories and personal responses to specific questions so that future generations will be able to interact with their ancestors. We can imagine sitting beside Grandpa and have him directly answer the question about where he was stationed during the war.

What better way could there be to learn from those who are dearly departed than to hear their stories while we are “sitting in the same room”? We are looking forward to working in Virtual Reality technology with families that are passionate about legacy preservation. We’ll keep you posted…

Back to School, A Special Moment in Life!

Depending on where you live, the month of August or before or after the Labor Day holiday mark the beginning of the school year. It is the end of summer and time for families with children to embrace the routine of school life. More than birthdays and anniversaries that are celebrated on different dates for each family member, the return to classes is one day of the year when we stop, observe and chronicle the passage of time for our children. This past week Facebook’s news feed has been filled with similar photos of students and their siblings standing dressed in their new outfits with backpacks on, ready to go.

 

Each year at this time connotes a benchmark of growth, both in size and in maturity. Although traditionally we remind you to write a Legacy Letter around the holidays, this time of year lends itself very well to write a short note to each child. You can save these letters for them to read perhaps at the end of high school or college, a milestone in their education. It can contain words of encouragement, your hopes and dreams for them, as well as how you have seen them grow from one year to the next. This process can be a rewarding collection for both parent and child. Whether they are just starting out in kindergarten or already in their last year of high school, it’s never too late to take the time to mark the passing of these precious moments.

 

Congratulations to Mom and Dad. You survived the summer! Hope it was a great one. We wish all new and returning students a wonderful school year filled with life-wisdom and joy!

“Chilling” in the Summer: Reflecting on One’s Life and Legacy…

Summer is here and with it come BBQs, pool and deck parties, and family reunions. Seize these long summer days and evenings as wonderful opportunities to celebrate a loved one before you ‘have to’. We would like to propose an easy, fun way to take advantage of this time.

Around the table — or the campfire

It can be true that we mostly take the time to reflect on the qualities, experiences and legacy of loved-ones when grave health concerns arise or they pass away. But why wait? Sharing our thoughts and perspectives of cherished-ones may be more beneficial when we can do it together.

Seize the opportunity while around the picnic table or the campfire to celebrate an honoured attendee. Today we’ll call her Gail. Explaining that the group is going to take turns sharing a memory, a quality or piece of wisdom they have learned from Gail. To begin the conversation ask questions like: What impact has Gail had on your life? What has she taught you? What do you admire most about her?

family picnicGail, in the meantime, might be a bit uncomfortable. That’s OK! Reassure her that she’s loved and respected and also to just sit back, relax (if she can) and ENJOY! Place your smartphone with the voice memo ON and off you go!

Lead off the conversation yourself. This way, you can put people at ease before you pass the baton to the next person. Don’t let anyone skip out! Even just a brief answer can be as meaningful or poignant as any longer story told.

You’ll be surprised at how most people look forward to their turn to share. If someone gets tongue-tied, as may happen with younger children, gently guide them with questions. Ask them an alternative type of question such as, “Is it fun to hang out when Gail is around?”. That way they’re sure to feel included.

Trust us on this one

The trend of living funerals (also known as pre-funeral) is proof-positive that communicating what is meaningful is best done when you can tell someone directly and with purpose. Of course, that is not always possible. After leading this exercise with her extended family following her grandmother’s funeral, a friend shared that she was repetitively thanked for starting the exercise, which created an opportunity for everyone to voice their love and lessons learned from Grandma.

Lightning round

Back to Gail. When everyone has spoken and the circle has come back to you, thank everyone and announce one final, speedy turn around the table. Depending on Gail’s personality, invite everyone to share something “typical of Gail.” Whether it’s one of the dozens of sayings she likes to quote or is known to say, or a description of her most memorable outfit, ask participants to shout out their favorite. Get ready for some hearty laughter and don’t be surprised if you wind up going up around the table twice!

Don’t delay. Summer is almost over!

‘Just because’ is more than reason enough to get the stories told and recorded.

Talk To Me…and the Whole Internet?!

Arianna Huffington’s daughter Christina is the creator and executive producer of the newly released Talk to Me project on the HuffPost blog. Endeavoring to become a movement, Talk to Me encourages children and their parents to do just that – talk to each other – with the added twist of broadcasting their conversations using Facebook Live.

When I learned about the project, which launched April 4th, my initial reaction was positive. What’s not to like about parents and kids talking to each other and recording it for future generations? (That’s what Memoirs is all about!) The more I thought about it though, the more I wondered about the “live aspect. Sure, it’s a fine way for Facebook to promote its new feature and a great collaboration between two media empires, but what did that have to do with private conversations between family members?

