Monthly Archives: October 2013

The declining value of age: People and Antiques

How are people like antiques?  Theoretically their values increase over time because antiques become more rare and people become wiser from a lifetime of experience. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this concept flies in the face of what our society is saying about older people and of an antiques market not as robust as in past years.  Both antiques and older people are struggling through a decline in interest within the younger population.

Having photographed thousands of antique objects and hundreds of antique dealer showrooms over the years, it may have been inevitable that my interest in old things now includes the antique dealers themselves (not that they are old mind you, but will be some day) as well as the older population in general.

In William H. Thomas’ book, What are Old People For?, he points out that our society treats the aging process as a disease, something to avoid at all costs.  Mr. Thomas states that a whole industry has sprung up to ward off aging.  Anti wrinkle creams, botox injections, human growth hormone treatments are just some of the “solutions” marketed to us to help prolong, or hide the aging process.  The waning interest in antiques and in old people seemingly go hand in hand, or at least represent two separate phenomena that are running in parallel.

On the antiques side, the interest in antiques (while historically cyclical) is certainly in a down cycle at the moment.  But I can’t help but think that something else is going on, something related to both antiques and the older population.  The value of age seems to be lost to our younger generations.

Antiques and old people can teach us a lot about our history.  Both have withstood the age of time (in relative terms).  Every antique object (and older person) has a unique story to tell.  Antique objects offer a glimpse into the past.  They offer a tangible connection with lives from generations of long ago.  An antique object serves to connect us with our pasts and in doing so derives its value.  Herein lies where I believe many antique dealers have the opportunity to revive their market. By providing  a  narrative that tells the story of the object (and the people using or making it) helps forge a connection to the past  adding interest and subsequently value to the object.

On the people side, using the definition of an antique as something that is 100 years old or older, most people never themselves become antique.  But they too can connect us with a distant past (100 years and more) by sharing the memories of their parents and grandparents lives and experiences and archiving their own life experiences for future generations.

Maybe, if older people find a way to instill a sense of value in their own family narrative, the appreciation of objects that relate to that narrative or that time will be more appreciated as well. If antique dealers do a better job of revealing the stories behind an antique and older people do a better job of revealing the stories of their own life experiences, the younger generation will take note and come to better understand and appreciate both.

So if you have a story to tell about your life or the life of a loved one, we would be honored to help you tell it and preserve it for future generations.

An End of Life Lesson: Why was Dad on the psych ward?

My dad and I were saying goodbye, knowing this would be the last time we would ever see each other.  While in an embrace, a hospital employee was tugging at his arm trying to get him into a scheduled session with other patients on the floor.  There apparently was a very strong emphasis on interacting with other patients as part of his “program” – whether he liked it or not.  I was appalled at their insistence and lack of empathy in not allowing us some privacy and a little more time to say goodbye to each other. Admittedly, they did not know (as he and I did) that this was to be our final goodbye.

Several days earlier, I had entered the hospital where Dad was admitted and was directed to the 8th floor – the psych ward.  What was Dad doing on a psych ward?  As I walked down a long hallway off the elevator, I passed by a woman who stopped me and told me that the only reason she is still there is so the hospital could make money.  She seemed desperate to enter into a conversation with me about it as a ward clerk escorted her back to her room.  As I continued to walk toward Dad’s room I could hear another patient in one of the far off rooms screaming loudly about something.  I again asked myself, Why was Dad on the psych ward?

Admittedly Dad had been exhibiting some unusual behavior prior to entering the hospital.  From an outsiders point of view he at times appeared to have been drunk in that he was not as coherent as usual (although he never drank).  He seemed to have lost his inhibitions as well, undressing in front of us kids to try to find the medication patch that he had put on himself but forgot where (he had no previous signs of dementia).  Additionally, from the hospital staff’s perspective  he exhibited a lack of interest in interacting with others which they interpreted as a symptom of depression, possibly requiring additional medications.

As I turned into Dad’s room what I saw – was depressing!  He sat in a chair, head down and arms folded.  The room was stark containing two hospital beds, a cabinet and a chair, that’s it.  There was no television, no clock on the wall and no pictures. If he wasn’t depressed now, surely he would be soon.  Why was Dad on the psych ward anyway?

As it turned out, Dad was admitted to the psych ward of this small Mississippi hospital in order to get a handle on his medications.  Medications had been prescribed for various conditions, typical for an 86 year old man but primarily, the pain medication related to his recent diagnosis of mesothelioma.  Getting the correct medications right involved 24/7 observation while changing dosages and prescriptions.  He was there so they could observe his change in behavior so as to measure the results of the prescription changes.

