For funeral director Angela McKenzie, a person's life doesn't end with a memorial service. That life continues to flow through scrapbook pages commemorating shared experiences and meaningful times.
McKenzie, who learned how to create photo scrapbooks when she was in high school, is teaching others how to preserve their memories. Each month she offers a scrapbook workshop at Ross Hollywood Chapel, where she works. The next workshop will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, in the chapel, 4733 N.E. Thompson St. The theme is "Grandma and Grandpa."
The free workshops are open to the public, especially those whose family members or friends have recently died. Supplies and refreshments are provided; participants need to bring photos. Call 503-281-1800 for reservations.
Ross Hollywood Chapel also includes the Killingsworth St. Johns Lombard Little Chapel of the Chimes funeral services.
McKenzie presented her first workshop just before Father's Day, and 10 women showed up to prepare scrapbook pages focusing on their dads. Most of the women's fathers had died; others — like McKenzie — still had their fathers but wanted to create special pages for them.
"It was fun to tell stories about my dad," said McKenzie, displaying a page showing several photos of her father, "and it was fun to hear about other fathers."
As the women sorted through old photos and clipped around smiling faces or glued down prepared stickers saying "Dad," they exchanged family stories. Such a workshop provides grieving families a safe and secure place to share such stories, McKenzie said.
"It's a safe and social situation to talk about the details of their loved ones' lives," she added.
McKenzie herself had been through some personal emotional challenges, and, at the end of the workshop, "I felt like I had gotten a great big hug by 10 different people," she said.
Even for those with fumbling fingers, creating a scrapbook isn't difficult, said McKenzie, who admires craft queen Martha Stewart.
"You can make something beautiful without being a crafty diva on TV," McKenzie added. "We provide all the different tools — the cutting tools, glue, adhesive, paper, stickers and ribbons. And we demonstrate how to use the tools."
Funeral chapels operated by Dignity Memorial, including Ross Hollywood, began offering the workshops several months ago. When McKenzie was asked if she would like to conduct workshops for Ross Hollywood, she eagerly agreed. She understood how therapeutic "scrapbooking" can be to recall good memories; she put a scrapbook page together when her aunt died of breast cancer.
"I had all these photos of her in a pile, and I kept circling around them, but I didn't do anything with them. That's not giving them the honor and respect they deserve. Now, because she's gone, these photos are completely priceless."
The scrapbook pages, she said, "complement the beauty of the picture."
But, McKenzie added, "to heal, you have to talk. Sometimes in workshops, it surprises people that others have gone through the same thing. It's empowering. If people don't have anyone to talk to, it festers."
McKenzie is assisted in the workshops by T.J. Browning, who does public relations for Ross Hollywood. Browning said she enjoys the participants' creativity, and she is touched by their willingness to talk through their grief.
"When you're sitting at a table with someone, working on a project, and you're not making eye contact, it's a safe way to talk about it. The distraction of the scrapbook makes it easier; it brings down barriers," Browning said.
The interaction also is a non-threatening way to reconnect with people after a loved-one's death, added McKenzie, who always tells her clients to call her if they need to talk. Despite her encouragement, however, people often don't contact her even if they need to tell someone they're not doing well.
"A lot of times after a death people go home and they don't know what to do. We worry about them here. We don't know how to reconnect with them. When you're in grief, you have to be soft with yourself," McKenzie said. "It's nice to talk about things that are very hard (to talk about)."
Lately, McKenzie and Browning have taken the workshops on the road, to local senior housing complexes and to the Hollywood Senior Center.
Although the workshops are free, McKenzie is paid in other ways. When the sessions are over, "the looks on people's faces are pure contentment," she said. "They have accomplished something; there's a sense of closure and completeness."