SFYOU: A Proper Farewell founders talk humanizing the pandemic

The goal of this initiative is to provide a virtual memorial for those lost to COVID-19

Photo: Studio Kleio (Pictured from left to right: Carolyn Yip, David Waizel, Nicole Woo)

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

Name: David Waizel
Pronouns: He/him/his
Departmental Affiliation: Fifth-year IAT and Business Student
Hometown: Coquitlam, BC
Occupation: Freelance Graphic Designer

Name: Carolyn Yip
Pronouns: She/her/hers
Departmental Affiliation: Fourth-year IAT Student
Hometown: Snohomish, Washington
Occupation: Freelance videographer and designer

SFU students David Waizel, Nicole Woo, and Carolyn Yip have been making the most of their time indoors with the creation of A Proper Farewell, a “non-profit initiative for you to share your loved one’s story to the greater community through a digital platform.” I had a chat over Zoom with Waizel and Yip to talk about the new project Woo was unfortunately unavailable.

Talking to people — especially those who you’ve just met through Zoom — isn’t the most ideal situation. However, this was quickly normalized after Waizel saw my Animal Crossing-themed background and Yip’s mountain range one and decided to join us in our “background party” by putting up one of the Golden Gate Bridge. This small detail brought some brightness to our call, much like the initiative that they started.

“At the beginning of [COVID-19], all we would see are statistics [and] numbers. Everyday on the news you would see ‘Today, a grim milestone’ or ‘Italy reached this marker [ . . . ] It almost desensitized the fact that behind every number was a life. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around [ . . . ] these huge numbers and you almost forget that these are real people,” Waizel began.

At the time I’m writing this, over 460,000 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 with 168 of those in BC. 

The project was born out of their desire to remedy the facelessness of these numbers.

“You’re learning bits and pieces about a person’s life and I think that’s really valuable because you connect with them [ . . . ] Even if it’s just one person, that number means something to you.”

Waizel passionately explained that along with making people realize the gravity of the pandemic, they also wanted to “share the optimistic parts of a person’s life.

“At the end of the day, these people are just like us; they had dreams, hopes, goals, problems, they had full lives and were taken so soon because of the virus.”

“We wanted to help remember people for how they lived and not how they passed,” Yip summarized.

The pair have been mainly using these storytelling skills at their student-run startup Studio Kleio, which Waizel clarified has services where they “create heirlooms for families” through videos and photo albums to “capture the connections we have throughout our lives.”

He elaborated that A Proper Farewell has the same essence of storytelling as Studio Kleio, but that it’s a much more simplified version, rather than it being edited a certain way — it was made purely with the intention to have stories be heard.

“We don’t tweak anything that they write, just so it makes sense as a story.”

Yip also humbly added that unlike the for-profit Studio Kleio, they “don’t really want to gain anything” from A Proper Farewell. Waizel echoed this sincere sentiment, mentioning that they want to distance the two entities to not make it seem like A Proper Farewell is a promotion for Studio Kleio. I could tell that this disclaimer was truthful because it came out unpolished, and from a place of selflessness.

Curious about the process, I asked how it works for a family member to share their loved one’s story, and found that it’s relatively simple. Yip explained that they just need to go to their website and fill out a form. Amongst more basic details like name and age, they request more “key aspects” about them like “what they remember about the loved one” and their “go-to” saying.

They also make sure to confirm everything with the family before they post it on their Facebook and Instagram pages. 

They’ve just scratched the surface with this project with three submissions since the beginning of May. But collecting stories isn’t always that simple, as Waizel lamented that there were difficulties of faulty submission forms and non-responses from submitters. Despite this, he remained determined to collect more submissions. 

When I asked them if it’s difficult to look at the entries, Yip clarified, “You mean emotionally?”

A shared chuckle later, Waizel talked about how it hasn’t affected him in a negative way yet because they haven’t seen many stories, but that it’s “a reminder that [the pandemic] is happening.”

“It feels like I’m paying my respects to them. It feels like I’m doing what I can to acknowledge this issue and acknowledge their life. So if anything it feels like I’m doing something right in their legacy.

“The hard part is that we’ve known a couple people that have had a family member pass away and we want to reach out to people, but it’s hard making that connection to talk to them when their loved one has passed away,” Yip mentioned.

“In some aspects, you feel sad a little bit [ . . . ] But when you learn more about them you kind of see the opposite side like ‘Oh, they did this, that’s cool.’”

Waizel added that “You’re learning bits and pieces about a person’s life and I think that’s really valuable because you connect with them [ . . . ] Even if it’s just one person, that number means something to you.”

They hope that through the project they can help families, even if it’s just one, cope with their loss. Waizel earnestly explained that long-term he hopes that they can create an “online memorial” where people can look back to remember and be more “cognisant” of the impact of the pandemic.

Even after the bulk of the pandemic is gone they still want to keep the project up but “hopefully not collect as many stories,” as Yip said light-heartedly.

“We don’t want their lives to just disappear into thin air.”

Continuing their modest vibe, they then told me that they hoped this Features piece would focus more on the project than themselves. Waizel, while noting that this is a very “candid” response, felt that they haven’t “earned all of the press” that they’ve gotten due to their low story count.

“More than anything we want to push this initiative in contrast to pushing —”

“Ourselves,” Yip finished, laughing at the idea.

Yip continued with saying that “even if you can’t be on the front lines, maybe there are small ways you can help out,” even if it’s just as simple as sharing their project to other people. 

“We need everyone’s help within the SFU community if they know someone who has passed away. They don’t need to tell them, they just need to send the info of A Proper Farewell to them so if the family is interested they have the opportunity to share it. We know that going to a big news [outlet] is kind of scary [ . . . ] We just need everyone’s help to spread the word so we can share more stories.”

The pair’s jovial but serious demeanour and their desire to have their project to help people makes me just a bit more hopeful that our time communicating in front of screens and virtual backgrounds may grow to feel a bit more proper as it goes on. Visit a-proper-farewell.webflow.io to submit a story or share it to others who may want to. Stories are shared on their Instagram page, as well as their Facebook page.