BUSINESS LIFE AFTER DEATH: How loss is helping others heal, virtually.
Published on 19 November 2020
WHEN TIME STANDS STILL
Donna White can tell you the exact date and time the concept behind her business, Our Treasured Memories began.
“It was 8:16 on a Saturday morning on February 5, 2014.
“That's when two police officers knocked on my front door and told me my son Matthew had taken his own life.
“He was 21 and gone way too soon. I had no idea prior to that knock on my door of the absolute agony that grief is,” Donna reflects.
At a time when families are so overwhelmed, they are also faced with the prospect of having to cope with planning a funeral or a farewell to their loved one.
Luckily, Donna had a strong network of family and friends she could lean on for support through the process.
Through her teaching career, Donna trained members of the community at her local Library Technology Centre.
“Through the eight years I spent there I had so many people come up to me and say, "I have just lost a loved one. I have to do a presentation for them, and I have no idea how to do that.
“It made me realise how difficult it is for people that don't have the necessary skills and who are in enormous pain, to actually organise something wonderful for their family and friends to say farewell,” she said.
The concept for Our Treasured Memories was borne.
BRINGING IDEAS TO LIFE
In May 2020, Donna brough her concept to the SmartHub community, hoping to bring it to life.
Looking at retirement plans, Donna asked herself what could she do in retirement to keep herself busy while being helpful to people?
From her experience of people coming to her for help in creating presentations for their loved ones, Donna considered linking in with local funeral parlours to create those presentations for people.
“Then I spoke to the SmartHub’s Business Manager Elize, who said, "Donna, you can go small and keep it locally based, or you can go big.
“I pondered it and thought, well, perhaps there is a market out there…if local people are having these difficulties then perhaps there are other people also having those same problems,” Donna recalls.
Donna explains the first thing she did was establish what her company would be, what it would be called, and whether the domain names were available.
She found an accountant through the help of the SmartHub, as well as a lawyer who completed all the ‘legals’ associated with establishing a private company.
Donna then needed to find a web designer to help her through the process.
“I had researched extensively the competition already out there, and I realised there was no one out there doing what I wanted to achieve.
“There was no website that had all of the information people needed to prepare for a farewell ceremony, a place to reminisce about their loved ones, nor a website which composed video presentations of photos to be played at a funeral,” she explains.
The SmartHub connected Donna with fellow business members, Bitplex, who spoke with Donna about what she wanted to achieve through her online platform.
“Ultimately, they said, "what we really need is a flowchart of what you want and what we would need to do to build this website for you.
“The flowchart wasn't perfect, but it was a very good start to really make sure that I knew what I wanted to achieve, which helped me enormously to focus, and to get my passion and my dream in order,” she says.
The end product is Our Treasured Memories, an online hub with information to help you get everything together, including the things you have not probably considered, for a funeral or memorial service.
“It is a tribute to my son, and this is his legacy to the world.”
Together with Bitplex, Donna created the website with four sections.
The first section allows users to create an online memorial wall of the person who has died.
The next section allows people to establish and create a platform where an online memorial service can occur.
The third section includes the creation of a memorial or tribute video.
The fourth element of the website provides information and support to people who find themselves having to plan and carry out a funeral or farewell service.
Useful information on Our Treasured Memories includes ‘how to write a eulogy’, with clickable suggestions and the five general principles for delivering a eulogy.
Donna has also provided several examples of eulogies for various members of families, which are free to download.
She has also gathered popular prayers and bible readings which may be appropriate for the person being farewelled.
Moving on to music selections, Donna says oftentimes it is difficult to find that perfect song.
“I've gone through and made selections for people, they can then come in and have a look at the various songs that are traditionally being used, and they can play each of those songs to hear whether the words of the song are appropriate to their particular needs,” she explains.
Songs also create the background for the memorial video tribute, which they then put photos to.
Poetry is used for people who are not quite sure exactly what to say and opt for poems written by others who have shared their pain.
Traditional poems are available to download and use for free.
The website also offers themes for the background of the memorial all and video presentation, or people can upload and use their own.
For those who have not had to organise a funeral before, Donna forewarns they have no idea of the steps and the people needing to be involved and has created resources to help show people what happens traditionally.
“The first thing that you need to consider is the wishes of the person that has passed away. Going against their wishes is not something that you should be looking at.
“Choosing time and the day is fairly easy, but what should the order of ceremony look like?
“I've provided the ability to download this document as a PDF or a Microsoft Word document, so users can continue their planning and fill in the document as they are needing to.
“We talk about the fact that a traditional service has a eulogy and a slide show. Songs or hymns, prayers and bible or poetry readings. We look at ethnic customs and military services, including the acknowledgement of military service,” Donna outlines.
Our Treasured Memories also offers guidance in dealing with controversy.
“This can often be family issues that have been long in the background and could cause difficulties through that process and working out methods of dealing with potential problems.
“Sending out the invitations, where you'll hold a wake…so step by step, it guides you through exactly what needs to happen,” she says.
