The Life Story Not Recorded

“I wish I would have known you (x number of) years ago when my grandmother (or grandfather) was still alive. She had the best stories and once she got going telling those stories, you couldn’t get her to stop!” My next comment is typically, “Did you record those stories while she was still alive?” Invariably, the answer is, “No.”

Mother-daughter photo

What is lost by not recording the stories? Only you can answer the emotional response to that question. But based on over a decade of recording the life stories of many individuals, couples and siblings for their families, I can give you the logical main reasons. Lost are:

  1. Many stories you’ve never heard before.
  2. The audible sound of their voice.
  3. The physical movements and body language as they expressed themselves in many scenarios.
  4. The facts that connect you to this loved one. Facts that you never knew or ever dreamed existed.

I could list many more, but I think you get the picture.

The next question is, “Why weren’t the stories ever recorded?” Whether you consider the answer that question reasons or excuses makes no difference. The answers are so varied…and so sad.

The good news is that you now have the opportunity to not make that same mistake again. You have the opportunity to record the life stories of a friend or loved one now. This article is written as a guide to help you do just that. I will post helpful hints on how to record those stories in future blog posts.

These blog posts will combine some of the training that I received in the 1990s preparing to interview Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) with the practical experience I’ve enjoyed interviewing hundreds of people since starting LifeStories Alive in 2005.

My hope is that the posts serve as a guide that gives you the basics to take the plunge and capture the life stories of someone you love. Even though you may have never interviewed someone before in anything that resembles this method or reason, you will not regret it. Why? I know that you will feel, as I do every time I finish a LifeStories Alive interview, that goose bump-causing rush when they finish answering the last question you ask them, and they sigh that familiar sigh knowing that their stories are now recorded for generations to come. You, then, can feel the satisfaction of knowing that you were the one, not anyone else, who gave their lives more meaning and helped them fulfill the goal of passing along their legacy.

Enjoy the process. Have fun. And thanks for keeping those life stories alive!

An Answer to the Tough Question, “Why Record Their Life Stories?”

Over the years of recording people’s life stories, I will ask my clients, who are usually the children of the interviewee(s), “Why do you want to record their life stories?” While the answers I have heard may vary, the root of the answers usually incorporate a common theme. That common theme is as tough to grasp as the question itself: the realization of their mortality.

We all know we are, some day, going to die. Our society has taught us that discussing this, even just thinking about it, is a frightening thing to do. And when we think of it happening to someone we love, emotion kicks in and then we really don’t want to talk or think about it. But when considering the mortality of a loved one, one of the risks of giving in to the fear of not addressing it is that one of the most important legacies they could leave behind, their stories, will be lost forever.

As with most of our fears that we finally address, confronting the fear and dealing with it leaves us in a state of gratitude for the lessons we learn from the experience. I continually hear from my clients after they’ve viewed the LifeStory we recorded of their loved one, tremendous joy in not only hearing the stories, but knowing that they are preserved forever.

The good news is that, while I’d love to help you record the stories, you don’t need a professional to record the stories of your loved ones. You can do it yourself. The next blog post will give you helpful hints on how to do it yourself.

In the meantime, think of the collective hugs you get when you answer the tough question, “Why record their life stories?”

mother hugs

 

 

End of Life Lesson Learned Today

Just two days ago at around noon I received an email from my friend, Kristi Curry, who has a wonderful business called Survivorship Now http://survivorshipnow.com/. A friend of hers in Katy, Texas named Ben wrote to her saying that his church buddy, Dan (age 49), was just given bad news about his cancer and was advised to call in hospice care immediately. Ben called Kristi to ask for her professional advice to help Dan’s wife organize her life for what was to come. He also said he wanted to videotape Dan’s stories so his two kids would know him better when they grew older. Ben asked Kristi for advise on what questions to ask and how to ask them. That’s when Kristi referred me.

I connected with Ben yesterday via email, then by phone. Ben explained that Dan didn’t have any funds to afford a professional LifeStory and that he was going to do it pro-bono. I don’t know why it happened, but something inside me said I have to do it. I told Ben that I could be there (two and a half hours away) the following morning by 10:30 to conduct the interview, as long as Ben filmed it.

When we arrived at Dan’s home this morning, we were greeted by Dan’s beautiful and gracious wife, Marcina. We set up the camera in Dan’s bedroom and tried to get as much as we could of an interview, but unfortunately, due to the medications he was on, could not record much. What we did record, however, showed what a loving, caring father and husband he was. Rather than coming home without much of anything for Dan’s family, I asked Marcina if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed…to capture Dan’s LifeStories through the stories of his loving wife. She agreed and we filmed about two hours of her smiles, tears and love for her husband. She showed unbelievable bravery and unselfish caring for her husband who was too ill to express his story himself.

By 1:00 PM, we left her home with hugs and well wishes to her for strength during the tough journey ahead that she faced. I arrive back home at around 4:00 PM, exhausted, but glad I had accomplished what I had that day. An hour later Ben called. He said he called to thank me, to be sure I got home okay, and…after a long pause…to tell me someone from his church called an hour ago to say that Dan had just died.

