May 30, 2004

Voice Mail Messages as a Living Memorial

Dmae's mother died two years ago. Every 100 days, Dmae re-saves voice mail messages from her mother as sort of a living memorial. Yesterday, she told NPR's Day to Day why. You can hear Dmae's story here .

Last week, I was talking to a new friend about how important it was to record people's voices. She agreed. "My husband has saved a message from his father saying how happy he was and how he loved his son for over 2 years.
We listen to it whenever we play back our messages. He has no other recordings of his father's voice."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:35 PM | Permalink

May 29, 2004

A Good Death

Most people would trade a few months of life if it meant a more comfortable death. As reported in the May issue of the journal Medical Care, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that 75% of the respondents in a study were willing to live a shorter life so as to have a better care at the end of life.

What does good care at the time of death mean? Clearly there are medical considerations such as pain relief, emotional support by and for family members, and, for most, spiritual considerations. Tibetan Buddhists for example spend much of their lives preparing emotionally for the passage of death. American Indians would prepare for death before battle and then sing, "It's a good day to die". Catholics have the sacrament of Extreme Unction and pray to the Virgin Mary to be with them "now at the hour of our death." When my father was dying, he told us not to worry as death was a natural part of life. I suspect that as boomers age, there will be much more open discussion about what a good death is.

As the study noted, how to measure the medical and non medical considerations of good end of life care, is beyond the reach of the researchers until better measurement tools are developed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:20 PM | Permalink

May 26, 2004

JK Rowling's desk

You don't have to be a Harry Potter fan to love JK Rowling's personal website, that shows her desktop, some cool desk tools I wish I had, and the start and part of her own personal legacy archives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:17 AM | Permalink

May 25, 2004

Hear Here - The Soul is in the Voice

David Isay is a 38 year old radio producer who wanted to "take oral history and put it in the hands of regular people." Winner of a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation, and inspired by the 1930's Federal Writers Project, he developed StoryCorps to celebrate the lives of the uncelebrated. As Studs Terkel said, "[T]he ones who make the world go around, these millions of people who have never expressed themselves." (See David Taylor's article "Hear Here" in the Smithsonian, June, 2004). Photos are great but static. Nothing compares to the sound of a voice, especially when it's telling a great story.

New York City's Grand Central Station now has a tiny recording studio next to track 14 where more than 600 stories have been recorded. You can make an interview appointment on the website, get interviewing tips, then professionally record your interview with the help with an interview facilitor, get a CD of the interview and, with your permission, a copy goes to the Library of Congress. All for $10. You can also listen to excerpts from interviews on the website.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:59 AM | Permalink

May 24, 2004

Boomer remains

Ken Dyctwald, author of Age Power, says

    Boomers didn't just eat food -- they transformed the snack, restaurant and supermarket industries.
    Boomers didn't just wear clothes -- they transformed the fashion industry.
    Boomers didn't just date --they transformed sex roles and practices
    Boomers didn't just go to work -- they transformed the workplace

So what will they do with Death and Dying? Here are some earlier clues

If you love jewelry, you can extract the carbon from a boomer's cremated remains and turn it into a diamond, a Life Gem.

If you're an environmentalist, you can quickly turn the remains of a boomer into compost. The Promessa process freezes a corpse to minus 321 Fahrenheight in a liquid nitrogen bath, breaks the brittle body into a rough powder with mechanical vibration, and then dehydrates what remains into a pink-beige powder. The compost-loving inventor, Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh, says  "For me, it's really romantic. It smells good. It feels like gold." The compost can feed plants and shrubs planted by the dead person's family. When a father dies, we can say, 'The same molecules that made up Daddy also built this plant,' " said Mrs. Wiigh.

Don't laugh. The Industrial-gas company AGA Gas, part of Germany's Linde group, has invested in the idea, taking a controlling stake of 53 percent in Promessa. The company has already filed for 35 patents.

But, if you want to transport a boomer's remains and you think the cardboard box the funeral home supplies is tacky and you know that anything fancier won't make it through airport security, try the silk urns you can get from
Renaissance Urn

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:32 PM | Permalink

Senior Boomer Trainwrecks

I'm reading Ken Dychtwald's Age Power, on how the baby boom generation is about to transform into the largest elderly population in human history, changing how everyone lives, large and small.

His take on the Five Social Train Wrecks We Need to Prevent.

    1. Using 65 as a marker of old age -- and the onset of old-age entitlements -- is meaningless, unfair and even dangerous.

