Nonprofits Help the Dying Make Farewell Videos


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 cancer. But she has made sure that her sons, four and six years old, can see how she loved 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, 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.

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.’”

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 is to talk about the day patients found out they’d be parents.

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

In one video, a man talks about growing up in a family of 10. Another talks about spaghetti and meatballs and says, “Marrying into an Italian family was probably the best move I ever made.”

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?”

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