This Is What 106 Funerals Taught Me About Life & Digital Legacy #4

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.
— Karl Lagerfeld

A Picture Paints A Thousand Days

Look at an old photograph. 
A frozen moment in time.
A time that lives again. 
They live again.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. I say they paint a thousand days. The people in the photograph, though they may no longer be alive, live as you look into their faces. You see their smiles; you can hear in your mind the way they laughed one more time. You can relive that day, that moment, that minute as though they were still here and time had stood still. A thousand days in one image.

I am a funeral celebrant. I plan, write a life tribute and then deliver those words on the sad day when families have to say goodbye to a loved one. In the last six months, I have written 106 funeral services. Wrapped up in the mystery of those unwelcome days, are four valuable lessons I have learned. Lessons about life and how you can leave a digital legacy for your family. Helping 106 families face death teaches you about life. 

This series of posts are about those four lessons. 


I have the unique opportunity to say the final words over a loved one at a funeral.
You can't take that responsibility lightly.
I don't. 

Summing Up A Life In 2000 Words

Writing the eulogy of someone unknown is challenging. How do you sum up in the short time of a funeral service a life? You can't. It's impossible. So I try to learn as much as I can about a loved one. Enhancing those the stories of their life is when I get to see photographs.

 A box of old photos is enchanting. You lift the lid, and there is a life lived again in the images. The tactile pleasure. The musty aroma. The rediscovery of days gone by on photographic paper. 

There you are as a baby, smiling at the camera. The black and white images sometimes cracked from folding and looking and holding. There you are playing as a child on the beach, bucket and spade in hand. Dad is on one of those folding deckchairs almost impossible to set up. Now there your are sitting on the bonnet of that old car. (Probably wishing you had that car now, it would be a classic!) Wedding days, Christmas and Birthday Parties, the birth of a child, the birth of a grandchild. Time speeds up, and the photos seem to get less. 

Where are your priceless memories kept?

What have you done with your photos? Where are those priceless memories? If your house was on fire, used to be the question, what would you grab first after all the people and pets were out safe? It used to be the photograph albums. Why? Because you know that that celluloid you hold in your hands, can never be replaced. 

Photographs are memento mori. (Memento mori is a Latin phrase. It means, ‘remember you must die.) To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality. "By slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” Writes, Susan Sontag. Lesson two "Life Is Short" is eternally true. I've learned photos mean so much when the person that you loved has died.

Have we lost something when our photographic memories are all digital? Some people don't have one photograph taken of them that isn't digital. It feels to me that something is missing when that is the case. Instead, of a handful of photos, I am passed a phone and told to swipe to see pictures of their loved one. It's not the same. Yes, it's practical. There are more than likely many images that wouldn't haven't been taken without the phone. Something feels less, reduced and shrunk. I ask, how have you backed up these photos? Looks of amazement often follow. But a moments lost concentration is all it takes for priceless memories to be gone.

A granddaughter told me of her utter heartbreak at leaving her phone in the supermarket trolley. Returning in minutes, it had gone. So had the last two years worth of images of her grandma who had lived with her during those precious months before she died. Gone. The ease of taking digital pictures on your smartphone creates many more memories. Holding on to them takes careful management.

What steps are do you need to secure the digital legacy of your photos?

Digital photographs need the same care and attention as traditional photographs. Storing old photos in damp, dusty places results in deterioration and loss. So does not backing up your images. Make sure that someone knows your phone password. Otherwise, you could lose your treasured images just the same. 

If you have an Android phone - here are some suggestions of what you need to do to ensure that your photos are backed up.

If you have an iPhone - here are some suggestions of what you need to do to ensure that your photos are backed up.

Don't take the risk. While these are good ideas, you need to find the best and simplest way to back up and store your photos. 

One too that can do this is IFTT. IFTTT is worth checking out as a tool to automate the process of storing your digital photos. IFTTT (If this then that) has collections of "applets" that can automatically save any image taken on your phone. It can then back them up to an online storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive. Setting this automation up for your memories take seconds. It would save such heartache if your phone were lost or stolen. 

Will Your Family Be Locked Out From Your Memories?

Do you have a password or lock on your phone? Have you told anyone or have you left written down somewhere the password? Regularly stories in the news show families taking social media platforms to court. They do this in an attempt to try to gain access to phones or computers of loved ones who have died.   I have written of the heartbreak and sadness when death locks priceless digital memories away in other posts. Don't let this happen to your memories.

Take The Digital Image Back To Paper Again

Why not turn all those digital memories back into photographs that you can hold and treasure again? When digital photos are safely stored online, it is simple to use services like Photobox to turn digital images into photo books. Some photo book services also create online links so these albums can be shared with other members of your family and friends.

These are four lessons I've learned first hand taking 106 funerals. 

Lesson One - Take Time To Share The Stories Of Your Life
Lesson Two - Life Is Short
Lesson Three - Plan Your Funeral
Lesson Four - A Picture Paints A Thousand Days

If you would like to buy an e-Book of the whole series of 4 lessons, please click on the image below or visit the Death Goes Digital Shop



As a result of these lessons, my attitudes to sharing the stories of my life, living in the present, planning my funeral, and storing digital images have all changed. While to some it may seem the stark weekly reminder of my mortality by seeing the loss of others first hand could be morbid and depressing. Nothing further could be away from that truth that it makes me live more each day. I consider being invited into the planning and writing the life stories of 106 people an incredible privilege. I learn about unique individuals whose years, or days made a difference in this world. If you are reading this, you still have the opportunity to learn these same four lessons. Trust me, some day, someone your family will be glad you did.