Why we created LifePosts
Mary seemed destined to have a dismal funeral. Her health had been awful, she looked far older than her 60 years. When she died alone in her Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment, her distant family had the means only for the simplest of cremations. Oblivion seemed assured.
But on the day of her funeral, the mourners came. There was a young woman Mary took in when she had to flee domestic abuse. A young man reeling from drug addiction echoed the story, as did another and another. This woman, it turned out, was not a ‘nobody’ but rather a sort of super-Grandma for a stream of suffering neighborhood strangers. So I asked the funeral director (who is my wife, Amy), “Can I read her obituary?”
“There is none.”
I wasn’t surprised.
Local newspapers and community publications were once the place you learned of your neighbor’s passing. But as countless newspapers have disappeared and others have withered, so too has the local obituary. In Brooklyn alone, 15,000 people died last year, but only about 750 received an obituary or, more commonly, a brief listing. When they did, it was usually barely adequate, a colorless paid death notice or listing on a funeral home website. The rest vanished without a proper accounting.
It isn’t supposed to be this way. The Internet has made it possible to record and share everything! But a paradox has arisen: the more we capture, the less we treasure. ”The cloud” has become the new attic, its contents inaccessible and ultimately forgotten. While we snap and tweet countless “moments,” they scroll past rapidly, wedged between personal tirades and boxing kangaroos.
In this golden age of digital storytelling, it should be possible to capture the essence of someone’s life better than ever — and preserve them for future generations. That’s part of why we created LifePosts, a new way to commemorate the most important people and milestones in your life – not only deaths but also a broad range of celebrations. These can be the most obvious — weddings, births, graduations, rites of passage, major birthdays – as well less traditional personal achievements like anniversaries of sobriety; attaining citizenship; or retirement, military enlistment, adoption, the hard-won birthing of a new business, even the creation of a personal biography.
For a detailed walk-through of what our new platform actually does, click here. The gist is, LifePosts offers easy and unique storytelling methods, including a dynamic timeline and a question-and-answer tool to help kickstart your memories and tell great stories. These simple tools help organize photos, videos, documents, audio anecdotes and other memories to build a fitting tribute in a new way. More importantly, LifePosts makes collaboration with friends and family much easier to bring your events to life. You can then preserve and share your LifePost with the people in your life who matter most.
These practical benefits are, we think, quite compelling — but we hope the LifePosts process of collaboration and sharing will help you, your friends, and your loved ones on an even deeper level. That may sound overly grandiose so let me explain:
A more vibrant, deeper tribute for those being honored
Most everyone has gone to the funeral of someone we thought we knew well, yet walked out having learned something new, and very interesting. Work friends hear stories about her personal side while family members hear anecdotes from work, or from an old school chum or army buddy.
The LifePosts approach can generate a more vibrant, multi-dimensional portrait — first, by encouraging multiple perspectives. Friends or relatives from across the country–or the world– can shape the story as easily as those who are there with you.
Unlike the traditional newspaper birth announcement or obituary, a LifePost can feature almost unlimited words, images, video, audio or documents. Finally, the story of a person’s life can be expansive and multimedia — and therefore as robust as the person deserves.
LifePosts’ approach puts the stories of your life and your loved ones directly into your hands. Here, it no longer falls to a newspaper editor to decide who is worthy of how much recognition. You are not forced to pay by the word to fully describe the person you love. (I can tolerate that you must pay more to get extra legroom on an airplane. But you should not have to pay more to describe a loved one in rich detail.)
For many honorees, a LifePost will be an extraordinary gift, an expression, ideally in many different voices, of how well they are known and loved.
A better experience for those making the commemoration
The traditional process of writing an obituary is terrifying, when you think about it. Writing a biography on deadline is hard even for professional writers, but to do it for a loved one, while you are grieving and exhausted, is challenging. With LifePosts, you can take your time.
Do it piece by piece. One story today, a photo next week, a video from a friend the week after. Add to it over time. Unlike a newspaper article, if you change your mind, you can refine it.
A graduation LifePost can start six months before the big day and end six months after. A baby “announcement” can use the birth as the starting point for a journal of your child’s first year – or first 10. An anniversary LifePost can be the story of a relationship, not just a snapshot of a fun dinner.
The crowdsourcing of memory-making not only makes it a richer tribute, it also relieves the burden on those crafting the commemoration.
The experience of making a LifePost can be powerful. For those celebrating, it can bring a sense of perspective. Life’s fleeting moments are like the dots in a pointillist painting – making a unified whole which you can only discern when you step back. At its heart, LifePosts is a “taking stock” website – a way to help you pause, reflect, and put things in perspective during the best of times, and during your most challenging moments.
For those grieving, the process of creating a memorial biography can bring comfort – both in the pleasure of reliving cherished memories, and the relief of knowing that the stories can be passed on from generation to generation. And the process of collecting the material strengthens the memories, just as collaborating unites our sense of belonging and shared experience .
Strengthening community and human dignity
A community, we believe, benefits when all of its members are treated, as individuals, with dignity. Why does the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier move us? It is the namelessness – that he or she sacrificed life for this world without being thanked, without being accorded the appropriate level of dignity. LifePosts aspires to offer a place to create at least a basic record of everyone. No one should be allowed to vanish without a trace. Whether it’s your aunt whomever got a write-up in the local paper, or victims of a mass genocide, no one should disappear without some acknowledgement.
To embrace and celebrate the unique value of each person’s life will improve our sense of history, on a personal and communal level. Your LifePosts can help ensure that people in one or two generations – or 20 – will have a vivid, nuanced understanding of who we are and how we lived.
Finally, we also hope that LifePosts can help promote mutual understanding in the here and now. Surveys and our own life experience tell us we increasingly huddle with our own chosen clans – whether in our social networks or on our cable networks – and tend to see everyone else as faint sketches at best, grotesque cartoon characters at worst. Perhaps witnessing strangers at familiar milestones — triggering universal emotions — will help us all see others in a new way. That person who seems strange or villainous from far away might seem more relatable when viewed in the context of a memorial, a wedding or an anniversary, through the prism of joy or grief.
We know it’s a bit ambitious to think a digital platform can help with all of these things, all at once. But we thought it would be useful share with you our motivations, in addition to our “features.” Our mission is to ensure that every person’s life story can be beautifully told, vividly celebrated and preserved. It’s what we want for our own families and friends, and for yours.