“I couldn’t even say goodbye to my husband of six decades. I could only press my elbow against his at the hospital entrance. That was it.”
I stared at my grandmother’s text displayed on my unsympathetic smartphone. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve gotten on a plane and make the 15 000 mile journey home. Home, where I can hug my family, eat traditional South African comfort food, go for a walk along the beach to clear my head.
Instead, travel restrictions due to the pandemic made it impossible. Under normal circumstances, I can manage my homesickness. This time, I knew that a text or a call wouldn’t be enough to process the passing of our patriarch.
With his descendants and loved ones scattered between Australia, Germany, the UK, and various parts of South Africa, I knew that a live-streamed funeral via an unstable internet connection would only serve as a painful reminder that we couldn’t come together to mourn the passing of our patriarch.
I decided to compile an audio memorial service by collecting eulogies, in the form of WhatsApp voice notes, from friends and family. Using these eulogies, along with carefully curated background music and sound effects, I crafted a memorial service that we could all listen to simultaneously. From the intimacy of our living rooms, speckled across the globe, we said goodbye. Together. Yet apart.
My grandfather’s audio memorial helped me and my family to reclaim our grief. The eulogies weren’t praises typically shared at a funeral. They were stories of seemingly insignificant acts of kindness: his appreciation for nature, playing chess for hours on end, citing quotes from a John Le Carre novel, complimenting my grandmother on her cooking.
The audio format of a private podcast is a protective shield against judgment, nerves and fear, creating an environment where each person can grieve authentically: those who wail, those who stutter, those who chuckle at a funny story.
Sitting in front of a hifi speaker isn’t a substitute for a physical funeral, but it provided us with a way to honour his memory. It was accessible, authentic and safe.
I shared my ideas with others and Herklink — a portmanteau of “herinner” (remember) and “klank” (sound) in my native Afrikaans language — was born. I help families craft their own audio memorials – a dignified end of life celebration that trumps the restrictions of a global pandemic.
My clients tell me that for them the audio memorial was the most multifaceted, intentional way to grieve. It’s a tacit reminder that although our loved ones are no longer with us, that they live on within us.
Stories are how we make sense of our lives – especially when grief makes everything seem senseless. Listening to a story of a loved one requires intentional “re-membering”: crafting a living imprint of the person who has passed away. Their stories matter, because they matter. Your story matters too. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen.