My family and I lost another family member this week, kind of unexpectedly. This was a wonderful woman who had all kinds of plans for the rest of her life after massive weight loss and a number of elective surgeries to improve her quality of life. She wasn't expecting to die from complications and we certainly didn't expect to see her go.
Unfortunately this isn't the first time my family has been in this situation - an uncle died of a dissection aneurysm at age 55, my father-in-law suffered a massive heart attack on his way out to clear the driveway, and a cousin was killed in a car accident.
Death happens, sometimes when we are the least expecting it.
On the practical side of things, after the funeral has been arranged and the thank-you cards have gone out and the sympathy cards quit arriving, there comes a time when you have to deal with all of the deceased person's stuff! And that can be quite a massive effort. For months after my mother died, most of her stuff sat in my basement where I was paralyzed to throw any of it out, until my husband gently and quietly got rid of most of it. Luckily he knew to ask about certain things and my sister and I were able to come to easy agreements over who got what pieces of furniture. But it could have easily gone the other way.
Now that I am on the other side of middle age, I have started looking at my own stuff a little differently. If I buy that little knicknack, will it be precious to someone when I'm gone? Will it end up at an estate sale? Or in the garbage? And what about all of my clothes? Should I be getting rid of things now so that they don't burden my children later?
When you start looking at your things as items that will bless or curse your decedents and friends after you're gone, they start to look a little different to you! So even though I am a healthy 56 years old and (knock on wood) anticipate approximately 30 more years of life, I've started to do a few things to make "handling the stuff" more manageable.
- I have started to pitch useless things. Why am I hanging on to that printer that won't even work with the newer versions of Windows? And why am I saving that black-and-white stripped dress? I'll never ever be a size 6 again, and even if I was, would I want to wear a dress with those sleeves and shoulder pads?
- The things that are precious to me, I make sure are precious to my children. Statues of Mary and Jesus and the saints that come out throughout the liturgical year are parts of their childhoods and memories. I doubt they'll end up in a scrap heap or an estate sale.
- When someone expresses a certain love for something, I make a note of it so that they can have that to remember me by later.
- All of my passwords to such lists and other tings on my computer are written down the old-fashioned way! So that if something happens to me, someone will be able to access those things.
- I try to keep a mess to the minimum. I've cleaned up after the deceased a couple of times now, and I know they would have been mortified at the things I cleaned up or saw! There's an old saying about leaving a good-looking corpse, but I think it's even more important to leave a relatively organized and good looking place!
- Everyone knows it's important to have a will and advanced directives, but it's also important to find an archivist who can share letters, e-mails, stories and pass on the family history. So we've picked a business-minded and detail-oriented person for our executor, but a person with more of a love of history and the heart of a curator for the more sentimental things.
This doesn't have to be a morbid activity. My family even pokes fun at me when another book enters the house, about how they will use it to feed the big bonfire that is planned after my funeral as a way of quickly cleaning the place out! But it does make me think about every item in the house and every item I bring into the house in a new and much different way.
Copyright 2016 Elena LaVictoire
About the Author
Elena LaVictoire is a graduate of Baker College and a retired medical transcriptionist. She is married and homeschooled six children. Elena is a public speaker on the topics of marriage, homeschooling, and confirmation preparation. She was also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. Elena practices and performs with her flute and records with the Peace Together Choir. She blogs at MyDomesticChurch.com.