    2. Without a dramatic shift in healthcare skills and priorities, our society will face epidemics of chronic disease.

    3. A caregiving crunch could become the social and economic sinkhole of the 21st century

    4. Tens of millions of boomers are heading toward a poverty-stricken old age.

    5. Without envisioning a new purpose for old age, we are creating an "elder wasteland."

Somehow, I think they will all pale aside of the sight of aging boomers at the Mick Jagger @80 Farewell Tour

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:48 PM | Permalink

May 22, 2004

Protect Against Will Challenges

I was surprised to learn in a recent WSJ article by Kaja Whitehouse(subscription required) that 20% of parents divide their estates unevenly according to Kathleen McCarry, an economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. About 1/4 of that 20% did so because they want to support a child who required greater financial assistance. Another quarter wanted to repay a child who helped support them in some way.

To prevent any will contests by disgruntled siblings, Whitehouse suggests

    • Videotaping of the testator spelling out your last wishes (I suggest explaining why too) • Consider a "no contest" clause rather than a disinheritance • Draft your will many times. (You want to create layers of wills, differing in slight respects, overriding the old will especially if the change from the old will is dramatic. • Use a revocable trust for your assets • Keep favored heirs out of the estate planning process • Discuss your plans with your heirs so they don't feel things have been concealed.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:48 PM | Permalink

May 21, 2004

Telling Stories software

Walt Mossberg, the creator of the weekly Personal Technology editor at the Wall Street Journal, writes so well that I would rather read him than anyone else on new technology. He writes about technology in plain English that I can understand and doesn't treat me, the reader, like a simpleton. Last week, he wrote about Telling Stories in Photo Programs that Help you Share Pictures But Need Improvement

I believe everyone should create their own personal legacy for their families and the future--whether it's an ethical will, life lessons learned, personal memoirs or a video biography. People today are proud of their lives -what they've accomplished, what they've seen and experienced, the choices they made. Shoshanna Zuboff, author of The Support Economy, calls today's boomers "psychologically individuated" and proud of it. They have made the most of the potential of their lives. Why not celebrate it? Why shouldn't boomers who have believed in individuality throughout their lives create personal legacy archives to show what their lives meant to them. Why wait for the funeral and the eulogy?

Boomers after all, will have the time to reflect on that meaning, given that they will live on for 30-40 years and we now have the tools to create personal digital archives. There are blogs, digital photos, videos, and iTunes -the music of your life you can weave into anything. Boomers too are the connection between their parents, the WW2 generation, and their children who are totally digital.

Apple, of course, is leading the way and creating the best tools for iLife. If Microsoft dominates the tools needed for office life, Apple surely dominates the tools for the rest of your life with GarageBand to make your own music, iTunes to organize your music, iPhoto to sort and edit photos, iMovie to edit your own video and iDVD to create your own DVD.

Now we are seeing the first of the tools to create Personal Legacies. Telling Stories is a software program available for $50 at The program helps you organize your photos and music and videos to tell the story of your life or your parents. Any major life event can be celebrated with a multimedia commemoration. And so you create your own memoirs, chapter by chapter.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:45 PM | Permalink

May 17, 2004

Pedro Meyer won't forget

I've just watched an extraordinary piece of digital storytelling by Pedro Meyer.
It was done in 1991 and later put on the web and narrated by Pedro. An accomplished photographer, he tells the story of his parents, a Spanish-Jewish family exiled during the Spanish civil war and, after wandering, finally settling in Mexico. But it's more about the last years of their lives and told with such love, respect and compassion that it's heartbreaking. It's entitled "I photograph to remember". Through his photographs, he can recall his feelings at the moment he took the photograph. And such moments. This is a journey we all will take.

One of my favorite quotes is by Joan Didion, "We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget what we whispered and what we dreamed. We forget who we were."

Because of his photographs, Pedro Meyer won't forget, nor will anyone who sees this.

I won't say more except to say take time to watch the whole thing. This is true art. I photograph to remember by Pedro Meyer
It takes 35 minutes. If you don't have shockwave, you need to download it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 PM | Permalink

May 14, 2004

The Best Gift I ever received

Rachel Lucas, one of my favorite bloggers, in Saying Goodbye to Grandpa (sorry link no longer works and Rachel only blogs occasionally now)

    That's the essence of my memories of Grandpa. He was always there in the background, watching us and loving us, not saying much but always seeming delighted when we had something to say to him. Recording us as tiny children and as adults, and then giving us the gift of those memories and insisting he hadn't done "much." The truth was, it was the best gift I've ever received, in my entire life.

