The One Thing Every Family Should Do this Holiday Season
A documentary filmmaker challenges you to introduce a new tradition.
This year, two deaths in my family created a void that I have been struggling to process: I no longer have any living grandparents. At 38, I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to have had two sets of loving grandparents throughout most of my life. As the holiday season brings with it a time for reflection, I’ve realized how significant grandparents are to the human experience and the amazing, limited opportunity we have to learn from them.
For the last decade, I have been making documentaries. I am fortunate to have interviewed best-selling authors, Grammy award-winning musicians, Hollywood actors, and an array of brilliant minds from across the globe. I never could have imagined one of the most eye-opening interviews of my career would occur when I turned the camera on my Mamaw (or for you non-country folk, Grandma).
Most of us see our relatives every year for the holidays, but interviewing my Mamaw from an objective perspective allowed me to learn things about her that I’m not sure I would have otherwise discovered. And now we have her story documented to share with future generations. This holiday season, consider introducing a tradition you will cherish forever: deepening your relationships with the elderly members of your family by preparing a few questions in advance and filming them, even if it’s just a short video on your cell phone.
Your Interview Provides Perspective
Learning how our loved ones lived and the hardships they endured enlightens us to be conscious of how truly lucky we are to be alive at this moment in human history. Imagine living in a time when half the men you knew went off to war and many of them didn’t come back. Imagine not having access to electricity or plumbing. Imagine the awe of watching an astronaut circle the earth for the first time. It’s a remarkable reminder of how much the world has changed in such a short time and how much we often take for granted.
Technology Makes Filming Easy
When I started my career, capturing professional footage and audio required a lot of effort. Camera technology was not only expensive, but it was also complicated. Manual manipulation of settings and intricate lighting was typically required for something to look good. Now, most smartphones are equipped with 4k cameras that capture images in low light. The internal microphones on these cameras are not ideal, but they too can still get the job done. If you film your loved one in good lighting, ideally natural light from windows, and the environment is relatively quiet, you can capture high-quality footage. If you want to take the filming a step further, ask two additional relatives to help by allowing you to use their iPhones. One can shoot from a second camera angle while the other can be placed closer to the person speaking. (A few inexpensive tripods would make this even easier).
Your Video Project Creates a Timeless Artifact
I’ve interviewed countless subjects in their twilight years, and what I find remarkable is a similar response to the question “How fast has your life gone by?” The answer is almost always the same: “like the blink of an eye.”
This holiday season, I challenge you to seize the opportunity to acquire wisdom from the ones you love and preserve it through deliberate documentation.
I can guarantee that if you ask enough thoughtful questions, you’ll learn at least one thing that surprises you. The footage that you create will increase in historical and sentimental value over time. It is a moment, captured, that you can pass on to your grandchildren, who, if the tradition holds, may also be interviewing you one day.
When my Mamaw’s health began to fade, I made it a priority to interview her while she was still her lucid, witty self. She lived through war, depression, and a string of struggles unfathomable to most Americans my age or younger. I was always curious about how she remained so content after witnessing such hardship and tragedy. A little over a month ago, I gave the eulogy at her funeral. I ended with her response to a question I’ve asked a lot of people throughout my career: what is the meaning of life? Her one-word answer: Love.
As her health continued to fade and the end was near, Mamaw had a vision of the love of her life, my Papaw, walking towards her with flowers in hand. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, you’ve got to admit, it’s a beautiful way to go.
The lesson here is simple. If there’s one thing your family should do this holiday season, make it a priority to document the ones you love. Life is fragile, and everything can change in a single moment. Even you, young lads, do not have as much time as you think.