I was told that Dad’s “perceived” depression could be a result of improper medications.  Complicating possible improper medications, he had just found out he had mesothelioma  and then there was the other factor.  Mom had died just several weeks earlier (they had been married for 67 years).  No wonder they thought he might be depressed.

I spoke with the supervisor on the floor and heard his explanation that one of the measuring sticks as to how depressed Dad was, was his level of interest (or lack thereof) in interacting with other patients on his floor.  They had scheduled group sessions that he was required to attend where they played cards or learned flower arranging.  I pointed out to them that Dad in his best retirement years would never have played cards nor attended a flower arranging class, let alone interact with strangers, unless Mom made him.  And he was not depressed then.  Dad derived joy out of life in other ways.  I felt that measuring his willingness to attend such sessions should not be the measuring stick by which they were deciding if they got their medication doses right.

Dad however was more understanding than I.  He felt that he had been admitted into a “system” that had a life of its own.  The hospital and physicians had a system of policies and procedures and the staff needed to work within that system in order for them to do their job and find the answers.

I was loathe to keep Dad there.  I knew he had already come to terms with his diagnosis of mesothelioma and I knew that he knew he didn’t have much time left.  I also knew that without Mom he really didn’t want more time.  I chose not to bring this up to his attending physician.  Who am I to say what role medications or depression (if there was any) had in his current outlook?  And what could they do with this information anyway?  They, as healthcare professionals, were required to try to make him “better” – or get sued for not trying.  After all, that is our system.

There are many directions this story could take from here but I will just point out the one which I am most qualified to speak on.  That lesson: “Maximizing the quality of care of an individual requires “knowing” that individual. A systematic approach to care giving where all patients are treated the same cannot possibly be the optimal solution because all people are unique.”

It is this uniqueness that I have decided to focus my attention for the remainder of my own existence.  My goal, both for institutions and consumers, is to help people share stories of their life experiences so that others will have the opportunity to know them as unique individuals rather than just patients or as just parents or grandparents.

I myself regret I did not ask the questions and spend the time to get to know Mom and Dad as individuals. Had I done so, I surely would have enriched their lives just by showing an interest.  I would have better understood who I am as an individual for all of us are in part a product of who we came from both genetically and experientially.  And last but not least, by sharing their stories and my own stories with my kids and grandkids they would have a family narrative that would allow them to feel a part of something much bigger than themselves.  They in turn would care more and that is something worth pursuing.

Maybe Dad was on that psych ward to teach me this lesson.

Acknowledge the life of someone you love.

Taking the time to acknowledge the life of a person is the greatest honor you can bestow on another. But what exactly does it mean to acknowledge another person’s life?

The answer lies in the premise that we all want to be remembered. We want to have made a difference in this life. As we age to the point where we begin to contemplate our own mortality, this desire becomes more prevalent, whether talked about or not.  Few people will speak up and ask for their lives to be acknowledged.  However, my experience in creating stories of an individual’s or couple’s life experiences, whether in DVD, photo book or online slide shows always results in the same response – typically involving tears.  It is a meaningful and rewarding experience for everyone.

Acknowledging a person’s life is not rocket science. It is only matter of showing an interest in someone’ life experiences.  Typically these “life reviews” are motivated by various milestones such as 50th wedding anniversaries or memorials.  While we all can intellectually understand the value of acknowledging one’s life, the unfortunate reality is that our lives are just too hectic to find the time to do it.  As a result many people wait too long to bestow this honor even for their parents or grandparents.  Equally unfortunate, as memories fade or worse yet the parent or grandparent dies – a great opportunity for creating and preserving the family narrative slips away.

The purpose of this blog is to inspire our readers to look at their parents and grandparents as individuals who have a lifetime of experiences worthy of sharing.  We hope to inspire you to take action and engage them in conversation about their lives, capturing what you learn into a story format. We want to help you create and/or preserve your family narrative by sharing with you the techniques and tools we have developed in capturing and sharing stories of life experiences of our clients.  For those who are neither skilled writers nor particularly computer literate – we will guide you through a step by step process so you can do it on your own.  For those who want or need help we offer that as well.

I invite you to subscribe to our postings and newsletters. Each subscriber will receive free access to the first release of our story creation wizard, schedule for launch first quarter 2014.  Future postings will share examples of how others do it and challenge you to get started sooner rather than later on your own.

Remember, “Stories Left Untold are Legacies Gone Forever”.