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Memories of a Life Well Lived

Donna Pullan is the owner of Legacy Photos and Stories, a boutique legacy preservation service that helps families organize, preserve, and share their photos, stories, and memories. ~ Cathi Nelson


Memories of a Life Well Lived

by Donna Pullan

Everyone has a story and every story matters. I love helping people tell their stories using photos and memorabilia. There is nothing more meaningful to family members than passing these treasures along.

I worked with a family who had thousands of photographs: years and years of photos of a family with four children and very active, on-the-go lives. We began organizing photos of their son, who had lost his life in the World Trade Center on 9/11. They wanted his story told—photo proof that he had lived a life filled with family and friends, achievement, fun, and laughter. We have birth certificates and death certificates, but photos show proof that we really lived.

They had several high-end leather albums with his name embossed on the covers, but they could never bring themselves to sort through all the photos and choose the most special ones to preserve. That’s where I came in.

You need to be prepared for what an emotional process any sort of celebration of life or tribute book can be. I spent many hours with the family (primarily the wife). Seeing and hearing her pain when she told me the stories associated with the photos of her son was deeply personal and touching. There were days when she couldn’t do it. There were times that I got emotional and cried. I would have to step away for a couple of hours or a couple of days. When working with a tragedy such as the loss of a child, we first determine what the message is to be. This family wanted a tribute book. From that, I developed a project management out- line of how we would proceed. The outline held it all together.

After a couple of initial sorting sessions with the client, I saw a pattern develop and could start grouping the photos by category.

The photos don’t have to be in chronological order. I had pages of school pictures from elementary school through college, and pages of his athletic life. It’s not about choosing the best photo. It’s about what part of the story each photo tells. Everyday moments speak better than posed portraits: reading to his little brother, eating popcorn in front of the TV, playing with his cat.

It was a healing process for the family. I needed their input, so we talked a lot about their son and the stories of his life. They got to tell their son’s story to someone new. I think the whole sorting, organizing, scanning, and book process helped them also. They saw those mounds of photos organized and preserved. They had two stunning books that highlighted what a special young man their son was and how fortunate he was to have lived a life that was filled with so much love, laughter, and friendship.

They accomplished this tribute to their son that they had wanted to do for so long. They have a cohesive, meaningful story to share with others. I hope this gave them just a little bit of closure.

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