September / October 2010 Newsletter

Tip of the Month: Organizing and loss

If you’ve been in touch with me lately — by phone, e-mail, Twitter, etc. — you’ll know I’ve had three people I care about die of cancer within the space of a month, during August and September.

I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned — or had reinforced — during this time. So here are some suggestions for those dealing with the loss of a family member or friend.

1. Do as much advance planning as you can.

Of course you’ll want the legal paperwork (will, trust, medical and financial powers of attorney) taken care of – and you’ll want to know where those papers are! But there are myriad other things you’ll want to know, and it’s easy to forget about them. One daughter I know couldn’t find her mother’s safe deposit key for quite a while; that’s the same problem I had when my mom died. Another woman had trouble locating the phone number of the spiritual leader her husband wanted to speak with.

There are a number of books (and electronic forms) to help you identify all the things you might need to know – consulting them might help you ensure you don’t overlook something critical.

2. Be gentle with yourself – and call in support.

Grief takes a lot of energy – and just when you’re dealing with that grief at its worst, there are a number of must-do items, things that have to be done following a death. Focus on those critical few things, and let everything else go for now – or let someone else take care of them.

Let people help. It’s not odd to need someone to help you make sure the bills all get paid properly. People can also help with child care, meal preparation, and much more.

3. If you don’t need to rush through decisions, then take your time.

What items get kept, and by whom? What items get sold or donated? Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly – about the big items, at least, if a home needs to be vacated. But otherwise, it’s fine (and probably wise) to give yourself time. Some things can be gotten rid of immediately; medicines and medical supplies are the most obvious, and it’s often a relief to get those out of the home. But you may not want to deal with other things for months, or a year or so — and that’s fine.

4. Don’t assume you know what’s valuable.

Many years ago, I gave my friend Jill a lamp; it went with her decor, and it no longer went with mine. I’m sure my ex-husband and I didn’t pay much for the thing; we were just out of college when we bought it. When Jill died, everyone teased me that the lamp was coming back to me, and I refused it. Well, it wound up being one of the most sought-after items at the estate sale, and brought in a nice sum of money. I’m thrilled about that — surprised, but thrilled.

Judy Johnson, who conducts estate sales, tells the heirs not to throw out anything!

5. Go declutter your own home.

At Jill’s memorial service there was a jar filled with screwdrivers, and attendees were encouraged to pick one and take it home. Jill had over 65 screwdrivers in her home, so there were plenty to share.

People who deal with the huge amount of stuff that must be sorted through after a death tend to all have the same reaction: I’m not doing this to my kids (or heirs, whomever they might be).

Organizing Quote of the Month

Chances are you’re reading this on your office computer. So take a look around. Does your office reflect your power and vision, or does it resemble a junk room with a desk? Are there objects, pictures and words that lift your soul?

Barbara Winter, on her blog Buon Viaggio