In May 2006 my mom passed away. I flew out to San Diego, California to attend the memorial service and help my siblings clean up and organize my mom’s belongings. I am so glad that she did not suffer very much, and that she was able to live in her own home up until the three weeks before, when she went to the hospital. I feel so grateful that my mom got to live a full life, serving people with love almost until the day she died. I bet even when she was in the hospital she was nurturing the staff!
There was a lot to do. Mom collected a lot of things because (like me) she thought they might be useful to someone, or she might be able to sell it at the flea market. (I was so glad she saved a bunch of stuff I was glad to have–like letters from when I traveled in Asia)
So there was about 40 years of accumulated stuff to sort through and decide what to do with it all. I felt so grateful that I could join my brother and two sisters, and their spouses and friends, to work together on a huge job. I let my older sister take the lead and supported her in mainly getting rid of the stuff that needed to go in the dumpsters (We used 3 of the largest dumpsters they had to drop off–they were huge!) That is what I call picking the lowest hanging fruit first–it was easy to decide what the trash was because things were obviously mildewed or wet or damaged.
I was happy that my organizational skills were utilized during that time because I could clearly see the order which needed to happen. I saw that things were going to be bottle necked if I didn’t intervene, and fortunately I did so with enough tact that all went smoothly. After all, I wasn’t the professional organizing consultant–I was part of the family. But even if I was being paid to do the work, I still honor a client’s needs. Even if what they want does not seem efficient or logical, I will only gently make suggestions, and then let them go.
In a sensitive time like helping someone order a relative’s possessions–someone who has died or will be going to a nursing home–I am happy that I have my nineteen years experience of practicing non-violent communication. I have learned the profound impact that empathic listening has on people. Tears and grief will come up during this sorting process-and this certainly happened with my family. Anger came up, too. I feel grateful that my practice in Non-violent Communicationcame in handy for conflict resolution as well as grieving. I had a lot of unresolved issues with my siblings, and we had reconciliation that was very beautiful.
After three days of both clearing the house of trash (at times there were ten people working!), plus getting ready for the memorial service–most of the trash was cleared out. Also, my older sister decided what were the things that needed to be given away or saved. So after the memorial service, my siblings left for their distant homes (except for one who lived near by), and I was left alone for 6 days to get it ready for an estate sale. Here I was, all by my lonesome, in a five bedroom, three bathroom, living room, dining room and family room withthousands of knick-knacks and decorations. In addition there was box upon box of stuff which filled closets and rooms..
I stayed up one night sorting boxes.I made a box for each of my siblings, plus other boxes for things like correspondence, photos, business, high priority, and low priority. I sat in the living room surrounded by these boxes, and I went through the history of my family and my life. I was so glad to have this job. Many would be overwhelmed, but for some reason it is my nature to be able to have huge seemingly impossible jobs, and feel excited and stimulated.
I just could not stop sorting, seeing box after box of stuff emptied and put into places where they could be useful. Of course since this was my own history, I stopped and read stuff–but if I were doing someone else’s sorting, it would take less time. But the process would be the same. I would prioritize and categorize so the people can then more easily sortthe papers and objects themselves. I don’t throw away anything–I even put advertisement and seeming junk mail into a low priority category. (Unless someone wants me to throw away stuff and tells me specifically what to throw away.)
My siblings came back on Friday, and I was so thrilled to show them the results of my work. I even took a video of their reaction. At first my brother was disappointed–there was a bunch of trash out in the driveway–I had actually uncovered a whole dumpster load of more obvious trash. (He had seen the driveway be all clear and clean when he left). But walking through the door, his mouth dropped open and he was so happy to see that the whole place was ready for an estate sale and it was even cleaned. My sisters were excited and pleased as well!
And that night, after a nice dinner together–the first we had shared all together in about 25 years–I sat them down with their boxes. It was like Christmas. They looked through and found letters and cards from them and to them, special photos, report cards, child hood art, and more. I had left out the most special and precious things, and we all looked at them together. I felt so close to them, and they felt so thankful for my hard and caring work.
Then together we cleaned out my mom’s room, which my sister wanted to save for us all to work on. I let her be in charge, but offered gentle suggestions, and it all went well. A lot of tears were shed, and we grieved her passing as we had done throughout the whole time we had been working together. And we also celebrated that she was free from all this stuff, and the pain she had felt in her last days.
I feel so deeply fulfilled and joyful that I had these skills to offer to my siblings, and to my mom. She saved those things, hoping that they would be useful, and they were. Sadly, some were spoiled because of the water damage–but so many precious things were there–like my master tapes for my music tapes. And thank you, dear reader, for letting me share this very meaningful time. Perhaps you know someone who might need help like this–I would be honored to offer this service to someone in need.