A memorial service bouquet in a vase with greenery, pink roses and carnations, a purple flower, and three yellow sunflowers; adorned with a turquoise ribbon in a turquoise vase.

A Celebration of a Life, One Year Later

My mother passed away almost one year ago, on November 13, 2017.  She lived with Alzheimer’s disease for about 15 years.  I am the only sibling who lives out of town, nine hours away.  I was grateful when my two sisters and father were agreeable to me contributing to her memorial service and reception by preparing a slideshow and several photo collages of her life.  As a photo organizer, this participation enabled me to utilize that passion.  The items I prepared were easily transported by car when we made the journey north for her service and reception.

The prep work

My sisters entrusted many family pictures to my care almost a decade ago, when my parents downsized to a continuing care community.  I had digitized most of the prints, and they were fairly well organized.  I also had my own collection of family photos; some of these were not digitized, but photos from the last decade or more were all digital.  Fortunately, most of the pictures I would need were already in a digital format (either because I had already scanned them, or they were native digital images).  The quantity that was not digital but needed to be part of my project was manageable, given that I had a scanner at home.

Two rows of pictures of a woman, spanning the 1950s to the 1980s. Top row is black & white, bottom row is color. Twelve total images.

Digitized images including my mother, organized in Apple Photos.

I was grateful to have this project to work on after hospice advised us that my mother was no longer eating or drinking.  While I was frantic to get everything prepared, it also gave me something meaningful to focus on and helped me feel part of the events unfolding over 400 miles away.

Selecting a photograph for the memorial service

The family elected to hold both a service and a reception at the continuing care community where my parents had lived for almost a decade.  The service would require just a single, enlarged photograph of my mother for display.  The “recency effect” played a role as we debated which picture to use.  The best photos were formal portraits taken for my parents’ church directory, but they were over a decade old.  Would it be better to choose a more recent photo?  Anything too recent would represent her after the Alzheimer’s began to affect her.  We settled on one of the formal church portraits, taken in 2000.  I loved this choice, as she was wearing turquoise, her favorite color.  I also felt it was important to represent her as she was before Alzheimer’s.  She lived for 91 years, and I wanted to be sure that we remembered all of those years, not just the most recent decade.

A formal portrait of a woman against a brown background. The woman is wearing turquoise top with gold buttons and a turquoise scarf draped around her neck and right shoulder. She is approximately 74 years old.

This photo of my mother was taken ca 2000 for the church directory; turquoise was her favorite color.

Deciding on media for the reception

My sisters and I hosted a 65th wedding anniversary celebration for my parents at this same community back in 2014.  As a result, I was familiar with the room, how it would be set up, and how attendees would move about the room. 

I learned from the 2014 event that a single display item was not sufficient in such a large room.  For the reception following our mother’s memorial service, we settled on four display items, positioned around the room:  a slideshow (for attendees to approach and view as long as desired) and three collages on easels.  

Preparing the slideshow

I wanted the slideshow to run on a loop.  It would be available at the reception for guests to approach, view for a few minutes, and then move on.  I settled on three minutes.  I found it easier to begin with a known duration so that I could plan the number of images based on the time limit.  I ultimately used 47 images with short captions, each visible for 3.8 seconds.

As I reviewed photos of my mother over the years, I was struck by the various roles she played:  wife, mother, sister, sister-in-law, grandmother, friend, daughter.  She was also just herself.  I didn’t want her individuality to get lost in photos with too many other people – this was her memorial service.  I worked to balance photos of her in the various roles with photos of just her.

I chose chronological order for the images in the sideshow, believing it would be easier for guests to follow if there was a natural order.  I prepared the slideshow using Apple Photos.  The process was straightforward and quick.  As the screenshots below demonstrate, the number of choices was not overwhelming.  

I was grateful that my husband took responsibility for getting the slideshow up and running before the service and reception that followed.  It was one less thing for me to worry about, is a strength of his, and provided a way for him to contribute.   We transferred the slideshow to an iPad, selected a player that would loop the slideshow, and took an Apple TV and a few cables and cords with us on the trip; a television set with an HDMI connection was all we needed from the community where the events were held.  No one at the facility would have been able to assist us with this setup, so consider what resources are available to facilitate presentation before investing a lot of time and effort preparing something.  Engaging family members can be a rewarding way for them to contribute.

A table with a white cloth. On the left is a television set displaying a slideshow. On the right is a formal portrait of a woman in a brown frame.

The slideshow was playing on the television on the left; this table was positioned on one side of the room with plenty of space for guests to approach and view.

Preparing the collages

I needed quick turnaround on the collages and knew I would feel more comfortable having something printed locally, given the time constraints.  I was willing to pay extra for expedited service.  My first step was to contact a local camera specialty shop, Richmond Camera.  I later learned about the IPI Member Network at the 2018 APPO conference in Raleigh, NC.  IPI, formerly known as Independent Photo Imagers, takes pride in servicing client needs with passion and innovation.  Richmond Camera is a member of IPI.  The Richmond Camera site had many collage options available.  I knew I wanted them mounted on foam board, for display on the easels.  I called, and they said they could make all of it happen in my timeframe (2-3 days).  I asked about extra cost; they try their best not to charge a premium in situations like this (family emergency), and I was only charged the standard fees for printing and mounting.

The photos naturally sorted themselves into three time periods for the collages:

  • 1920s – 1940s (birth – high school)
  • 1950s – 1970s (marriage & motherhood)
  • 1980s – 2010s (grandparent, retirement)

I debated on background colors for each collage and discovered a Sherwin Williams web page that helped me identify popular colors for the various decades represented by each collage.

Fortunately, the Richmond Camera templates offered plenty of background color options (as I would expect from an IPI member), and I found close matches to what Sherwin Williams called Studio Mauve/Pink Shadow, Navel/Amber Wave, and Favorite Jeans/Aquitaine.

I made sure to dedicate one photo box for a title on each collage and to feature one professional image of just my mother, reflective of her in those particular decades; then, I filled in with images capturing her relationships with other family members.

I picked up the finished collages the day before we were leaving town to head north for the service and reception.  I discovered that one of the collages had been printed twice and that the third was missing; I called in a panic.  Richmond Camera rose to the occasion and fixed it; I doubt I would have received this level of service from an online vendor in such a limited timeframe.  I sent a thank-you note upon returning home from the out-of-state events. 

Limited assistance from funeral home

While the funeral home provided guidance (for example, on the size and age of the photo for the memorial service), they did not provide assistance with the slideshow or the collages for the reception (except for the easels).  We were not holding these events at the funeral home facility; their support might have been different if that had been the case.  Many funeral homes do provide such services, but they vary.  If you have something specific in mind and have the time to plan ahead, I suggest not relying on the funeral home.  However, when unexpected deaths occur, any such services provided by a funeral home are invaluable.    

Reflections

The approach each family takes should be unique to the individual being memorialized, the setting, and others in attendance.  The approach we selected enabled guests to remember my mother as they had encountered her in her life: as a young girl growing up in northeast Ohio, or as a young mother taking her children to church, or as a neighborhood mother raising a third (unexpected) daughter, or as a grandmother to four grandchildren, or as a resident of a continuing care community with a devoted spouse watching out for her.  

I was grateful that I had previously digitized and curated many images of my mother, spanning her entire life.  I wasn’t anticipating this particular need; I suspect my prior activity was a way to remember her as her Alzheimer’s progressed.  Having most of the images in a digital format made the slideshow and collage projects much easier.  I continue to digitize images of my father so that we will be in a position to memorialize him in a similar manner.

 

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