I met someone a while ago. Let’s call him Bob. Terminal cancer had left him with only weeks to live, and his day consisted of moving from the bedroom to the lounge, having some home support and hoping he wouldn’t wake up the next day.
Bob was angry. He wouldn’t live to see his son turn 21, wouldn’t live to see him get married, wouldn’t meet any future grandchildren. Life had lost its purpose and he was struggling.
One day, as I sat opposite home, I noticed a mobile phone at his elbow. I asked Bob how long he’d had it and if he knew how to take photos with it. He said he did (sort of). I pulled out my own phone and began recording him. He looked bemused. With my phone pointed at him, I asked him what he would like to say to his unborn grandchildren.
He stammered, dropped his eyes, unsure about what I was doing or, more specifically, why I was doing it. I pointed out to him that this little device in my hand gives him the power to communicate from beyond the grave.
When my dad died, I found lots of photos in shoeboxes which no doubt meant something to him, but not to me. The faces were unfamiliar and the significance of the frozen-moments-in-time was lost on me. I flipped the photographs over, longing for dad’s handwriting, just a line or two that offered some context. There was nothing.
When my son died, video recording wasn’t as readily accessible as it is today, nor was Facebook, Instagram or smartphones.
I explained to Bob the power of recordings, how he could capture his life and something of himself through a series of videos while he sat around waiting to die. With a little more enthusiasm, he asked me to go on.
I told him he could record something for his son to watch on his 21st birthday, maybe offer his perspective on adulthood and what to look out for. Maybe record one for his son’s wedding day, the arrival of his first child, advice for the rocky periods of a marriage or simply encouraging words his son can use to pick himself up when times get tough.
He could capture on film his childhood memories, aspects of his upbringing and life that no photo could ever do justice to. Talk about his grandparents and the family tree as far back as his mind reaches.
The beauty of video, I pointed out to him, wasn’t just that it captured your voice, your animated face, your mannerisms; the beauty was also that it came with a delete button. You are the producer, director and star with the power to rehearse and record and try again. Professionalism doesn’t matter, anyhow; the generations that view these videos aren’t interested in polish – they want to see you smile, see you move, hear you talk to them.
One aspect to consider was whether Bob let his son know of the recordings before he passed away or simply left instructions so they were found afterwards.
The Bob I left that day was a changed man, gripped by a new energy and with power to his voice. He had videos to record, memories to capture, advice to give, direction to provide. He had rediscovered purpose.
I couldn’t help him with his physical decline, but mentally he was a new man.
He rang me a fortnight later, a proud videographer and star with ten recordings to his name that he was confident would be well received by those they were intended for. He thanked me for helping him discover a new purpose and encouraging him to reflect on his wonderful life and family. There were many things he had forgotten about his childhood that came flooding back as he sat in his lounge reflecting. Rather than focusing on his cancer, he had looked back on his life and thought about what he wanted to pass on to the next generations.
So excited by what he had done, he couldn’t keep it a secret. He told his son and gave him the password to his phone so he could view the videos, eager to share them while he was still around. When his son saw them, he was overcome with emotion and overwhelmed with the gesture. He was also immensely comforted by the fact that his father’s moving face, his voice and his advice would be with him through every step of his life. They had a good cry in the lounge.
A week after we spoke, Bob died. What that once would have meant for loved ones left behind – the lost memories, the sound of the voice fading from our minds, the advice – has now changed thanks to the power of a simple handheld device.