When I first met Skumpy I liked her instantly. She had a unique blend of humour and humbleness, decorum and irreverence. We very quickly became friends and tongue-in-cheek sparring partners. I could tell that she liked me because she would gently feign shock and outrage at things I would say, all the while smiling and winking. It was very endearing. But this wouldn't last very long.
Margaret Christensen - or "Skumpy" as she had been nicknamed by her sister a lifetime earlier - had been issued a terminal diagnosis by her doctors. She had been told her prognosis in the summer of 2019 that she would be gone by December. Struggling with all the effects of an illness and coming to terms with her impending transition, Skumpy made time for a video interview and a review of her photo collection.
The complexities of life prevented us getting together until mid October and she transitioned about 6 weeks after this interview. We did the interview in her living room, her on her favourite couch. She was self-conscious about her oxygen tubes and of course, her appearance. But she very quickly understood that what she shared was far more important than how she looked.
This very short life story family history film was made from a single video interview session because that's the most we could squeeze in given her condition and all the other care concerns happening around her. Some of the storytelling was about herself and her sisters, and some about her parents and ancestors. During the session we occasionally gave her a few old photos to look at, which triggered more memories, laughs and sometimes tears.
We digitally captured all the photos Skumpy and her daughter had on hand that day, leaving them with the original prints and albums. The interview footage and photos were assembled together with music to create a short tribute film to show at her Celebration of Life. Those assembled to honour Margaret told me after the funeral service that as they watched the film they felt that they had just had a visit with her again - that Skumpy was present at her own Celebration of Life!
I often wonder what I would say if I was being interviewed on video by a personal historian just weeks before my own predicted transition. I hope it would be as real and as poignant as Skumpy chose to be.
I've been interviewing elders for more than two decades now. Each time it is a pleasure and an honour to be able to witness and record their uniqueness, their gleanings from life, and to help them toss something meaningful forward beyond death to inspire their loved ones and future great grandchildren.
Thanks for the fun, Skumpy!