Video: celebrating a life story with a twinkle

Video celebrating a life story

My mother was turning 90 and we were going to throw her a party to celebrate. My wife suggested a video celebrating a life story – like mum’s life story – was a great way to showcase a person’s years. Mum was a bit of a clown after all and this would capture the twinkle in her eye, her wry humour and funny storytelling in her way. It would allow her to tell her story full of sidetracks and details which sometimes meant she lost the plot of her story.

During the interview, Mum was in true form and, on the night, the final production was a roaring success. In the relatively short 30 minutes, Mum spoke about her parents; her strict childhood; education in a convent school giving the nuns hell by lettinag crickets go in the classroom; falling in love with my father; missing him during the war years when he was a pilot in Europe and the Pacific; caring for victims from the Fall of Singapore as a nurse; the wedding and honeymoon when Dad returned; the births and growing of the five of us; the devastation of losing Dad suddenly at 54 from a heart attack; getting old; a few casual romances along the way; living alone; and, believe it or not, imaging what heaven would be like when she would eventually get there.

It was an incredible and authentic snapshot of her life capturing the essence of her spirit, her manner, her laughter, her voice and, in fact, her real self.

Having the last word

Sadly, six months after making the video, and after a short illness, Mum unexpectedly passed away. At the funeral, we played some of her video and Mum had the congregation in stitches with some of her stories. As the priest said later, it was the first time the person for whom the funeral was being given had the last word – Mum always did like to have the last word so it was understandable.  And so we started our business, That’s My Life, recording life stories celebrating a life story using video as we had done for Mum.

So why would I recommend video celebrating a life over a life story book? Books are fabulous for being able to give greater detail as well as tracing and interlacing the story over time. I feel video, on the other hand, can capture and present the real person, as they were the day of filming – their laughter, manner, voice and personality – along with their story, values and beliefs, triumphs and achievements (so we hear the sense of pride in their voice and see the twinkle in the eye), inner spirit and sense of self. We don’t have to imagine much as we see and hear the real person captured for eternity.

Artistically presented and done in a few hours

On a practical side, the videoed interview takes a mere few hours to complete. Photos, certificates and any other documents or images can be scanned and artistically inserted into the video as needed. Family members can also be included with cameo parts and we can also video the person at ease in the garden, kitchen or walking by the beach – whatever they like doing. And like with my mum’s video, it can be played as the highlight of a celebratory event – the significant birthday, special wedding anniversary – and smaller snippets can be taken from the longer video and played on social media. And then there is the occasion when carefully edited parts of the video can be used at the funeral to indeed celebrate a life well-lived.

Ethical wills

One last thought about video and how we have used it in very special circumstances and where it surpasses a written document –  the ‘ethical will’. We provide a service where the person is able to make a direct message to their loved ones in the provision for being played when they have passed. Non-binding in the legal sense (so nothing mentioning a monetary or property legacy) and generally left with the family lawyer until needed, such video ‘wills’ may have the person leaving a message of love or truth or remembrance or something unsettled.  Sometimes emotionally difficult to video, we believe these types of videos nevertheless have a place as part of telling one’s story.

No one would be interested … think again

Meant for sharing among family and friends, it is important to get the message out there that life story videos are not for broadcast. Some of our older citizens think that being on video is akin to being on television (like with the ABC Australian Story) and so they may modestly think they and their story are not worthy. Life story videos may not be for everyone but they are a fantastic way to capture the spirit of the real person – just like I did with my mum years ago.

Paul English

That’s My Life

President of Life Stories Australia