When Darcie Healy’s mum suggested they film her grandmother Patricia, who knew all the family stories and could recite a poem or sing a song at the drop of a hat, Darcie was fascinated.
Because Patricia had been suffering from Alzheimer Disease for about a decade, they moved quickly - once Michele had the idea, she and Darcie, who is a videographer and worked as a communications specialist, decided that the sooner they captured Patricia’s personal treasury of songs, poems and stories the better.
“I knew Darcie had great experience in videoing, and I wanted to get a film of my Mum, who had always been a great person for the family tree; she knew all the family stories about everyone.
“However when I had the idea, she had been suffering from Alzheimer Disease.
“We set up everything and we were all set to video and interview Mum in her nursing home but it didn’t work - she simply didn’t respond,” says businesswoman Michele sadly.
“She smiled all the way through, but didn’t speak and I knew we were too late. It was terrible.
“We have photographs of her but the difference it would have made to have a film of her. If only we had thought of it even a year earlier, we could have captured her songs and poems.” Patricia’s condition was simply too far advanced by the time the duo were ready to record her. She passed away at the age of 91 in February of this year.
“Everyone thinks they have more time than they actually do have, when it comes to a loved one who is growing older - we learned that we were wrong about that,” says Darcie (30).
However, she did manage to clip together some footage of her grandmother, which has since been repeatedly viewed by delighted family members. The response to the footage was so positive that it gave Darcie and Michele an idea:
“Friends and family started asking us to go in and film elderly relatives talking about everything from their childhood to their hope and dreams and they talked about their hobbies such as cooking or golf or reading. We filmed them on their daily walks.”
“We were getting such incredible feedback that we thought why not offer this service to others who would love to get family history and footage of their own loved ones on camera,” said Darcie.
“Most of us have easy access to cameras but so few of us have the expertise to capture a person’s memories through pictures, videos and stories.
“It often takes a professional to know which questions to ask and which threads to pull, and tragically so many of us leave it until it’s too late.”
Soon afterwards, the mother and daughter duo decided to set up The Memory Collectors. After seeking expert advice on how to sensitively form questions and deal with difficult topics, the two Dublin women began to record and preserve the lives of older people on film:
“One of my favourites was a video of an elderly lady - her children had hired us to video her talking about her life stories; childhood and her school and career,” Darcie recalls.
“They specifically asked for the recipe of a cake that her grandchildren really loved.” Over the two days of filming, Darcie and Michele asked for the cake recipe a few times:
“She seemed to brush it off and on the last day we asked her to make the cake - she was humming and hawing and eventually brought us into the kitchen where she finally reached into the press and brought down a cake mix! This was her secret!
“We laughed and laughed - she was embarrassed,” she recalls, adding however, that in the end the lady agreed to make the cake on film.
“It was a funny story and so human!
“Now people are coming to us to celebrate birthdays or retirements. It’s a celebration of a big occasions; for example if someone is retiring they might talk about their career, or we might have a new mother who wishes to talk about her hopes and dreams for her baby.”
Howth-based Peter Webster (74), former Chairman and CEO of Smurfit Ireland and the UK, and his wife Liz, were among the first families to avail of The Memory Collectors service following the establishment of the business. The couple, who are married for 51 years, have four adult children and 14 grandchildren.
For some time, Peter recalls, he had been thinking about getting some memories recorded for posterity:
“For some time I had been thinking of finding a way of describing, not only Liz and my life together, but reflecting on my parents’ lives and, in turn, their parents.
“I was lucky enough to have known all four of my grandparents, who were all born in the 1880’s. I planned to put “pen to paper” describing our lives and those of our parents and grandparents, thinking that perhaps in 80 years’ time our grand-children’s grandchildren would have a ‘history’of the Webster family, and the extended family through marriage, stretching back over 200 years and seven generations.”
However when the retired businessman heard about The Memory Collectors, he says, he felt their comprehensive way of collecting memories was exactly what he was looking for.
First off, Peter completed a detailed questionnaire, followed by about three hours of “effectively talking on video”. Next the company edited the video and took copies of lots of family photos:
“Some weeks later I received their ‘finished product’, a bound book of my memories with family photos, a DVD and a USB covering my verbal memories with Michele and Darcy.
“To my surprise and delight, our four children were bowled over by the finished product, so much so that they insisted that I purchase a separate book, video and USB for each of them,” he says.
The Memory Collectors service came as a gift to Dublin business couple Triona and John Kenna from Raheny from their children.
The two, who have been married for 34 years, were delighted by their offspring’s proposal that they record their memories for posterity through The Memory Collectors.
“Both my parents are dead and John’s father is dead,” explains Triona (57).
“Our children felt that they would like to have something to show to their children if anything ever happened to us.
“I thought it was lovely idea and I am so sorry it wasn’t there for my own parents who are both gone; I’d like to have something to look back on.” Triona, and John (59) were filmed at home in their living-room and walking along their beloved Dollymount Strand, close to where they live:
“We talked about how we met and where, and how long we have been together. We talked about what keeps us together and what makes us laugh.
“I found it very interesting - we found ourselves talking about things we had forgotten about.
“They put us very much at ease; we were very comfortable. I don’t have any grandchildren, and that was my children’s reason for doing this - I was quite happy with it; we had a good laugh doing it. It would make you feel nostalgic.
“It’s a great thing to do.” Preserving family memories like this s generally a good idea, believes clinical psychologist Dr Patrick Ryan, head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick.
Our elders are the custodians of the stories and narratives that shape the world that we live in, he says, pointing out that older generations don’t just hold the facts of a given time, but more importantly hold the context that is often hidden from those in younger generations.
“In families they are the key to accessing the core family values, traditions, beliefs that are handed through the generations, mostly in a manner that operates at a level below that which is obvious.
“As older people are not as concerned about what others think about them, they can be invaluable in adding new perspectives on societal and family issues,” he says. However he emphasises, if a family decides to collect memories in this way, the older person “needs to be at the centre of the decision making process with regard to if and how their memorizes are recorded and stored”. On top of this, he says, potential interviewees must also be satisfied that such a project represents something that they want to do.