Talk to me

The Pros

Any encouragement for Millennials to lift their heads from their devices and engage in face to face conversation is wonderful. In a world where parents ask their kids what they want to eat for lunch using text messaging, sitting down face-to-face and asking meaningful questions (and getting meaningful answers) seems a rare occurrence. In fact, since the majority of us are less practiced when it comes to meaningful conversations, Talk to Me offers the same great list of questions that personal historians use to capture life stories and get the conversation rolling.

        • Tell me something you’ve never told me.

        • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were my age?

        • Tell me the story of the happiest moment you’ve ever had.

        • What is the hardest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

        • What’s the biggest lesson you’d like to pass onto future generations?

Although many celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Vin Diesel and Melinda Gates have posted their conversations, dozens of “regular” families have already participated as well. Using hashtag #TalkToMe and a promise to share their favorites, Huffington Post has featured several conversations on their website. Featured topics include sensitive areas like divorce, autism and LGBTQ equality. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/favorite-moments-from-talk-to-me-series_us_57032680e4b0a06d5806bc6b

 

The Cons

It is clear that, through the lens of shared experience, the featured Talk to Me conversations revolve around topics whose discussions are of benefit to others. Listening to stories of struggles and discovering we are not alone – or better yet, gleaning insight and solutions to our own issues –  is a good thing.

Recording conversations with loved ones to be preserved for future generations to learn from is also a good thing.

If people have these conversations live, and post them for the world to see and share (using Facebook Live and the #TalkToME hashtag) the “sacred” project starts to lose personal and confidential value. In the digital era, where nothing seems off limits for an online post, aren’t there certain conversations that should remain private?

In his book The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America, legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen examines the deep correlation between the time that it takes to get to know each other and the manner in which it is done. True knowledge of another person is the culmination of a slow process of mutual revelation. It requires the gradual setting aside of social masks, the incremental building of trust, which leads to the exchange of personal disclosures. It cannot be rushed…In a world of short attention spans, privacy is necessary to protect us from the misjudgments that can result from the exposure of too much information as well as too little information.”

 

Neither Pro Nor Con

Talk to Me, in essence, stands for everything that is beneficial about sharing important conversations with our families. Using social websites in this way has farther reaching consequences than intended. Video posting might be integral to online sharing– but the price of making private moments public may be too high to pay for 5 minutes of fame on Huffington Post.

We encourage you, as always, to have these conversations! And by all means record them and share with future generations of your family. If your children are still too young to engage meaningfully, you can always enlist the help of a personal historian to facilitate. Either way, strengthening the bonds between family members through the communication of stories and wisdom is well worth preserving.

What do you think? Should private family conversations be take place live on the internet?

Iris blogs on the Irish (ancestors that is…)

Woven intricately into the fabric of life stories are the threads that link us to the dearly departed: our ancestors. Whether we live in the country they once immigrated to, follow the customs of a culture they married into, or simply bear a physical resemblance to a family member from the past – our lives are invariably tied to those who came before.

Some families have been diligent about preserving the ancestral record keeping. Many of us are interested in learning more about our roots and are faced with the daunting task of doing the research. Before access to the Internet it entailed trying to track down and gain access to county or religious records. This work was usually done in-person and often involved travelling to or communicating with a different country, when immigration was involved. Once located, it was tireless work to manually sift through the paper trail.

Now, with the rise of online genealogical websites such as Ancestry.com (which even allows you to submit a DNA sample to help your search!), much of this research can be done in the comfort of our own homes.

Get ready for Saint Patrick’s Day

For those looking to discover their Irish roots FindMyPast.com, a genealogy hub, has indexed the entire National Library of Ireland’s records collection by name, year and place. Even images of the original documents can be accessed by following online links. “In less than five years, we have made over 110 million records (with 300 million names) available online for the first time,” says Brian Donovan, Irish records expert at Find My Past.

Example of parish records

One of the best reasons to use a website like Find My Past is that their collection of digitized documents goes beyond the parish records. “In addition to birth, death and marriage records, we have historic newspaper archives, petty court records, dog license applications and loads more besides,” says Donovan.

From the past to the present

The true gift that these kinds of records offer goes beyond the names and dates on a registry and completing stories of who our ancestors were. As researchers of an Emory University study found, family stories are beneficial as they provide individuals with a sense of identity through time. They offer us, in a nutshell, a small piece of the puzzle of who we are today.

If you’re curious to find out more about your Irish ancestors now is the time to dig a little further: using FindMyPast.com is free from 9am Tuesday March 1 to 9am on Tuesday March 8, 2016.

