“I’d rather be watching paint dry.”
For most people, it’s a phrase used to describe being in the most boring situation one can fathom. For me, it’s the truth. My grandfather was a skilled house painter, always donning splattered bib overalls and hauling ladders in and out of homes. Hard to catch for a lengthy conversation, he often made time between jobs for a kiss on my grandma’s cheek or a joke to make his kids giggle. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see his work or hear his jokes because he died just months before I was born.
Sometimes, when I see my kids spending time with my own father, I wonder what it would have been like to watch my grandpa carefully stroking his paintbrush in intricate corners. To witness the home transformations he made possible. To watch his paint dry into something beautiful.
Aaron Smithmier, owner of trbm Marketing in Hilton Head, South Carolina, said he began to have similar thoughts several years ago after his grandfather’s passing. But unlike me, he had been lucky enough to grow up spending time with his grandpa, listening to him strum a guitar and sing songs at holiday gatherings.
“His music was the soundtrack of my childhood,” Smithmier said. “I wished I had recorded him playing so I could hear it again, and watch him play whenever I’m missing him.”
That desire sparked an idea for a business. He began offering videography services to families with hopes of capturing memories as they’re being made—sometimes sitting down with entire families in an interview-style setting and asking questions about who they are and what stories they’d like to share. But many times, he encourages customers to share unique talents, skills and experiences that truly capture the essence of who they are—and what they’ll be remembered for.
“In one family, the matriarch is an amazing cook,” he said. “I filmed her as she made several of her signature dishes, which will allow future generations to cook with grandma or great grandma. That’s something a family recipe book can’t accomplish.”
In another family, the grandfather is known for not saying much—usually because he always has his head under the hood of a classic car. To capture his passion, Smithmier took still shots of the cars as well as some shots of him working on them, and recorded his voice as he talked about some of his favorites through the years. Now, even though the family doesn’t have a lot of conversations with grandpa, that video will be passed on to remember his passion for years to come.
While professional videography skills come in handy when recording memories, Smithmier recognizes not everyone has access to that kind of service. The most important thing he wants families to know is that they should find a way to preserve their loved one’s memory before that time gets away from them.
“Video and audio tools are more accessible than ever before, so tell someone ‘I love you, I want to hear you tell your story for the rest of my life, and I want to pass that on to my kids and grandkids.’ All it takes is to hold a phone or set up a tripod, and hit record.”
Creating videos on your own
While it’s easy for some family members to follow Smithmier’s suggestion, some struggle with how to begin. San Diego-based videographer Jeff Underwood, owner of Forever Legacy Video, provides similar memory-capturing services, but until recently was only able to help Southern California residents. To allow families nationwide to appreciate the joy of preserving their legacy, Underwood wrote his process down in an easy-to-follow book available on Amazon and Kindle.
“While I love what I do, I’ve always thought it was a shame that such an important project is financially out of reach for many, and that some families who want to do this on their own don’t know how,” he said.
In his Forever Legacy Book, he provides tips for conducting an interview with a family member, offering intriguing questions to open up discussions. One page asks “Can you describe your childhood home?” Another asks “What advice would you give to your younger self?” The questions continue, and each page offers blank lines for answers as well as a spot for a corresponding photo memory. At the end of the book, he walks readers through options for sharing the information, such as making a digital copy of the book or creating a DIY legacy video using a smartphone app.
While he provides interview questions to start conversations, he said customers are often pleased at how those questions bring back forgotten memories.
“There’s really no exact protocol to the way an interview should flow,” he said. “If your loved one lights up at a memory and wants to get out scrapbooks and photo albums as they speak, let them. It can become a wonderful experience for your whole family.”
If someone is planning on sharing the video on social media, his book suggests limiting clips to three minutes each. A longer video can be uploaded on YouTube if desired. And if someone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a camera, the most important thing is having those precious answers down in the book, which can be a priceless gift for years to come.
How a memory book can help with dementia
Stirring up or saving memories isn’t only beneficial for family members of seniors; it’s also highly useful for loved ones suffering from dementia. Creating a memory book is an effective way to help elderly seniors make sense of the progression of their life because it can be filled with photos of events that happened in years past, as well as current pictures of family and friends. A memory book can come in handy when a loved one constantly asks questions like, “Where did I live before this,” “Who did I marry,” and “Why isn’t my daughter here?”
Simply include a few pictures on each page of a photo album or scrapbook, and put a short description under each picture. You can include photos from a loved one’s childhood, their own children and grandchildren, former workplaces, previous homes, pets, hobbies and anything else to help them gain clarity.
Time doesn’t stop, but memories make it last longer
I may not have been able to meet my grandfather or “watch his paint dry,” but my kids are very lucky to still have their grandparents. Because I know every skill, memory and joke they’ve heard from their elders won’t be fully appreciated for years to come, I plan to record those moments more often so they can enjoy them later. Whether I take photos, write quotes down, or capture memories on video, I’m confident the extra effort won’t be wasted.
“People don’t always want to talk about mortality, so they don’t want to do something now that will be shared when their loved one is gone,” said Smithmier. “But it’s about so much more than creating a memory. It’s about passing on a love that can be felt forever.”