Lessons Learned From Cleaning My Deceased Grandma’s House
It’s Never Too Soon to Prepare for Life After Your Death
I spent the last week helping my dad tend to my grandmother’s estate, and let’s just say there were so many valuable nuggets in it for me. A part of the “tending” meant having to go through her belongings to pack them, sifting through every piece of paper, notebook, and book looking for evidence needed to finish her business, and to ensure donated/sold items do not disclose my grandma’s personal info. Going through my grandmother’s stuff didn’t feel like a chore. Instead, it felt like I was in a hands-on exhibit learning about someone I barely knew.
I went into the whole helping my dad situation with the mindset it was a sense of duty, respect for my father who has not yet had time to grieve. There were lots of life lessons gained over this past week, so many that my heart was softened regarding my relationship with my father (to be shared in another essay).
Going through my grandmother’s effects was therapeutic for me. I learned how similar my grandmother and I were, and how much of her creativity I possess. Learning about my grandmother’s past has not only given me some major puzzle pieces to my past, but it’s also given me invaluable wisdom on aging in place and aging well.
You’re Never to Old (Or Young) To Plan For Your Death
The one thing made clear going through this process with my father is that not leaving your earthly house in order preparing for a heavenly one still makes your business “unfinished” with your God and your family. For example, my grandmother allegedly promised certain siblings items inside of her home, but left a will that noted otherwise. Gramps’ true wishes are not known because she’s dead now, and her children are arguing with each other fighting for scraps. Gramps kept saying what she needed to do to get things in order, but she never did it for whatever reason, knowing full well her kids were not the sharing type.
Now my father, the most responsible child of all the siblings, gets the honor of executing her unclear last wishes at the displeasure of his siblings. Making sure everyone knows your final wishes early and often makes life easier for those left behind to handle your final affairs. Give away personal effects as you age so that people know what you want for them to have prior to your death. Even if you don’t give heirs the tangible items you desire for them to have, give them something in writing (notarized) so they’ll know what your desires are.
The same applies to funeral arrangements, insurance policies, bank account beneficiaries, etc. Leave your next of kin or estate administrator a list of creditors you owe contacts for any people who need to be informed of your death. And in case one of your selfish kids steals your files with all the important stuff in it after you die like my aunt did, make duplicates and entrust someone else close to you with this information to be shared only upon your death.It’s a lot of work piecing together someone else’s life when you have your own.
You might be dead, but those living cleaning up your final affairs may struggle to figure your life before your death out. Plan out every detail of life after your death to help those loved ones left behind. They will have their own lives they are heavily engaged in and will have no clue where to begin picking up the pieces of your old life without a little help from you, the future deceased. Your kids are never too young (or old) to have your help in planning for life without you. I can’t tell you how stressed my dad is over the fact my grandmother didn’t confide in him, the future administrator of her estate, her personal business at 90 years old. She didn’t want to make anyone angry while she was alive, so she fixed it so it would happen when she died. No one should do that to the people they say they love.
Write Your Feelings
My grandma wrote a lot. She had journals, and notebooks all over the house, some going back close to 30-years. She wrote about all the wonderful things my dad did, how lonely she was, and how she disappointed she was when her children didn’t come by to visit her. My grandma wrote about family trips and conveyed with those of us left behind what she valued the most throughout her 90-year life. My dad got great pleasure in reading about how his mother enjoyed all the wonderful tokens of appreciation he gave her for being his mother, especially when his jealous siblings are lobbing fiery arrows of lies about his contributions to caring for his mom. Like one year he came over with roses and handed them to her giving her a huge hug and kiss. My dad also told his mom how much he loved her. My dad never knew how impactful the show of love was, nor did he remember it at 70-years old. Her writings are sunshine in his thunderstorm.
My grandma’s words written by her own hands dispelled any doubt planted by the events that took place after her death, and it turned lies into truth. Sadly, my grandmother’s words will be used in probate court as the siblings fight her estate, but at least her words can be used to describe my father’s (the estate administrator’s) character according to my father’s attorney. Writing your feelings and expressing your thoughts in writing either in a journal or notebook can help people understand who you were and may aid in clarifying any disputes after your death.
Lastly, write your obituary. You may be surprised at how little your children know about all of your accomplishments, achievements, skills, hobbies, etc. My grandmother had the most terribly written obituary prepared by children and a grandchild who didn’t know her. One line in the obituary was about hitting home runs. That’s cute, except my grandma never played baseball. The analogy was poorly received, and it had nothing to do with my grandmother’s character. The grandkids and kids not associated with funeral arrangements were left wondering who would write such garbage about a woman who owned her own sewing business for decades, she was a caretaker, a housekeeper, she graduated from college and bible school — none of those qualities or characteristics were mentioned in my grandma’s obituary at her church where those attending her funeral may or may not have known about her life.
People preparing your funeral arrangements, including your kids, may not tell the world about all the good things you did over your lifetime if you don’t share with them all the important details of your life.