The site also includes helpful resources for grieving friends and family members, touching on ways of coping with grief, what is grief, what they could be feeling, and how to look after themselves through the process.
YOUR DIGITAL AFTERLIFE
Donna says while this is something no one is considering in the funeral industry, it imperative for us all.
“We are living our lives so much on the internet in a digital capacity, at the end of someone's life they may have hundreds of online accounts.
“We need to have conversations with family about their digital assets and accounts, passwords, and in preparation for being able to deal with whatever comes up,” Donna says.
When her sister died two years ago, Donna wanted to advise friends and colleagues who knew her sister from her time teaching in Hong Kong.
Donna did not have their contact details and needed to access her sisters email account to notify her friends overseas, that she had passed, and what the funeral arrangements were.
“Very fortunately, we guessed her password and I was able to get into her computer, which then gave us access to a number of her accounts that she had there.
“Without that, we had no way of communicating, and that's just one example of the sorts of things that you may need immediately following someone's death,” she demonstrates.
Donna found another example in which an American soldier who had returned from Afghanistan took his own life, whose parents were attempting to access his Facebook account for any indication of what was going on with him leading up to his death.
“Eighteen months and two court cases later they still unable to access that information, so the privacy issues companies are putting into place for very valid reasons then come back to bite us when we have someone who has passed away or who has become incapacitated for some reason, and cannot share that information.
“It's really important for people, and I know there is a security issue here, but it is very important to have those passwords written down somewhere,” Donna urges.
Photos play a vital role in any memorial; however, many people do not know how to scan and upload photos to make their presentations, or simply do not have the technology needed.
Donna did her research and incorporated a video tutorial on the Google Photo Scan app to her website, to show people to scan and replicate quality copies of photos, even those still in their photo frame, using a smartphone.
She also offers technical support for those needing to join a Zoom-based ceremony.
Donna says approximately 40% of people no longer have a plaque they may put in a cemetery, or a grave.
“Forty percent of people choose not to do that anymore, and their ashes are either put into an urn or they're scattered in a location that is special to them. So where do we remember them?” she asks.
Donna has created an online memorial wall, with four different screens.
The first is the main screen, which gives a general story about who the person was, written by those who love them the most.
If people want to send their condolences, instead of sending an email that is read and gone, Donna wanted to store all messages of love and support in one area, saved for eternity.
Friends and family can also upload the special photos of the person they spent lots of time with, so everyone can share the photos.
“The fourth section allows people share special memories, so everyone, not just the family, can get a really good picture of who that person was in every element of their lives,” Donna says.
Every comment that goes up must get approval from the organiser of the memorial wall before it gets posted to their site, to ensure this section remains as an honour to the person and filters out anything inappropriate.
“Once it's there, it will stay there for eternity, and I see this as just a wonderful tribute to the person, but it will also become a historical document, and will assist with things like family trees, and finding the heritage of peoples' families,” Donna reveals.
COMMEMORATING DURING COVID
Donna believes the online memorial ceremony offered by Our Treasured Memories will be valuable to many, given current world events.
“Within the last seven days 100,000 people have died from COVID-19, globally.
“If someone is diagnosed with COVID they are rushed to a hospital. Family cannot join them. They are in hospital by themselves. Family are being held back, so there is no connection between loved ones.
“If the person dies, the family cannot get together with friends to have a funeral.
“I cannot imagine the anguish, and the grief, and the horror of the situations they find themselves in.
“The only way I thought I could help in some way is to be able to do online memorial ceremonies.
“Once the ceremony is done, people can also then break into smaller groups, to have what is traditionally known as a wake,” Donna describes.
Donna is most proud of the video presentation offering, which no one in the world is doing.
She says the beauty of these video presentations, was knowing she could not say her son Matthew's eulogy live, so she put together his eulogy with photos and I played it.
“This is where all it came from, Our Treasured Memories.
“I cried a mountain of tears, What I found though was when I needed to spend time with Matthew in those initial couple of years, I would watch that video with tears pouring down my face.
“I continue to watch the video until the tears stopped, and now I watch that video with an absolute smile on my face, because it is the wonderful memories you hold onto.
“So, I found that video amazingly cathartic in my grieving process, which took quite a number of years,” Donna admits.
Having launched Our Treasured Memories and creating online communities via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, Donna says her focus is now on marketing and raising awareness about the platform.
“The most difficult challenge for me now is to get the message out that this is available.
“Unfortunately with this sort of business I can have Facebook posts, which aren't going to mean an awful lot to people, unless they are in the situation where they've just had someone pass away,” Donna explains.
As a first step, Donna is hoping to connect to the Australian market via funeral homes.
“Everything on our website is valuable information for every single person who has to go through this process.
“Regardless of whether you are going to do a ceremony online or not, I really need to connect into our Australian market, first.
“Then I need someone to show me how to tackle the international market, which is where I see our online memorial ceremonies will come to the fore,” Donna predicts.
If this article has raised emotional or mental health concerns, please phone Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.
Donna White is the founder and CEO of Our Treasured Memories; an online platform offering virtual memorial services. Donna is also an alumnus of the SmartHub.
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