In the summer 2017, Nayeon, third among the sibling of four, was diagnosed with leukemia and hospitalized for medical care. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it through the treatment and passed away by fall — leaving her family, especially her mother, completely devastated.
Since the loss of her daughter, Nayeon’s mother admitted she has been living in pain and guilt. To help her relieve some of that grief, MBC‘s special segment of VR Human Documentary kicked off a virtual reality project that would reunite a VR-Nayeon with her mother. The team collected as much information as possible on Nayeon and from girls around Nayeon’s age. From a deep learning process of the minute-long data of Nayeon’s voice the team had, they recreated her voice…
… as well as movements, and facial expressions. The team got help from other 7-year-olds to best portray Nayeon as had she been alive. With motion capturing done based on Nayeon’s past videos…
… the team finally put together a virtual Nayeon.
On the day of the experience, Nayeon’s mother walked into MBC’s virtual reality studio nervous and worried. She had long hoped to see Nayeon again, but didn’t know what to expect. Soon, she geared up and found herself standing on a peaceful grassy field.
As the mother began searching for Nayeon, the virtual voice called out, “Umma!” A small girl, who looks, sounds, and acts like Nayeon, approached the mother. When the mother came face to face with the virtual Nayeon, she helplessly broke down in tears — and so did the viewers.
Nayeon, I missed you so much… My baby. You’ve been well, right? Oh… I wish I could hold you.
— Nayeon’s Mom
Though unable to hold in her hands, Nayeon’s mother kept caressing the digital recreation of her daughter. And though her heart continued to shatter with each caress, the mother was able to finally say out loud some of the things that have been on her mind for years since the day she lost Nayeon.
I won’t cry anymore. I won’t miss you so much either. Instead, I’ll love you in my heart forever. I’ll love you even more than I do now…
— Nayeon’s Mom
As a part of the sequence the team prepared, the mother and VR-Nayeon held a birthday party which they never got to have. There, Nayeon wished that the family would stay strong, healthy, and happy. Slowly but surely coming to terms with Nayeon’s death, the mother promised her virtual daughter to stop living in guilt and perhaps even move on from grieving.
I know I’ve held on to you, knowing that it made things harder. I’m sorry for not having been able to let you go, so I could live. I have things to do here for your unni, oppa and dongsaeng but once I’m ready, I’ll come find you no matter where you are. Then we can live happily ever after there. Goodbye Nayeon…
— Nayeon’s Mom
After crying through the entire documentary with Nayeon’s mother, Korean viewers became convinced that this virtual reality technology — once more fully developed and improved — could bring closure and aid in recovery for many grieving families who lost their loved ones.
- “This was an excellent program that made me think about how humans need to move forward with all the technology we have and how we as humans should treat each other.”
- “I think the VR program will help families say their last words. It will relieve some of the longing and guilt. This would eventually become a great way of treating the grief for psychiatrists.”
- “This would have provided the mother with the closure she needed, I believe… Saying goodbye takes time but we never get to have the chance once we’re ready.”
The emotional reunion has gained over 3 million views on YouTube in a day’s time. Watch Nayeon come to life to comfort her mother here: