Thanks to her love of creating home videos from vacation and birthday party footage, Kerry Glass was a pro at turning her family's most treasured moments into lasting keepsakes. What she never envisioned was that her hobby would lead her to a new life path. Three years ago she heard that a woman who lived near her Millburn, New Jersey, home had passed away from lung cancer at the age of 39, leaving behind two kids under age 6. While Kerry had only met the woman casually, their sons were about the same age. Kerry couldn't stop thinking about how that woman's children would never truly know their mother -- her personal stories or hopes for their future -- and she was inspired to take action.
With her youngest son entering kindergarten, Kerry realized she had the opportunity to go back to work. She decided to pursue something she passionately believed in. "I wanted to create life movies for the terminally ill that would let them leave a lasting memory for their family and friends," says Kerry. She realized she could combine her film experience with her skills from a previous job as an art therapist at a nursing home. In July 2010, Kerry launched Memories Live, a nonprofit that helps terminally ill people create movies as a leave-behind gift.
Kerry started by cold-calling support groups, hospices, hospitals and cancer centers. Social workers became a main source of referrals, helping her spread the word. "Once people heard it was free, it was easier to pitch," she says. "I didn't want to be another bill on their desks and knew in my heart that I couldn't charge anyone."
Kerry interviews each video's subject at his or her home with a small camera, tripod and microphone. "It helps that I'm a stranger walking into their lives, unaware of their history," she explains. "People truly open up to me, telling stories their family might not know." After the interview, Kerry edits the footage and incorporates photographs as well as favorite songs for background music. Some clients also recite poetry, sing or read a bedtime story.
"I really try to delve into subjects' unique personalities," Kerry says. If they have young children, she'll ask parents to offer advice about choosing a college or a career and to incorporate anecdotes from their own experiences. People have also shared thoughts on finding a spouse and planning a wedding interspersed with recollections from their own marriage. "I encourage the client to be the director," says Kerry, "and take the movie on whatever path she wants."
In the almost three years since founding Memories Live, Kerry has had 45 clients, from age 22 to 96. She credits her nursing home experience with teaching her how to stay strong.
"When I walk into someone's home, I know I have to keep it together," she says. "I need to be the strength behind the camera." Clients often express their gratitude, telling Kerry how cathartic and wonderful the experience is. "The positives outweigh the sad parts of the job," she says.