By Ann Marie Barron
Kerry Glass of Millburn spends most of her days piecing together priceless memories for others to leave behind.
Through her brainchild, Memories Live, a not-for-profit enterprise she runs independently in Millburn, she helps terminally ill people capture their experiences, personalities and wisdom through custom-made movies they can pass on to their loved ones.
“It’s an opportunity for them to leave a piece of themselves behind, to share their personal history and family history and tell about what made them into who they are,’’ says Glass, 44, who holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus on videography and photography and a minor in psychology from Rutgers University as well as a master’s degree in art therapy from Pratt Institute, New York City.
The idea was hatched when a young mother in a neighboring community died of lung cancer, leaving behind a husband and children under the age of five.
“It struck me, as a mother of young kids, that these kids would never know the sound of their mom’s voice,’’ Glass says. “They’d never know advice she had to share. I thought, ‘what if I could help people leave a piece of themselves behind?’’’
She then reached out to a friend who had lost his mother when he was young. What did he think of the idea? He said it would have been a wonderful thing to have and he wished he’d had something like that to remember his mother by, she recalled.
A few calls to area hospitals, hospices, nursing homes in the Millburn area, and Memories Live began. That was more than six years ago.
Now a full-time job for Glass, most of the work gets done while her two children are in school, during evenings and on weekends.
When she first began, she handed subjects a 20-page questionnaire, though people told her it was a bit too much.
“Now I have one page of questions for them,’’ she says. “I have all those other questions in my head, so it’s not so overwhelming.’’
Her clients’ average age is 55, and the youngest subject she’s filmed was 22 years old.
“I really only offer this to adults,’’ she says, noting that it is most valuable to those who are leaving behind very young family members.
“It’s for the child who didn’t’ get to know their parents,’’ she says. “They may see parts of their parents in themselves that they might not have been able to see, a dimple, the way they like their coffee; it will hopefully fill some kind of void, preserve a memory. Those of us who are so blessed to have our loved ones here take it for granted.’’
July will mark her seventh year in business. To date, she’s filmed more than 130 individuals. The only requirement is for a subject to have a life-limiting, terminal illness.
“I don’t ask for a doctor’s note,’’ she says. “I just go with ‘”honesty is the best policy.’’’ Glass said she’s willing to travel anywhere within a two-hour radius of her Millburn home. She funds her enterprise through grants, donations and an annual fundraiser, which took place last month. There is no charge for her service.
When she sits down with a subject, usually in their home, the conversation is wide-ranging.
“We’ll start talking about grandparents, memories of grandparents,’’ Glass explains. “Then, we’ll talk about their childhood, fond memories, schooling, college and advice for high school, advice for them to share about college, about your first job interview. We touch on every stage of life. Then, I’ll ask them about what makes them, them – favorite foods, season, music, holiday – all the things that mold them into who they are.’’
Glass then spends hours combining the interview footage with music and family photos, creating a meaningful movie. The final product is delivered to the family in DVD format.
The job can be at times painful and emotionally draining, she admits.
“It affects me if I’m sitting across the camera from someone my age who has kids my kids’ age,’’ she says. “But, I walk into these people’s homes as a stranger and I leave as a friend. It’s really rewarding, and people are so grateful that the good outweighs the bad.’’
Glass is hoping to acquire some funding through a contest she entered with a local Keller Williams Real Estate Agency, which is offering to donate proceeds from their 100th home sale to a local charity. Twelve non-profits are competing for $20,000 in prize money, to be divided among the top vote getters in an online contest. To vote for Memories Live, visit sueadler.com.
Anyone interested in having a movie made, should call 646-245-1698; email Glass at Kerry.firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the website, www.memorieslive.org.