A space in time removed, too soon to tell.
May 7, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Grieving Protocol Question: My community lost a beloved friend in an accident on Friday night. I have some recordings of his voice. How soon can I share these?

Part of my life's work is reinforcing the idea that we neglect sound as a trigger and a repository for memories. Most people take photos, shoot short videos, collect physical souvenirs, but not too many people just record the sounds of the voices closest to them in an everyday context. I've been doing so since I was a teenager, and it's provided me with an invaluable window on the person I used to be, and the people I've been closest to along the way.

We lost a beloved friend in a wreck this weekend. I have what amounts to several hours of this friend conversing casually at a gathering last fall. I would, at some point, like to share these with our mutual friends and loved ones, but in the interests of propriety, I'm not sure when the right time would be.

Everybody is still all over the map emotionally, and a few are still under very close watch. Knowing how intimate the sound of someone's voice can be, and not wanting to push anyone over the edge, I feel it would be indiscreet to just throw these out there without considering the ramifications. I'm inclined to sit on them a while, but I don't know how long.

MeFi, what would you do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i would e-mail your close mutual friends with your question, something like "I miss our friend so much. I recorded some of our conversations and thought they might help you connect with his memory in an intimate way. If and when you may want to and be ready to listen to these, please reach out to me. Also let me know how I can be there for you in this time"
posted by saraindc at 1:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wait until after the funeral/wake/ceremony is complete and then see what the mood feels like. Bring it up to one of your mutual friends who you don't think would be overly affected (saraindc's email suggestion is a good way to start), and go from there. You don't have to invite people to a big event where everyone sits around as you play his voice for several hours.

Until then, perhaps try categorizing your recordings. Snippets where he's talking with various people might be a good way to start.
posted by Etrigan at 1:42 PM on May 7, 2012

If you know how to contact them, I would first offer/mention these recordings to any surviving family members. It could feel awkward to have them forwarded on by another friend after the fact, or to have them included in a huge cc;d email to everyone your late friend knew, I think.
posted by elizardbits at 1:44 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

26 years ago I lost my father to cancer. After his death I squirreled away a tape from the recorder I rigged for him to take messages on. Some 15 years after his death I tried playing the recording for my sister. She lost her shit. We're talking unhinged. Some times it really freaks people out to hear the dead.

You might wish to make the recordings available via streaming or download and send out information about how to access them. That lets people know they exist and provides them the option to listen or not.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know about providing them as a download -- asking people to contact you when they're ready may be safer. I wouldn't contact someone until I was emotionally ready, but after an evening of binge drinking and sorrow I would download that file and, like FlamingBore says, lose my shit.

But that's if you're comfortable being the gatekeeper to this, which... maybe that's not something you want to do?
posted by AmandaA at 2:23 PM on May 7, 2012

Was he aware he was being recorded? Are these things he would want family and friends to hear?

Even if so, I would wait a good three months before doing anything, and let everyone's emotions settle a bit. That's highly unusual even in these times and there are no social standards. Unless the existence of the tapes was common knowledge.
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:42 PM on May 7, 2012

I think the thing to do is just make it known that you have these recordings, and that you're happy to share them with anyone who wants to hear them. That way, people can come to you when they're ready.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a similar situation regarding a friend who died at the beginning of the year. I played them for my most-reliably even-tempered friend a couple of months ago, but the even-temperedness meant I didn't get much of a signal from him. OK. Then, a few weeks ago we had a local memorial for him, and a friend came over to hang out with another friend who was staying with me for a few days. I played it for them, and there wasn't much reaction. OK, again.

So, these things are precious, to be sure, but I'm not sure there's much value in putting them up on YouTube or anything like that (general availability) unless you just want to send a link out and be done with it. Now that I've played them for a few close people, my plan is just to tell people that I have them, and if they want to hear them then they can hit me up. No biggie.
posted by rhizome at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2012

Please don't conflate your "life's work" with other people's grief. The fact that a random recorded conversation with the deceased exists does not mean you should make it available to your community at all. I am sorry that you lost your friend but this person's family and closest loved ones get dibs on their own grief. This is not the time to introduce a new way of experiencing the world to people. Now, if the recording was some kind of profound "last lecture" discussion that would be different, but people have their own final memories of the deceased and it's kind of an invasion of that private intimate memory for a random recording to "record over it."
posted by headnsouth at 6:26 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's really no protocol for community grieving other than not to make it about you. Read your question over and see if you're violating that one.
posted by MarkAnd at 7:14 PM on May 7, 2012

Yeah, the important thing here is not to push them on anyone, not to spring them on anyone unawares, and not to create a situation where anyone feels socially pressured to listen. Let his friends and family come to you if they want a copy.

I think that like it or not there is a difference between this and photography, and it has to do with habits and social norms. We grow up looking at photographs of our dead ancestors. Any time someone dies, we take out our pictures of them and pass them around. It's part of the standard grieving ritual, part of the standard memorial service, etc. And so people are emotionally prepared for it, and know to expect it.

Playing voice recordings of the deceased is not such a standard thing, and so while it's totally okay to be like "I think we should do this" or "I want our culture to evolve into one where we do do this," you have to recognize that people where they stand right now might not expect it or be prepared for it. And if you're already grieving and someone pushes you into an experience that you're not expecting and not prepared for, that's not such a great thing.

Which doesn't mean that you should hide the recordings or never release them or whatever, and doesn't mean that it's wrong of you to want people to listen to them. But it does mean you should be very gentle and private in how you make them available, and should also try to participate in the culturally standard rituals (like, uh, passing around photographs) to the extent that you can.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:14 AM on May 8, 2012

I already answered but I feel compelled to relate an anecdote that illustrates my point. My father died, quite young and quite suddenly. He was usually clean-shaven but occasionally over a winter he would grow a tight beard/mustache, and when he died he had 4-5 days' worth, that messy stage before it fills in, salt & pepper and just awful looking. We gave the the funeral home a recent clean-shaven picture of him and instructed them to get rid of the stubble.

So a day or two later the funeral home called to tell us his body was ready for viewing. For some reason, they left just a mustache, and had dyed the grey out of it and filled it in somehow so it was a full mustache. Never, never in his life did he ever have just a mustache. It was so shocking to me that even though I had seen him alive almost every day for my entire life, and even though I had seen him dead in his underwear, half in and half out of his bed, that is the image of him that is seared into my memory. This weird half-familiar 70s-pornstarmustache-wearing dead person. It's been 25 years and to this day I regret walking into that room.

Seriously, the people who are grieving the loss of your friend already have his voice in their head, and he's saying familiar things to them, things that they heard him say in life. Please don't record over those sounds.
posted by headnsouth at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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