My mom passed away last week. At age 94, she had a life of amazingly good health. It was just within the past couple of years that dementia gnarled her mind and came perilously close to robbing her of personal dignity.
Our traditional Greek funeral beckoned to far-away cousins and family, bringing us close for comfort and the celebration of life. As I looked at our circle of loved ones, I commented with some surprise, "You know, there's something missing here — there are no old people." A friend quickly retorted, "Yes there are. You and I are the old people now."
How can that be? The years have blended into a haze of memories. Now more than ever, I am so thankful that I had taken steps to preserve Mom's history — not just the dry facts of her life, but her history in her voice. What does that mean?
Back in 1989, I started to interview my parents and tape recorded their memories as they reminisced comfortably in their Lazy Boy chairs. After many sessions and careful editing to retain their stories in their words, I produced their personal history, Our Story, in time for their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996.
That project was quite a challenge. My parents' individual recollections of childhood and youth were easy to maintain as separate narratives, but how would I integrate both voices when they told essentially the same stories after marriage? Finally, it came to me — Andrew Remembers ... Catherine Remembers — chapters of their lives reflected individually, yet cohesively, under the same chapter headings.
Fast forward 15 years. Digital technology bursts into our lives, changing our methods of record-keeping and preservation in ways unimaginable in 1996. I knew the importance of recapturing Mom's stories using today's video media. In 2009, I took her to the Oral History Room at the Washington DC Family History Center and recorded her reminisces about childhood and other favorite topics. Although Mom was already exhibiting signs of dementia, her long-term memory was clear, and editing software created a polished finished product by eliminating redundancies.
We are now preserving Mom's photos and slides by scanning and even taking digital "pictures of pictures." With thousands of family snapshots computerized and new online self-publishing options like Lulu, Shutterfly and Ancestry.com's My Canvas, I'm looking forward to republishing Our Story.
The first version was a spiral bound soft-cover book with less than a dozen pictures. But now, I can incorporate unlimited photos of family members and favorite objects in her home, as well as documents, genealogy charts and anything else that can be captured as a jpeg file. Mom's posterity will be able to experience a more intimate view of her life and have a better understanding of her perspective and surroundings.
These tools, and many new ones yet unfolding, make it foolproof to snap photos, write stories, and preserve our mortal experiences. These labors of love will far outlive their subjects and creators. They will stand as witnesses of faith and family, and be cherished for generations to come.
Out of respect and gratitude, I am honored to share my mother's obituary. Mom, I love you.
Catherine Pappas Kostakos died October 5, 2011 of complications from dementia at her residence in Silver Spring, Maryland. She was 94. Catherine was born on March 12, 1917 in Hoboken, New Jersey, the oldest child of Louis Pappas (Papagiannakos) and Angelina Eftaxas.
Note: The Oral History Room at the Washington DC Family History Center located in Kensington, Maryland, is available to anyone interested in recording a personal or family history. For further information, contact Terry Willard at 301-587-0042.
Carol Kostakos Petranek is one of the Directors of the Washington DC Family History Center and a Volunteer at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.