    He did more than that, of course, but the story of the old home movies shows what kind of man he was: kind, gentle, quiet, stable, funny. In the end, the comfort comes in knowing that he had a good long life and was surrounded by people he loved when that life ended. It's what we all hope for, and he had it. And for that, I'm happy.

      Several years ago, while visiting us here in Texas, Grandpa handed me a VHS tape. He said it wasn't much, just some old home movies he'd made. So I brought it home and sat down to watch this thing that "wasn't much." And spent the next three hours in stunned silence. I cried, and then watched it again.

      The tape was full of old movies of myself and my siblings that I'd never seen before, movies of our early childhood, of our parents as very young newlyweds, of my mother pregnant with her first child. I had no idea these movies existed.

      You see, Grandpa had a camcorder in the 1990s, and at family gatherings, he was always there in the background, silent, recording little snippets of our lives. What I didn't know was that he also used to have an 8 mm movie camera (sans sound) in the 1960s and 70s. Unbeknownst to me, he'd taken reels and reels of footage of my siblings and me when we were infants and toddlers.

      So, late in his life, he decided to put all the footage he'd ever taken onto one VHS tape. He sat down one day and set up his 8 mm projector to play the movies on a white wall. Then he put his modern-day camcorder on a tripod and aimed it at that wall. While he played the old movies, he recorded with the camcorder. The best part is that as the silent 8 mm movies played on the wall, he narrated into the camcorder.

      Then he used two VCRs to transfer all the VHS footage he'd taken in the last decade or so onto the same tape with the 8 mm movies. Thus did he compile one master tape with every bit of movie footage he'd ever taken of our family. He then made copies and gave them to us. My copy is now one of my most prized possessions, and I watched it last night after my dad called to tell me Grandpa had died.

      There are six of us grandchildren, and when most of us were born, Grandpa was there with his 8 mm camera. His narration for these portions of the tape go like this: "Well, there's little Ricky. Hey there, Ricky! There's his mama now, Linda...this was in 1967 in Irving, Texas." At one point, it goes from footage of Rick (my older brother) as a newborn to Rick just learning to walk, and Grandpa narrates: "Why, looky there! Little Ricky learning to walk. There ya go, boy!" His comments are funny and sweet, just little observations about his grandchildren. Years of our tiny lives, captured on film by our Grandpa.

    Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:17 PM | Permalink

May 11, 2004

Grandma's Camera

There is one example I always point to when people ask me what can they do with old pictures. It's what my favorite blogger James Lileks did with his grandma's camera

    One night in Fargo after everyone had gone to sleep, I poked through an old bureau in the basement. It had spent most of its life at my Grandparent’s home on the farm in Harwood. One drawer held some photo albums - the pages were cracked, falling out of the book, and half the pictures were gone - they'd become unglued and dropped to an indifferent floor decades before. But a few could be pried loose, and I took them back to Minneapolis to scan and preserve. The more I looked at them, the more I realized that they were absolutely inscrutable - aside from my grandparents, the people in these pictures are unknown to me. Chances are I stood in many of the spots where these pictures were taken, drove across the land where the farming scenes were photographed. Were it not for the faces - my grandfather’s face, which stares back at me from the mirror sometimes when I am tired, or my grandmother’s face that looks very much like the beta version of my Mom - these would mean nothing, aside from some sort of historical value.

    But I do know the faces, and that makes all the difference. You, of course, do not - yet you might find these interesting nonetheless. It’s a small portion of a record a young farm wife made of her times with her camera. ... She wanted these things to be remembered. And so they are.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink

May 8, 2004

CDs and DVDs will rot

Another reason for online backups. . It's a good thing that storage prices continue to fall. "CD rot" is a gradual deterioration of the data carrying layer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:22 AM | Permalink

May 6, 2004

Robert de Niro on his one regret

Now owned by the Chicago Tribune, Esquire has just won 4 awards for magazine excellence. Cited for general excellence in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category Esquire was lauded for mixing "meaty investigative journalism with clever service packages to create the very model of a modern major city magazine"

What I Have Learned is one of its best features that appears each month.
Robert de Niro said not getting his family history together for his kids is his one regret.

    When a parent dies, it's the end. I always wanted to chronicle the family history with my mother. She was always interested in that. I wanted some researchers I'd worked with to talk to my mother, but my mother was a little antsy about it. I know she would've gotten into it. It would have been okay with my father, too. But I wasn't forceful, and I didn't make it happen. It's the one regret I have. I didn't get as much of the family history as I could have for the kids.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:29 AM | Permalink