I really loved this article: Among Koreans, Giving Death Your Best Face by Rena Silverman, about the Korean tradition of having a nice portrait photograph taken as part of the normal funeral preparations we all make.
My husband has very strong feelings about remembering people in their prime, especially when it comes to family tree photos. We don’t concern ourselves with community family tree lineage arguments, but my husband WILL fight for control of the photos that are displayed. He feels strongly that a person should be remembered as they would likely think of themselves-in their prime.
His dad passed a few years ago and he hates seeing a “grandfatherly” photo appear on the tree. We swapped it for one of his father’s college photos. You go back two or three generations and you probably have no choice but to use a photo of someone in their later years-their age at the advent of good photography and the means to have nice photos taken. Not anymore.
Never has a generation had greater means, access, and skill for taking photos. Millennials will not lack for good funeral photographs. I love that Ms. Sohn, from Ms. Silverman’s article, visited seniors in churches, senior centers, and community centers and gave them the gift of a nice photo, even photoshopping a few to let them remember how they felt in their prime.
I remember in my youth hearing a retired gentleman speak to an audience and he addressed the young people saying, “I see you running right past me and I know all you see is an old man, but in my mind I still feel like I’m 16, like I’m one of you.” That’s always stayed with me. At first it was such a foreign idea, that he thought he was like us in any way, then it became my underlying assumption about aging, that we still think as a younger version of ourselves.
So in honor of the Korean tradition of giving death its best face, I found a photo of my mom from her high school graduation that I’m uploading to my FamilySearch and MyHeritage family trees. She died at forty-two, so all her photos are youthful, but this one seems appropriate because she had the heart of a teenager. Whether its with online family trees for the deceased or our living elders, let’s pass this tradition down-enabling youth to relate to their elders by seeing them the way they see themselves.