The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Recording memories, advice and love: Dying patients find support in making farewell videos

  • Print

SCARSDALE, N.Y. - Carolyn Ngbokoli doesn't remember the sound of her mother's voice. She was just 19 when her mom died, and no recordings were left.

Now Ngbokoli, 37, faces the possibility of her own early death, from breast cancer. But she has made sure that her sons, 4 and 6 years old, can see how she loved them, hear how she spoke to them and be reminded of her advice to them long after she's gone.

With the no-cost help of an organization called Thru My Eyes, Ngbokoli, of White Plains, recorded a video of memories and guidance.

"I want to be able to tell my boys as much as I can and leave them something to look back on," she said.

Leaving a farewell video isn't new — Michael Keaton did it in a 1993 movie called "My Life" — but it is evolving beyond the version in which a dying person talks to an unmanned camera on a tripod or spends hundreds of dollars for a videographer who also records weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Thru My Eyes, based in Scarsdale, and Memories Live, of Milburn, New Jersey, are among the nonprofits filling a niche in which people with terminal diagnoses — usually cancer-stricken parents with young children — get emotional as well as technical support, for free.

E. Angela Heller, a social worker for cancer patients at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, has sent half a dozen patients to Thru My Eyes, which was founded by a cancer survivor.

"Every single one has said it's a wonderful experience," she said. "What makes this different is the deep support from the videographers. These people know illness, they know cancer. They know how to schedule around chemotherapy weeks."

Ngbokoli found the production to be an emotional process.

"There were times when I was laughing about funny things that happened to us," Ngbokoli said. "But then there were times when it was torturous, where I had to look in the camera and say, 'If you're watching this and I'm not here.'"

Carri Rubenstein, 61, is the co-founder and president of Thru My Eyes, which has completed more than 40 videos. A cancer survivor herself, she was inspired when she heard a friend with a bad diagnosis wish aloud a few years ago that she could find someone to help her make a video for her family.

Rubenstein wanted to make it a free service, so with the help of her lawyer husband, she formed the not-for-profit. She accepts donations and holds fundraisers.

At first, Rubenstein went to hospitals "looking for business," she said. Now she's getting calls from across the country.

Kathy Yeatman-Stock, a social worker in the cancer centre at the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona, California, contacted Thru My Eyes in hopes of getting patients at Pomona to make videos via Skype.

"People in the past have left letters and birthday cards for their children, but there is so much more impact with seeing the parent on film," she said.

Heller said patients are "facing their mortality in probably the most profound way" and want to give advice for their children at various life stages. "They say, 'I won't be at the wedding' but they want to give advice."

She said one mother read "Goodnight Moon" on the video so her children could hear it forever.

Such videos convey "a very personal touch, going beyond the stiff words you might have in your will, let's say," said Sally Hurme, a project adviser at AARP and author of "Checklist for Family Survivors."

Patients who want to make a video are given an interviewer, usually a volunteer health care professional who tries to take subjects through their lives. One prompt that always brings joy, Rubenstein said, is to talk about the day patients found out they'd be parents.

"Then we get into the first step, the first words, all the fun moments."

The videos run between an hour and 90 minutes and include photos, documents, music and interaction with the family.

Kerry Glass, 41, a former nursing home art therapist who runs Memories Live, says she prompts patients to talk about the overview of their lives as well as details: "the house you grew up in, your favourite game, your first job, your first car."

In one video, a man talks about growing up in a family of 10 in which the boys could never get into the bathroom and "would have to go outside to take care of whatever we had to take care of." Another talks about spaghetti and meatballs and says, "Marrying into an Italian family was probably the best move I ever made." A woman says she still gets "fluttery in my heart" when her husband enters a room.

Ngbokoli is enthusiastic about her video and says she's recording more family moments in hopes of being around to update it in a few years.

"It's a nasty cancer that I have, but I'm responding well," she said. "Every day's a gift, so as long as I'm here, why not document it?"


Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.



Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Zoo officials detail tiger death

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 101130-Winnipeg Free Press Columns of light reach skyward to the stars above Sanford Mb Tuesday night. The effect is produced by streetlights refracting through ice crystals suspended in the air on humid winter nights. Stand Up.....
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think the Jets' three pre-season losses in a row are a sign of things to come?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google