At first I was in a bit of shock. Yesterday, Dan was a total stranger to me. And now, after only knowing he and his wife for a few hours, I feel like an integral part of their lives. The lesson I’ve believe I learned from today’s experience is to share your stories with the ones you love often, to celebrate life at every opportunity you get, and to give unselfishly whenever you can. Had I thought, “It’s been a long week, I’m too tired to drive all the way to Katy early on a Saturday morning, conduct this unpaid interview, then drive all the way back,” I would not have met Dan and his wife. And I am a better man now…because of them.

Thank you Kristi, Ben, Marcina, and especially Dan. May you rest in eternal peace.

“You Don’t Understand”

One would think that if you just heard someone tell you, “You don’t understand”, it would be a negative thing. But when a client of mine told me just that and explained why he said that, I knew it was a much-needed compliment. Let me explain.

I interviewed this client’s parents in Dallas back in May, 2007. His father died about a year later. I called him recently to thank him for referring yet another of his friends to me to have a LifeStory done for their parent(s). I said, “I don’t quite know how to thank you for the numerous referrals you’ve given me.” He said, “You don’t understand. I keep your LifeStory DVDs on my desk at my office. Whenever I am missing Dad, all I have to do is pop in the DVD into my computer and there he is.” He went on to explain that giving me referrals is his gift to his friends so they can experience those memories for themselves.

I was speechless. Little did I know how much those LifeStory DVDs meant to him. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind each of you the importance of recording the memories of your loved ones…whether you do it yourself or hire a professional to do it for you.  If you want to do it yourself but don’t know where to begin, please call me. I’d be glad to help you get started. It’s too important to ignore.

I hope you can now say, as I did that day, “Now I understand.”

Equipment and Technology for the LifeStory

You’ve planned. You’ve done your Pre-Interview Questionnaire work. You’ve researched and formulated questions. You’re primed and pumped to begin. But there’s one thing left out before you begin to interview: What equipment do I use? As I’ve mentioned (as well as Steven Covey) many times before, begin with the end in mind. If your “end in mind” is to only hear the stories, then audio equipment is what you need. If you want to garner more senses to tell the story, then video is a must. I choose video as the primary way I capture LifeStories for my clients because it has the most lasting emotional impact. Let’s cover both methods.

Audio Equipment – An advantage of recording via audio is the equipment is portable and a bit easier to use and edit than video. Modern technology has also made it inexpensive to use high quality digital audio equipment. If you don’t already own one, there are many places to purchase digital audio recorders. Your local camera stores should have them and have helpful people to answer questions for you as you shop. Online shopping gives me the most variety to choose from. While there are many online stores to choose from, I have had success using Newegg.com http://tinyurl.com/3p87a99 .

When shopping for audio equipment, I advise to just keep it simple. Features that are nice to have are a voice-activated recording feature and an easy to use transfer process from the recorder to your computer. The better sound quality will come from recorders that have the ability to plug in two separate microphones on two separate channels. If you cannot afford this more expensive option, don’t worry. The quality from a built-in mic will still be okay.

Once you have your audio LifeStory on your computer, you can edit it. While this is not a mandatory step, it gives you the ability to take out interruptions, audible distractions and miscues, thus “cleaning up” your production. Most computers these days come equipped with some audio editing software. If it’s not already on your computer, the software is very inexpensive to buy. With my MacBook Pro, I use Apple’s Garage Band http://tinyurl.com/2l96m, one of many cool things available on their iLife software.

Video Equipment  – Years ago,when most people thought of shooting a video interview, immediate fears of expensive, bulky equipment and impossible editing technology came to mind. Today, the YouTube generation has taught us that it can be easy and fun. Again, if you don’t have a camcorder already, online sources like Newegg.com http://tinyurl.com/3p87a99  and Fry’s http://tinyurl.com/3umgpdq are plentiful.

As many of you have seen by viewing YouTube videos, the quality of the finished product varies widely, especially when it comes to the audio part of a video shoot. For this reason, I advise looking into spending a bit more money to buy a camera that has inputs or channels for two external microphones. That way you can edit and adjust your voice and the voice of your interviewee separately when editing the video.

There is a lot to cover when addressing making a video. A good, quick and fun source for learning how to shoot a video is found in a book I recently found. Steve Stockman’s How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck http://tinyurl.com/3bhn4mn provides a fun, easy to learn way of making your video. Regarding editing the video, software is plentiful. Most of my editors use Apple’s Final Cut Pro http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/, a professional’s software that produces big screen quality productions. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get good quality editing done. As mentioned above with audio, my Apple computer has iLife, and with iLife comes iMovie http://tinyurl.com/6b57x, video editing software that most beginners can learn and have fun with.

Whichever method of recording you choose, be sure to experiment and have fun with it before you sit down to record the LifeStory. You want to be able to concentrate on the conversation you are having with your interviewee rather than worrying about technology once the interview begins. And if you want to hire a professional to do it all for you, I’m available! http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/