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Remembering A Life recently sat down with Barry Koch and Jason Zamer, founders of TGBeyond, to talk about the role virtual memorials have played during the past year when traditional gatherings have been limited due to social distancing and gathering restrictions. Their entrance into the virtual memorial space came at a time when families were looking for alternatives and, for one of the founders, also fulfilled a very personal need to remember a life. 

Remembering A Life: Tell us a bit about how TGBeyond started out. What was the first virtual memorial you planned?

Barry: Jason and I were working on how to deliver a meaningful virtual memorial in May of 2020 when my mother died unexpectedly.  With COVID surging, and my family dispersed from Florida, to New York, California and Oregon, the first virtual memorial we produced was for my mother.  Though emotionally challenging to work on, the memorial was exceptionally meaningful, and fulfilled our families' need to collectively grieve and celebrate the life of a wonderful woman.   Since then, we have been creating impactful virtual memorials for families dealing with loss, grief and the realities of the pandemic.

Remembering A Life: And now here we are, a full year later. And it’s been a year of virtual living, virtual school and virtual memorials. How are things going for both of you one year into the pandemic? 

Jason: On the home front, I can’t decide if I am living in Hotel California or Groundhog Day.  To say that we are ready for the kids to be back in school would be an understatement. On the virtual memorial front, I am excited and feel like we are delivering really meaningful and surprisingly intimate end-of-life tributes for families.

Barry: I totally agree. Starting with the virtual memorial we produced for my mom earlier last year, I have continued to be amazed at how emotional these events are, and how the life stories of the people we are memorializing seem to magically emerge from the photos, videos and tributes we collect.  

Remembering A Life: Before we get too far down the road, maybe we should take a step back.  For people who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe a virtual memorial?

Jason: I guess the easiest way to think of it is a memorial where the guests can join and participate without being physically in the same place. Needless to say, this is being driven by COVID. Even without COVID, I have wanted to attend a memorial and not been able to attend because of work, budget and travel time.  And post COVID, I think that memorials, and many celebrations and ceremonies, will have in-person and virtual components.

Barry: And this just addresses the technical and gathering side of the equation.  One of the things that has pleasantly surprised us - and our client families - is how intimate the events are.  For my part, the story sharing of a well-produced virtual memorial far exceeds that of many in-person memorials I have attended.  What we are finding is that most people are more comfortable taping heartfelt tributes in the comfort of their own homes, as opposed to walking to the front of a church, chapel or synagogue and addressing 200 people while wearing uncomfortable clothing.  Also, because we are pre-producing segments of the memorials, we are able to more effectively use photos, videos, social media posts and other family artifacts as part of the storytelling. 

Jason: Which is an important point. We have heard anecdotally from a number of people that live transmissions of funerals and memorials using stationary cell phones or cameras graveside are not particularly satisfying. In order to create a meaningful, impactful virtual memorial for a family, you need to take advantage of what the format and technology can offer. 

Barry: Regarding the technology, it is pretty amazing how quickly people have adapted to the notion of virtuality and the use of the technology. I remember events we produced earlier last year, and how challenging it was for many older folks to get comfortable with the technology.   And now, most people totally get it and the technology is working very well.  Evidently, you can teach old dogs new tricks, which bodes well for me. 

Jason: Yes, everyone has been able to attend the memorial.  Although you did have that one unfortunate cameo of your face, the ceiling and the inside of a desk drawer.

Barry: If you are referring to that thing that happened with the memorial right after Christmas, the camera went crazy and I panicked.   And the memorial only looked like “The Blair Witch Project” for like three seconds.  

Remembering A Life: What are the three or four things you have learned producing virtual memorials that might help people who are considering this option?

Jason: On the family side, I would say give yourself enough time to plan the memorial, invite the guests, gather the photos and videos and produce the event. Don't put too much time pressure on yourself. On the provider side, be clear with who you are working for and what you need to be successful, and not get in a situation where you are allowing multiple family members or friends to offer logistical and editorial input.  

Barry: Both of those are good points. On a somewhat related points, be clear if you want to produce a virtual memorial yourself, or hire a company, like TGBeyond, to help you. In the same way you can paint your own house, replumb the bathroom or build a kayak, you can produce a virtual memorial yourself. That said, we have strong production backgrounds and can really help you with story sharing and content, as well as manage all the details and technology. We also try and make the decision making for clients as clear and simple as possible.  

Remembering A Life: Is there anything else you want to share?

Jason: Well, to this point, we have been working on client referrals and word of mouth which has served us well.  Now that we have ironed out the kinks and gotten a few more people on the team, we are partnering with funeral directors looking to expand the virtual options they can offer to their families.     

Learn More on the Remembering A Life Podcast

Hear more from Barry Koch and Jason Zamer on the Remembering A Life Podcast: COVID-19: A Year of Loss - Virtual Memorials

About Barry Koch and Jason Zamer
Barry Koch has 30+ years media experience in production, market research and general management with CNN, TNT, Turner Classic Movies and Cartoon Network. Beginning with the death of a young son in 1997, he has served more than 20 years as a volunteer, donor and board of directors member of Visiting Nurse Health System / Hospice Atlanta. He is a Certified Thanatologist through ADEC, Association of Death Education and Counseling, is part of the Speakers Bureau for Green Burial Council and is Co-founder of TGBeyond.

Jason Zamer started a company called SimpleC to help people living with dementia to live better each day based on behavioral science.  He innovated a technology platform that uses personal media, such as family photos, voice recordings, favorite songs and family videos, to encourage people to live happier and healthier everyday.  A primary feature was the collection and sharing of the storyboard of each individual’s life.  This life review is also known as reminiscence therapy.  This was used as a non-drug alternative to improving the individuals’ behavior and family visits.

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