Moving House and a Sad Observation . . .

Why does the loneliness of old age seem somehow different, sadder and more painful?

After 7 years in the same mews house in London, we are moving to a much larger family home a few miles away.  It’s a big Victorian row house, built in the mid to late 1800’s.  It was last refurbished and redecorated about 40 years ago, so while the outside is pretty, the inside is very run down.  But my wife is prepared for a remodelling challenge and already we are talking with architects and contractors about designs and building permits.  So, all in all an exciting new adventure for the three of us.

However, what prompted me to write this blog is the experience of what has happened to the previous occupant, who lived in the house for several decades, and was a well-regarded restorer of paintings, as well as a pianist who loved classical music.  The house was put on the market recently since the man, now very elderly, is confined to a nursing home and it’s doubtful if he will ever leave as he is in poor health.  I doubt if he even knows the house is being sold since everything is being handled by an attorney and his trust.  The bright spot is that the money from the sale of the house is being donated to a charity.  That’s very inspiring.

What’s not so inspiring is how the contents of the man’s home, and all his memories and life’s treasures are being dealt with.  I don’t know anything about his family so I won’t speculate, but when I first walked into the house I was struck by the poor condition of the rooms, the book cases, the piles of family pictures on the floor, his studio long abandoned, old photos and paintings stacked up, sheets of classical music spilling out of dusty cardboard boxes.  What beautiful music must have sprung from these works of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart at one point in the family room.  An old, very out of tune piano in one corner.

One half of me says “that’s just stuff and there are much more important things in life than our stuff.”  True (then why do we accumulate so much stuff?). Yet another part of me, seems like the bigger part, feels sad to see the accumulated memories of a man’s long life just scattered about, collecting dust, waiting to be picked over like a carcass by relatives and others.  I hope the man has not been discarded and forgotten, because the memorabilia and artefacts of his life certainly have.

As I probe the reason for my feelings of sadness and look around the partially empty rooms, I realise that I am sad for him that his life is ending in a shambles of discarded treasures.  But I am also sad because this could also be my life in a few years time.  I doubt if he consciously wanted this ending, but then no one ever gets married wanting a divorce, either, but it happens to a great percentage of people anyway.  So I think, what choices did this man make along his journey that this was the way it ended for him?

And more importantly for me, what choices am I making right now, and in the future, to end in a way that others treat my life’s treasures with respect? Am I making the right choices?  My tutor used to say, “If it feels good tomorrow, do it today!” I need to think even more carefully about my life choices, time is getting shorter and shorter.

Then I have another thought. “Maybe it’s not about the stuff we leave behind. Maybe it’s really about the good deeds we leave behind?”

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to Moving House and a Sad Observation . . .

  1. Moving post John…


  2. Suzan Joyce says:

    John: After Mother passed away, I was finally able to go through her home and learn about who she was. I found great treasures that mean a lot to me but would be meaningless to anyone else. My husband doesn’t understand why I have hung on to these treasures – he doesn’t understand it is an attempt to change my perception of what my mother was all about. Treasures such as you found in your new home do have meaning – if only because you saw them and you recognized this man and his interests. Perhaps a visit to the nursing home he is in would be an interesting use of time. Congrats on your new home.


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