Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

On Loss, Impermanence and Personal History


Flickr photo: Tomasito

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here and while I have been very busy with work and new clients, I have felt a missing of my creativity and inspiration. It occurred to me over the weekend that the source of my ennui was the recent deaths of 4 people I knew within the time-span of two weeks. These were not old people, peers of my parents, who were battling long illnesses and the gentle creep of old age, but my own peers, (give or take a decade) that left suddenly, with little knowledge or planning.

In the 8 years that I have worked as a personal historian doing video biographies, I have lost many clients. It is my job to help families prepare for this inevitable end-of-the-road by assisting them in telling their stories so that who they are and what they have done will live on to educate future generations. Their eventually dying goes with the territory. Sometimes we’ve worked with families where a young member has died unexpectedly and I am filled with relief that their family members have film and story to remember them by.

Through the process of reminiscence, reviewing and organizing of old photos and memorabilia, deciding what stories will make it and what will get cut on the edit-room floor, I have experienced many people getting “right” with their lives. Through this review, they are able to see the timeline of all that they have accomplished and all those whose lives they have touched and who have touched them. This process allows them to see that they are indeed a significant sum of experience and knowledge and self-esteem and their experience of being known and understood by others can soar. It’s an amazing by-product of the work I do and I am privileged to share this intimacy with so many of them.
(I wrote a blog article about this a couple of years ago entitled The Three Dynamics of Personal Histories.)

All four of my friends who recently went were not prepared for this. One of my friends had a beautiful obituary in the Sunday paper which, on reflection, sounded as if it was written in her own voice. I was glad to see that it was such a thorough and beautiful piece on who she was.

It reminded me of the poem, “A Bride Married To Amazement” by Mary Oliver.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

I hope my friends saw and felt the amazement in their lives. They were all amazing people and I am better for having known them. Meanwhile, I am over my funk and plan to get on with the business of taking the world into my arms again.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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7 Responses to On Loss, Impermanence and Personal History

  1. Maud says:

    Hello Stefani, so sorry to hear about the recent losses in your life and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Especially the process of reminiscence by looking at old photo’s…truly amazing is that only 10 days ago my dad passed away and I was doing exactly what you describe. In the days before he passed, together with my mom and all brothers and sisters we were able to view pictures of our lives together on his apple computer while he was laying in his sick bed. We talked and talked about olden days and it made us all realize what a full life he has had and how blessed we have all been to share our lives together for so long. He passed peacefully with all his loved ones around him and we now find ourselves scrambling for digging up more and more pictures and scanning them to share. Soon more, love XOXO

    • admin says:

      Maud, thanks for taking the time to comment (and for reading my blog!). I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your father but am so happy that you had that valuable time to work with him on reminiscing and reviewing old photos. That is such valuable time spent! Good luck with your archiving project and do let me know if I can help you with any of it!

  2. Wendy Ledger says:

    Stefani, so sorry to hear about this. That is a very beautiful poem. Best wishes, Wendy

  3. Jaren says:

    Wow, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s never easy. In fact, I think it’s the one thing in life that never gets easier the more we experience it. I do love that quote at the end.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks Wendy and Jaren. Wonderful poem, as is all of Mary Oliver’s work. She has written many poems exploring the sudden departure from life and what that means.

  5. Linda Coffin says:

    Lovely blog post, Stefani. I too am dealing with several dear friends – peers – who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses. It’s a scary thing and it makes me think even more about mortality than I already do with my personal history clients.
    I read an article once about how everyone loses quite a few peers in their fifties and sixties. But those who survive beyond their mid-sixties usually live until old age. Knowing that most of us will survive to be elderly doesn’t make the losses of middle-aged friends any easier.
    May your sadness ease slowly into good memories.

    • admin says:

      Linda, My mom used to say, of pretty much everything, “it’s a stage they are going through.” I suppose, as you say, this is a stage. It really does keep you present to the impermanence and mortality of all of us. I wish all your friends the best. I can imagine that having you in their corner is a huge comfort.

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