Dear Savvy Senior,
I am interested in making a video of my 82-year-old parents’ life story/legacy and how they want to be remembered. With the holidays approaching, I thought this could be a neat gift to my older siblings, but I could use some help. What can you tell me?
Youngest of Five
A personal recording of your parents’ life story could be a wonderful holiday gift and something you and your family could cherish the rest of your lives. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
What You’ll Need
Your first step is to find out if your parents are willing to make a legacy video, which would entail you asking them a number of thoughtful questions about their life in an interview format in front of a video recording device. If they are, all you’ll need is a smartphone or camcorder and a list of questions or prompts to get them talking.
If you have a smartphone, making a video of your parents’ story is simple and free. However, you may want to invest a “smartphone tripod” to hold the phone while you conduct the interview, and a “smartphone external microphone,” which would improve the audio quality. You can find these types of products at Amazon.com for under $20.
Most smartphones today have good quality cameras and have the ability to edit/trim out the parts you don’t want. Or you can download a free video-editing app like Magisto or Adobe Premiere Clip that can help you customize your video.
If you want a higher quality video, consider purchasing a HD camcorder. Sony, Panasonic and Canon are the top-rated brands, according to Consumer Reports. These can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars, up to $1,000 or more.
Questions and Prompts
To help you prepare your list of questions for your parents’ video interview, go to “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” website at TalkofaLifetime.org. This resource, created by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, offers a free workbook that lists dozens of questions in different categories. Some of these include: earliest memories and childhood; significant people; proudest accomplishments; and most cherished objects. This will help you put together a wide variety of meaningful, open-ended questions.
Old photos of your parents, their family members and friends are also great to have on hand to jog your parents’ memory and stimulate conversations.
After you select your questions and photos, be sure to share them with your parents ahead of time so they can have some time to think about their answers. This will make the interview go much smoother.
Arrange an interview time when your parents are rested and relaxed, and choose a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted. You may need several sessions to cover everything you want.
When you get started, ask your parents to introduce themselves and ask a warm-up question like “When and where were you born?” Then ease into your selected questions, but use them as a guide, not a script. If your parents go off topic, go with it. You can redirect them to your original question later. Think of it as a conversation; there’s no right or wrong thing to talk about, as long as it’s meaningful to you and your parents.
Also, be prepared to ask follow-up questions or diverge from your question list if you’re curious about something. If you’d like to hear more, try “And then what happened?” or “How did that make you feel?” or “What were you thinking in that moment?”
And end your interview with some reflective questions, such as “What legacy would you like to leave?” or “How do you want to be remembered?”
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.