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Nonprofits help dying make farewell videos

SCARSDALE, New York--Carolyn Ngbokoli doesn't remember the sound of her mother's voice. She was just 19 when her mom died, and no recordings were left.

Now Ngbokoli, 37, faces the possibility of her own early death, from breast cancer. But she has made sure that her sons, 4 and 6 years old, can see how she loved them, hear how she spoke to them and be reminded of her advice to them long after she's gone.

With the no-cost help of an organization called Thru My Eyes, Ngbokoli, of White Plains, New York, recorded a video of memories and guidance.

“I want to be able to tell my boys as much as I can and leave them something to look back on,” Ngbokoli said.

Leaving a farewell video isn't new — Michael Keaton did it in a 1993 movie called “My Life” — but it is evolving beyond the version in which a dying person talks to an unmanned camera on a tripod or spends hundreds of dollars for a videographer who also records weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Thru My Eyes, based in Scarsdale, New York, and Memories Live, of Milburn, New Jersey, are among the nonprofits filling a niche in which people with terminal diagnoses — usually cancer-stricken parents with young children — get emotional as well as technical support, for free.

E. Angela Heller, a social worker for cancer patients at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, has sent half a dozen patients to Thru My Eyes, which was founded by a cancer survivor.

“Every single one has said it's a wonderful experience,” she said. “What makes this different is the deep support from the videographers. These people know illness, they know cancer. They know how to schedule around chemotherapy weeks.”

Ngbokoli found the production to be an emotional process.

“There were times when I was laughing about funny things that happened to us,” Ngbokoli said. “But then there were times when it was torturous, where I had to look in the camera and say, 'If you're watching this and I'm not here.'”

Carri Rubenstein, 61, is the co-founder and president of Thru My Eyes, which has completed more than 40 videos. A cancer survivor herself, she was inspired when she heard a friend with a bad diagnosis wish aloud a few years ago that she could find someone to help her make a video for her family.

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