*This is a guest blog by Brant Huddleston. The views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the TalkDeath team.*
The saddest words I ever heard were written by neuroscientist David Eagleman, who said:
There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.
“I will survive, now and forever. I will be remembered.”
It is that last death, the third one, that really pierces me. Do we not all want to be remembered, to have our life celebrated, even if in some small way? How sad it is to think that all we are – all we have done, the children we raised, the words we wrote, the memories we shared, our successes, and our failures, the life we lived – might one day be forgotten, and our name vanquished from the earth forever.
I suspect that is why, over 35,000 years ago, the human inhabitants of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France painted red ochre hand prints on the cave’s grey walls of stone. “I was here,” they are saying. “Don’t forget me.” Perhaps this is why today, classes on how to write memoirs and other services offered by personal historians are so popular. There is something innate, something essentially human and instinctual, that says, “I will survive, now and forever. I will be remembered.”
We seek to defy the third death.
But forever is hard to achieve. Red ochre paint fades, and the “modern” headstone crumbles over time into an illegible blob of granite. And how is one to fit that carefully crafted memoir, whether produced as a video or on paper, into that terribly small hyphen between date of birth and date of death? One important part of the solution is offered by online memorials, that is, memorials powered by technology that expands the hyphen into a multimedia presentation of one’s life. There is, however, another vitally important part needed to complete the solution – the storyteller.
It is the rare person who has made their peace with death, invited him in for tea so to speak
Storytellers are skilled at taking your story and crafting it into one people want to hear. Some of us, like me, think we have that skill, but probably don’t. It helps to have help. The Association of Personal Historians is a group of dedicated and professional storytellers with a single mission – to record and preserve the stories of people, families, communities, and organizations. Those recordings commonly take the form of a book, documentary, video, website, scrapbook or photo collage, even a song or quilt. And now, with technology like that offered by Keeper, the precious story can take one more form – the memorial.
Memorials can be tricky. The fear of death, and the subsequent denial of death, is pervasive in the United States & Canada, and it can cause some strange behavior. Most folks don’t often think about, or talk about death. It is the rare person who has made their peace with death, invited him in for tea so to speak, and by doing has gained precious insights on how to deal with such a delicate subject. When interviewing your personal historian, I recommend finding one who is not afraid or in denial.
The mainstream funeral services industry has also not been terribly helpful in transforming how we are remembered. They have a business model to protect, and the increasing popularity of cremation is disrupting their 100 year old legacy of digging holes and carving in stone. Today people want a memorial as distinctive as they are, and there are new challenges to address, such as knowing how to memorialize a person whose ashes were scattered in the ocean, or one buried in a naturalized (“green”) cemetery where traditional memorials are prohibited. Addressing these challenges will require revolutionary thinking.
I submit the future of the truly modern memorial lays outside the mainstream, with the rogues, the rebels, the dreamers, and those willing to challenge the entrenched paradigms of modern death practices. Look at a picture of Keeper founder Mandy Benoualid and you will find, not a dark suited, stodgy member of the funeral industry’s patriarchy, but rather a young entrepreneur, her face and mind bright with the art of the possible. Hers is the face of opportunity, and as with so many other industries in transformation, technology will play a vital role in the revolution.
Today, more than ever, we can defy the third death. It requires the combination of a skilled storyteller and advanced technology, for digital hand prints will never wash away. Your memorial, your story, truly can live forever. Plan now for something as unique as you are. “Let death be what takes us, not a lack of imagination,” said BJ Miller, a palliative care physician who thinks deeply about a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. Then, as you draw your last breath, you will be able to say with confidence, “I was here. I lived, and I will be remembered, now and forever.”
Brant Huddleston consults, speaks, and writes on the subject of technology based storytelling. He is the author of two books, a suspense/thrilled called Map of Dreams (published under the pseudonym Paul Coruso) and a recently published business book on how to use mobile technology for tourism economic development. Brant is the host of Dance to Death Afterlife: a podcast and blog about the journey from life through death and dying, if and how we will be remembered, why men struggle, and the mystery of what lies beyond. He lives in Richmond, Virginia close to his daughters, grandchildren, and electric guitars.[/author]