Dear Carolyn: My mom passed away a couple of months ago. My dad made it clear he would not be part of the cleaning-out process. I live in the same city as my parents, while my two sisters live on the other coast. My dad is also planning on selling the house in the near future.
I'm overwhelmed. Cleaning out my mom's closet has been an emotional process, and some days I can clean for just 15 minutes, then I need a break. Any advice? I'm working against my dad's timeline of selling the house.
— Feeling Overwhelmed
Feeling Overwhelmed: I’m so sorry for your loss.
What would happen if you just stopped? It sounds as if you’ve been emotionally blackmailed into assuming everyone else’s share of the work.
Re: Overwhelmed: Either Overwhelmed or the dad should go to professionals in handling estate sales. They have no emotional investment and will triage stuff: this for the sale, this to donate if it doesn't sell, this for the dumpster. If dad is moving, then he should take the stuff he wants and leave everything else for the estate sale people. Overwhelmed should take any keepsakes she wants and not look back.
Anonymous: Yes. I lingered a bit before ending this chat to see if there was some explanation for why it HAS to be done by the letter-writer. It just doesn’t make sense. The father, as the homeowner, is the one accountable, and it can be outsourced. Thanks.
Carolyn: My dad said it's too emotional for him to clean out the closet and house because he lost his wife. He routinely reminds me that this process is more difficult for him, so I should do the cleaning.
— Overwhelmed again
Overwhelmed again: You lost your mom!
No one wins by his making this a competition.
And it is emotional blackmail. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s based in your values and beliefs, not your father’s guilt trip.
Readers’ thoughts (including their gender assumptions):
●I suspect Overwhelmed has always done what the father has said to do. They’ve probably been playing these roles the child’s whole life.
I hope Overwhelmed listens to Carolyn and thinks about why she feels obligated to do work everyone else is allowed to skip.
●Surely Overwhelmed doesn’t want to keep EVERYTHING of Mom’s. So she can go to the house, take what really matters to her (as long as Dad doesn’t want it) and walk away, leaving the other stuff behind. Along with a piece of paper with three names and phone numbers of professional organizers or estate-sale people.
●Seriously, Dad — this is yours to manage. I suspect Dad envisions ordering a dumpster and just throwing stuff in it. Or else he’s just used to having someone there who takes care of stuff he doesn’t want to deal with.
Maybe this isn’t their scenario, but when I cleaned out my brother’s house, I found a lot of cash stuffed in clothing pockets and books and other hiding places. My friends bought her mother’s house and they found things such as coin collections in boxes with utility bills from the 1970s. Sometimes you have to go through it all.