Happy Searching!

Black History Month, A Celebration of Life: The StoryCorps Griot

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month, a time we give special attention to learning about the contributions, history and life stories of African Americans. One great resource to help us celebrate this month is The StoryCorps Griot Initiative.

Unique to Western Africa, a Griot (pronounced gree-oh) is a genealogist, a historian, a storyteller – who passes down family and community history to the next generation. In this spirit, StoryCorps spent a year (2007-2008) travelling around the US with their mobile recording booth recording and preserving the life stories of African American families.

StoryCorps Griot participants

StoryCorps Griot participants

The Griot recordings are archived at the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress. This ensures that these invaluable stories are not only preserved but also presented with dignity. Many of these recordings are available on YouTube (type “Storycorps Griot” into the search engine). Here are a couple of favorites we recommend. Enjoy!

 

Brigadier General Robert Crear

BG General Robert Crear, commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is interviewed in his hometown of Vicksburg, MS. The General speaks about his desire, at an early age, to become a successful member of the army, his projects in the Corps of Engineers and his current position as the first African American President of the Mississippi River Commission.

 

Charles Blue Sr.

Charles J. Blue Sr. is interviewed by his son about his personal history that led him to become a church organist and choir director. Notably, his interaction and involvement with Dr. Martin King Luther Jr.’s march in Greensboro and his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is discussed.

 

Coincidentally, this month the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has highlighted in their Oscar awards the African American presence by having Chris Rock host and including numerous presenters. Enjoy the Oscar buzz!

Genes and Genealogy: Inextricably Linked to Discovering Personal History

MODIFIED TREE copyUncovering the life stories of our ancestors can help us answer many questions about who we are. They not only may be fascinating; they can provide valuable insights into our identity that cannot be answered by searching within oneself. The stories and archival documents from the past are also an invaluable resource for revealing our family’s medical history. Whether discussing it with our elders or combing records in search of important dates and names, it’s worth taking the time to look for clues that can help confirm or predict disorders for which we might be at risk.

In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving Day National Family History Day. At times when families gather, we are encouraged to talk about and record the health issues that have touched the family. But whether with beloved family members or newly discovered relatives, asking health-related questions can be a sensitive topic. “Why,” people will want to know “are you asking these questions?”

 

A STORY OF DISCOVERY

In 1993 Stanley M. Diamond, the founder of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland, learned through his nephew’s diagnosis that his Ashkenazi family with roots in Poland carries a newly identified mutation of beta thalassemia, a hereditary blood trait a gene concentrated in Jewish families with Sephardic roots. His  Beta-Thalassemia Project, now serves as a model for the link between genealogical research and the study of the evolution and spread of genetic diseases. He offers us some important advice on how to get the answers we need.

1.Researching your family’s medical history and making a genetic tree requires talking to everyone, and frequently more than once.

2. Don’t get caught wishing “If only!”. Talk with (and record) older generations now.

3. Face to face meetings are the best. When people have confidence in you, they are more likely to trust you with their medical history.

4. Allow the conversation to evolve. Don’t try to get all the information in one conversation.

5.  Carefully posing the medical/genetic question: How you say it and what you say should be tailored to your own comfort level and the nature of the reaction.

6.  Confidentiality must be respected; permission is necessary to share information.

Source: Genes and genealogy are different sides of a shared coin in personal history JewishGen.org

 

RECORD AND SHARE

The Surgeon General has created an online tool, My Family Health Portrait, to help record your family’s health history. You can enter information, learn about risks for conditions that run within your family and share with your healthcare provider. Please remember confidentiality must be respected. It is helpful though, to let those we speak to understand this information can be valuable for others and to their future generations and respectfully ask for permission to share.

Research of this kind is also valuable to non-family members. After Diamond discovered his family carried a novel mutation of the Beta Thalassemia trait, it was revealed that another family in Jerusalem carries the identical mutation. It has since been revealed, with the help of The Beta-Thalassemia Project, that more than a few Ashkenazic families carry the trait and can be at risk for this disease — a fact previously unknown. Now Diamond’s research, which started from a desire to help his family, encourages other families to document their medical history and make better health decisions.

Whatever your reasons are for recording your family’s legacy – genealogical or genetic – we encourage you to ask questions with your elders before the opportunity is lost. And no need to wait for Thanksgiving – start today!

Your Digital Legacy – Think Before You Post!

