An interview with the authors of “What to Do about Mama?: A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members”Posted: May 30, 2014
Becky Monroe discusses the issue of what to do with belongings in her March 24, 2014, blog entry: Finding Out Who Your Friends Are. Dispensing with belongings collected over a lifetime is generally not an easy task. As I stated in my book, “What to Do about Mama?”
- If your parents have been hunkered down in a home for decades, there’s a good chance they have collected a substantial number of “things”—some valuable, some sentimental, and some probably worthless from a financial point of view.
- If your parents thought ahead and downsized their households or designated who was to get what—lucky you!
- Another likelihood is that the task was just too overwhelming to tackle, particularly if it was not done before your parent’s or parents’ health began to fail.
- You can count on the fact that allocating and disposing of belongings will probably be just as overwhelming for you as it was your parents.
So as hard as it is for your parents to go through an auction, Becky, you can be thankful that your father is taking a proactive approach and not leaving the job solely to you to handle when settling the estate.
Our family has had experiences on both ends of the spectrum.
My mother passed away suddenly, and ironically, less than 24 hours before her first great grandchild was born. My brother was at the hospital for the baby’s birth, but a short while later he was on a plane to Florida (talk about an emotional swing!). As executor, he had to deal with the immediate concerns of her death and to arrange for the cremation of our mother’s remains. It was not until several weeks later that my brother and I went to Florida to shut down Mom’s double-wide. In the period of a week, we were able to dispose of her belongings, hold an informal get together with her friends, fly to Ohio (our childhood home) and have a service with family and a different group of friends. We were able to accomplish all of this because our mother had everything planned and organized ahead of time. As executor, my brother “just followed the dotted lines.”
My in-laws, who also retired to Florida, had an extensive amount of collectibles from living all over the world during their nearly 50-year marriage. My father-in-law also died suddenly, and my mother-in-law just couldn’t face the getting-rid-of-things task by herself. She lived by the mantra, “There’s always mañana,” and left her children the daunting task of downsizing and distributing her belongings. After being widowed for ten years, health conditions made it unsafe for her to live in Florida alone. When my husband made the trip down to help her prepare to move to our hometown (and eventually into our home), he became so frustrated with the task at hand that he had everything shipped North and put in storage.
After my mother-in-law passed away, and my caregiving responsibilities ended, I pledged that I would not leave my children the burden of my messes. My husband and I have disposed of everything we don’t need or use. What is left is organized and labeled. Pictures have been mounted into books. An inventory of our belongings has been sent to the children so that they can indicate what they would like to have. The kids have decided that I’m preparing to die—which could not be further from the truth. I’m “only 65” and have 9 wonderful grandchildren that I want to see grow to adulthood. After I sent the inventory to them a second time, and they ignored it again, I just told them they’d have to fight over who gets what. Someday they will understand.
Every time I think we are starting to get everything in order, something happens. Over Thanksgiving (yes, almost 4 months ago); I stayed at Mom and Dad’s house. I sorted. I packed things for auction. I took things to charity. I carried stuff down the treacherous stair that were clearly built before there were standards and building codes.
We were in the house one day, and my dad said, “you better call your friend the auctioneer, otherwise you won’t ever get done with this.” I asked him a couple of times, are you sure? mom didn’t want an auction. He said, there just isn’t a choice. You need help. So I spent two weeks around Thanksgiving in that house, sorting and boxing, moving things down the stairs to where we could deal with them. I met…
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