Clear the Clutter
As we age, we collect lots of unnecessary things. Junk. Trash. Trinkets. Whatnots. Junk drawers. Old clothing and shoes. Garages full of useless things we‘ll never use again. We collect storage rooms full of stuff that no one really wants after we’ve died. My grandma had more little ceramic collectibles nobody wanted than you could shake a stick at. As you age, get rid of your own stuff. Donate it. Give it to your children and grandchildren as keepsakes. Throw your old stuff in the trash if it’s trash. I wasted lots of hours going through worthless sentimental whatnots.
If you don’t clean your home on your own, your children and grandchildren will be forced to clean up your home when you die. Make it easy on them, get rid of your junk. Nobody wants to do extra work after your death because you loved to waste money on junk during your life. They’ll have their own lives to attend to in concert with tending to your unfinished business should you choose to leave it that way. Clean up your clutter folks. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. It’s stressful enough dealing with the loss of a loved one, cleaning their homes and going through their personal effects in disarray takes stress levels to an entirely different level.
As we age, the best gifts we can receive are gifts that lead to memories and photos. My grandmother had lots of photos. Some were even in storage, many my dad had never seen before. We sat for hours flipping through old photos trying to figure out who the people were and reminiscing over what life must have been like way back when in the 30s and 40s. Passing photos along from generation to generation is a wonderful piece of a legacy to leave behind. Instead of collecting stuff, travel, have family gathers, make memories, take photos, and make home movies that can be shared with family members for generations to come.
Get Your Children in Order
If you don’t set your children straight before you die, they won’t likely do it after you’re gone. My dad and his siblings were not on good speaking terms prior my grandmother’s death, and she did nothing to make things right prior to leaving this earth. Now her kids hate each other (literally), and she did nothing to keep it from happening. They are showing their who asses right now. Fighting, plotting, lying, stealing. One aunt took it upon herself to make use of my grandma’s Lowes account. Who does that? Another aunt had access to my grandma’s bank account and spent her veteran’s benefits and social security payment my grandmother wasn’t entitled to because she was deceased. That’s called theft! What kind of child does that?
My grandma raised my dad to be the patriarch of her family and he’s done that since the age of 6–7 years old. He’s provided for and encouraged the entire family for decades. Because my grandma made my dad the responsible early in life helping her care for her children, he and my grandmother had an entirely different type of relationship than she did with the rest of her children. Through the years the younger siblings resented my dad for being the reliable, independent kid, and younger kids guilt-tripped my grandmother about this in her later life. Towards the end my grandmother was sneaking and helping to care for her sorry adult kids who all had retired from state jobs and using my dad to supplement her income used to assist other children. He resented her for it. Eventually, the stress from it all caused my dad’s mental health to deteriorate which lead to him abusing alcohol and several stints in in-patient treatment facilities. He learned family was his trigger, and he needed to stay away from them to maintain his stress levels.
My dad lost his entire family with the passing of my grandmother. There is no closure. There was no correction on my grandma’s part.
To prevent post-death division, parents should make things right with their families if possible before they die. Sometimes, it’s not the parents’ fault their kids act out. Sometimes people are just shitty individuals thanks to their DNA, but most times it is the fault of the parents their kids are a hot mess on a tin roof. Get things in order prior to your death (where possible) so no family members feel alienated, tormented or punished once you’re gone over to the other side.
There is never a right time to prepare for life after you’re gone. Getting organized literally and figuratively is the key to helping your family transition smoothly after you’re gone. Leaving a mess when you’re gone is not a kind thing to do to people you say you love. Get help planning from AARP, your state’s Council on Aging (every state has one), senior centers, probate court, or you can go online and use the vast array of checklists on how to prepare for your death. You may also want to check with the probate court in the county where you live to determine what will need to happen to your assets once you die with or without a will. Put yourself in another your future administrator’s shoes. Make their lives easy by providing all the information and instructions needed to make the job of handling your affairs much easier.
Lastly, update your last will and testament annually, even if you’re not changing anything. As you age, those fighting over your stuff will always question your mental state and decision-making starting from the day you created your will until it’s read. If the will read is 10–11 years old, some heirs may have issues or conflicts because you said something with your mouth you didn’t have in your will and they may want to contest the entire thing. No one has money or time to be dealing with such madness because your will wasn’t recent, specific, or explicit. Leave no questions about your final wishes, write them down and make it plain. If you promised someone something verbally and you don’t write it down, the conversation never happened.
My dad is literally tormented about the way my grandma left her affairs. He felt as though he didn’t deserve this. He also never thought he’d see the day his siblings would act like a pack of hungry wolves. His lazy sister says my grandma told her she could have some things from her home once she died. She even created some fake affidavit to file in probate court, which by the way was never filed. My father says gramps told everyone to come and get whatever they wanted while she was alive, and all the children said they wanted nothing. There is no record of either conversation, so the last will and testament stands for now. This messiness has caused strife among the children, and it’s all my grandma’s fault.
Clean your house (literally and figuratively) before you die. None of us know when we will die, but all of us can be proactive and be ready when it happens. Help the ones you love who will be left behind grieving take care of your unfinished business for the last time.
The most important thing we could ever write is our final wishes. Write them down, make them clear, and make them known to all of your heirs.
©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.
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