The desire to be remembered is both elemental and universal. Since time immemorial oral histories, diaries, memoirs and more recently, photographs and video have been used to preserve the memories of their authors. Today, we collect and curate our memorabilia more extensively than ever before. By doing this we not only preserve our memories, but in addition our online activity is actually recording present-day living.

Andy Warhol was once noted for saying “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” In his 2013 TED Talk Your Online Life, Permanent as a Tattoo, Futurist Juan Enriquez posits, what if Warhol had that backwards? What if, due to our online activity, all we get is 15 minutes of anonymity? It’s an interesting premise and one well worth examining.

Enriquez calls our digital footprint ‘electronic tattoos’. Like permanent designs on our skin, our online activity tells a very detailed and intimate story of our lives. The main difference, however, is that electronic tattoos will outlive our physical bodies.

Traditional preservation methods have allowed the storyteller to tell his story in his own time and his own way. Now big data collected from our tens of thousands of online interactions permits those who have access to them to make decisions about us in real time. This has never happened at any other time in history. Our digital footprint is constantly being analysed and the data used to provide information about us for job and college applications, dating prospects, even shopping experiences, amongst a plethora of other purposes.

bionic woman

And no matter our caution, facial recognition software like Face.com purchased by Facebook in 2012, have databases with over 18 billion faces and allows our identification through photos potentially captured by third parties in public spaces. All this is recorded and potentially accessible forever.

With this in mind, Enriquez encourages us to follow these timeless lessons:

  1. Take care in what you post
  2. Don’t go looking too far into the past of those you love
  3. Remember the purpose of your posts
  4. Don’t “fall in love with your own reflection”

At the intersection of the need for privacy and the desire to be remembered lies the wisdom of knowing what we want to be remembered for and the discipline of leaving only that as our digital tattoo. With technology now active in people’s’ lives from birth, today’s challenge is to use this wisdom for ourselves. We need to teach the value of discretion and privacy as foresight to our families and to those who are unwise in this regard.

Remember- think before you post! Be wary of the digital legacy you leave…

Happy Holidays and Peace to all,

Iris and her team at Memoirs Productions

It’s Time for Turkey and Storytelling this Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a special holiday – a day set aside for spending time with family and for giving thanks. Marking the beginning of what for some is the most hectic time of year, it’s a busy day filled with cooking turkey, Macy’s Parade and watching and/or playing football.

Perhaps the most important item on our long To-do list should be to take time at Thanksgiving to listen to our elders talk about family traditions and tell their stories. With today’s smartphones placed in the center of the dining table, it’s easy to either set up the video or voice memo (audio recording) options, or the StoryCorps app (see below) and then leave it running the whole time. Don’t forget to make sure it’s fully charged!

Preserving Family Stories

How do we get the conversation flowing? James (Jay) Hughes, renowned Family Consultant and author of Family Wealth: Keeping it in the Family and The Compact Among Generations, suggests going around the dining room table, starting with the youngest and moving up the family asking each person to share a story they remember of an older family member. When you think about that concept, the eldest telling a story of their elder to a grand or great-grandchild, can span and touch up to 250 years of a family’s history in a single sitting!

Around the Dining Room Table

Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps (see our October Blog), believes that in these very conversations lies the bridge from the past to the future and with it a better understanding of who we are. This Thanksgiving, Isay aims to create a mass movement to capture the stories of elders (defined as 65+) across the US with The Great Thanksgiving Listen. He believes that recording the stories of this generation represents a wealth of wisdom and knowledge we can all benefit from and that must not be lost.

Once everyone has had their turn, invite elders to tell their own stories. If there’s hesitation or you’re unsure how to get started, Isay recommends asking the following questions in his TED article How to Unlock Your Family History:

 

  • What was your childhood like?
  • Tell me about the traditions that have been passed down through our family. How did they get started?
  • What are your most vivid memories of school?
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • What piece of wisdom or advice would you like to share with future generations?

 

Isay and we at Memoirs believe it is question number 5 that is the most important. “This is the person speaking to the future – directly to their great-great-great-grandkids – and letting them know what they’ve learned,” he says. It is one thing to know we need to ‘live life without regret’ or that we need to ‘spend enough time with the people we care about the most’. It can be an entirely different thing to hear it from someone close to you. “Their answer might just shake you up,” Isay says.

Get in on the Action

Although The Great Thanksgiving Listen is aimed at encouraging high school students to interview an elder, we encourage everyone to get in on the action. All you need is your smartphone (fully charged!) and the StoryCorps app. Simply download and follow the prompts. After pressing record, listen. After all, a story unheard is as good as a story untold.

Wishing you blessings of health, happiness and loving family times this Thanksgiving and always,

Iris and her team at Memoirs Productions