by Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore
The passing of a loved one is one of the most difficult transitions of anyone’s life. Whether your loved one lost a battle with a prolonged illness or died rather quickly, the finality of death is hard to cope with for the survivors. The double whammy of the demands and pressures of planning for a funeral and disposing of the home and possessions just about knocks out most people. While you can never plan for the emotional response from a death, you can ease some of the anxiety by taking a few steps to help organize and execute plans once someone has passed.
“My Dad died 15 years ago and my Mom is almost 90 now. While it’s not easy to think about, I know that she will be gone someday. After my Dad died, my sisters and I decided it was time to get organized for my Mom. We put together her living will and power of attorney documents years ago. She now has dementia, so we’re glad that we took the time to get organized since the three of us are now responsible for her care. We’ve also compiled all of her medical and insurance information in one binder that the three of us leave with my mom – but that we can each easily update, so we all have the latest information. Having everything organized has made this tough road easier to travel.”
“My mom passed away very unexpectedly in July. She was 70 going on 17 and we all fully expected her to live for at least another 40-50 years. It was a total shock and I was utterly devastated. The only way I made it through the funeral week was because I decided to focus on how I could use my organizational skills to help everyone celebrate and honor mom (e.g. planning the mass, organizing flowers, helping others with general logistics) – and then to lean on others for things that I wasn’t so good at (e.g. putting up a website, putting together a photo montage, getting dinner on the table). Each time I leaned on others, I was astounded at how much it helped both parties – I was supported with such love, and they had an opportunity to honor mom too. When you’re reeling from a loss, it’s natural to switch over into control-freak mode – because when life is out of control, you want to control things. But if you are able to resist the tendency and ask for help, or even just relax and let others pitch in the way that they want to, the process is much, much easier to bear.
While it is impossible to know for sure, there are reports that nearly 25% of life insurance policies are never claimed. A big reason for that has to be that loved ones don’t know what policies were in place. Hopefully, your loved one has legal documents expressing their wishes, but if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of digging for documents for your loved one, commit to breaking that cycle and talk with your family about everything. Store important information (will, policies, etc.) in one spot and let family members know where it is. A Life.doc or binder with all of your important legal, financial, and insurance information is a great way to ensure your loved ones will know where to turn.
The last thing that grieving relatives need is fights over who gets Grandma’s favorite brooch. If your loved one did not specify how to divide up the possessions, allow some time to pass and then get together and figure it out. Sarah’s family planned a weekend at the beach to mark the one-year anniversary of her grandmother’s death in 2007. Not only did they honor her memory, but they went through her items and reminisced. Waiting a year gave everyone time to settle his or her emotions and holding the get-together in a place her grandmother loved gave everyone perspective.
One person should not bear the entire burden of sorting through a loved one’s life. Be sure to delegate tasks. Whether it’s taking clothes to Goodwill or sorting through family photographs to give to the grandkids, let each family member in on the action. It helps avoid the inevitable “I am doing everything” fight and helps bring together family at a time when you need each other the most.
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