What to do with aged photos when you’re cleaning out an old person’s home and none of the faces are familiar?

There’s a market for them in flea markets and online, of course. Probably other places as well, but that’s what I’m familiar with. I admit to being conflicted by the idea. There are buckets of photos my mother has held onto for years, ranging from the 1920s to near-present.  A lot of them are from World War II when my mother worked as a riveter at Douglas Aircraft. Periodically we go through some of them so she can tell me who the people are and I can pencil it in on the back, but some of the faces are beyond even her at this point. And even if I know their names…they have no context for me. They’re just names.

Eventually, someone will have to deal with these—if not me, then whoever cleans out my place when I’m gone. It seems disrespectful to sell them, yet that’s probably less disrespectful than consigning them to the trash. Which happens. A coworker told me of that very thing occurring when her friend cleaned out her parents’ home. I explained about the market for old photos and she was amazed.

“If only my friend had known!”

If only.

If only other people’s memories could be held as sacred as our own. But that’s the nature of time and change. We hold what we have inside our hearts and when our hearts fade, so do the memories.  As the African proverb says, “Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”


I’ve been coming to terms with my own physical limitations for the last week. I blew my knee out over the weekend and have had a hard time getting around. I had to borrow my mother’s spare walker, which was a huge blow to my ego, especially bringing it to work. I hate the melodrama of it—but it works better and causes me less pain than using a cane. The knee is progressively getting better. I’m hopeful that if I keep off my feet as much as possible this weekend I can do without the walker on Monday. Still, it feels like a ghostly voice whispering in my ear, “You are getting old.”

The truth is, I’ve been dealing with these physical limitations for awhile now. I’ve known for over a year that I need surgery in both knees. I’ve got no cartilage left at all. But I’ve been limping along because . . . who will take care of Mom when I’m laid up?

The recovery is actually a lot quicker than I thought it would be. My doctor says most people are walking up stairs after a couple of weeks. And I want to be able to walk again! This last week has shown me that the time for procrastination is done. Since there’s no one in the family to help me, I’m just going to have to scrape up the money to hire someone. Fortunately, Mom is still relatively high function. We’re talking about someone to run errands, cook meals, keep her on track with the meds and therapies, take her to doctor’s appointments. I’ve got an ambulance company that can take her to and from dialysis. I just have to let go of my protective need to take care of everything myself.

That, of course, is the hardest thing of all to do.

Some people have a Hallmark view of illness and old age, an impression that illness ennobles people, that age makes them wise. In my experience, whoever you are if you get sick and when you get old is exactly who you’ve always been, only more so. The rare individual will transcend their illness and face impending death with courage and incredible grace. Most of us slide into it with whatever bag of tricks we’ve always carried: anger, fear, manipulation, martyrdom. Sometimes a sense of humor. Sometimes glimpses of grace with all the negatives combined. The individual mix is as diverse as the population of sick people.

And wisdom in old age? If you were a young person with a questing mind and a need to learn you might have a shot at gaining wisdom as you age. Most of us coast along on our longtime habits, preferring the solace of comfort to the burning quest for knowledge. The quest burns because it often isn’t comfortable and most of us don’t want to bother. So we just get older and our eccentricities and habits become more pronounced, more etched into our soul with deeper grooves. We learn a few things along the way, but we don’t necessarily gain wisdom. Who you were is who you will be. And if you think you’re wise? You probably aren’t.

It takes willpower to change that trajectory. You have to want to be more than the sum of your parts and the collection of your habits. That takes a self-awareness most of us never achieve.