One of the hardest things any human has to do is to say goodbye to someone they love. Finding a way to express such grief can go a long way in the healing process. Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, the way people grieve has also changed. Because of quarantines, social distancing, and travel restrictions, people have not been able to hold traditional funerals, one of the first steps in the grieving process.
Earlier this month, Ben Jackson a sheep farmer from New South Wales, lost his beloved auntie, Debby. Two years earlier, Debby had been diagnosed with cancer, and because of the pandemic, Ben was unable to visit with her in person as she lived in Brisbane. But Ben found a way to show Debby a little of his day to day life with the help of his drone.
During the record setting drought Australia faced last year, Ben would have to lay out grain in the fields to feed his sheep. Out of boredom, he decided to start laying the grain out in patterns to see how the sheep would move and congregate to feed. Sending his drone up over the field, Ben began capturing videos and images of his sheep spelling out the names of bands that he liked or basic shapes. He would send these drone images to Debby, who was simply delighted by them and ever so proud of her nephew.
When Debby passed away, travel restrictions because of the Delta variant made it so that Ben was unable to attend Debby’s funeral. “There was no way I could get up there and see her, say cheerio, or go to the funeral,” Ben said. “So I felt hopeless, helpless, I didn’t really know what to do.” Then he remembered how much Debby had loved the drone videos he had sent her in the past. So he decided to once again make a drone video for her. “Because I was doing a bit of feeding already,” he said, “I just decided to do a massive heart in the ground, which in all earnest, pales in comparison to hers.”
Ben went on to say it took some trial and error to get the drone video just right, after all, it had to be perfect for Debby’s memory. In a large field with a lone tree, Ben laid out feed grain in a perfect giant heart shape. He then herded the sheep towards the field and sent his drone up over the area. What transpires is truly breathtaking. With one of Debby’s favorite songs playing in the background, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, the sheep begin to converge on the field.
Through the drone’s bird’s eye view, the sheep look like pristine white, fluffy clouds scattering across the field. Suddenly, the white blobs begin to form a perfect heart. The outline of the heart is a solid frame of sheep, while more fill in the center gaps. Ben’s family played the drone video at Debby’s funeral, to which everyone had a visceral emotional reaction. Ben was sure that Debby was looking down on her family with love and pride at that moment.
After the funeral, On August 24, 2021, Ben posted his video on social media. Since then, the drone video has gone viral with millions of views. Not only are people impressed by the way the drone captured the stunning image, but the love behind it all. “This heart that I’ve done for my auntie,” Ben said, “it certainly seems like it’s had a bit of an effect across Australia. Maybe we all just need to give ourselves a big virtual hug.” Ben said that he is no expert on grief, just a farmer who loves and misses his auntie. He never realized that a drone and some sheep could be so healing.