I bought an oversized stuffed bunny the day my mom died. I am not sure why I did, but it seemed to help me at that time. My mother died in March and, as for most people, it is a very difficult experience to go through, not only as a daughter, but as a professional organizer.
My mom and I were not real close — I was raised by my father from the age of ten and lived with him in Wisconsin. My mom lived in El Paso after their divorce. She suffered from various mental health issues and addictions, but waited to deal with them near the end of her life. She lost her left arm in a horrible trolley car accident at the age of seven, which affected her life quite a bit and may have contributed to her addictions and issues. I became very involved with my mother’s care a few years ago as her POA and executor of her will. I have three siblings; however, they are estranged from my mother, so I took on the task of making sure bills were paid and things were being taken care of for her. I live in Pittsburgh and she lived in El Paso adding geographical challenges. I usually went to El Paso every few months for the last few years to take care of things for my mom and to visit her. Luckily, I have a cousin in El Paso and a wonderful nurse’s aide who was my eyes and ears with me living so far away.
I realized as her daughter and POA, I needed to make sure issues were taken care of and organized. Having life issues addressed and organized with a loved one is very important, as I found out firsthand through this experience. I always have heard and known as a professional organizer how important it is to have a will in place, funeral arrangements taken care of, and what will happen to belongings. With my interests focused on helping the chronically disorganized, the professional organizer in me needed to make sure these things were done.
One of my first tasks was getting her will in order and becoming her POA. I went through many months of getting bills switched over to me and setting up a bank account in Pittsburgh for her so I could take care of her bills. I had to deal with getting Social Security and an Army pension deposited into this account and it took a little while and considerable effort to do so.
My mom went into hospice eight months before she died and the hospice asked me several times about whether funeral arrangements were in place. I procrastinated, of course. Facing your parent’s mortality is difficult; however, it made sense to get these things in place. I finally did make the funeral arrangements for my mom six weeks before she died. I am so glad I took care of the arrangements prior to her death. It made an enormous difference in my life to not have to worry about what to do and make these decisions after she died.
Fortunately, I was able to get to El Paso to see my mom the day she died. I got there just after noon and she died around 11 pm on March 16. After she died, the funeral home was called. Having it already set up was a relief for me. The next morning, I needed to go to the skilled care place where my mother lived and clean out her small room. Prior to her death, each trip I would go through her belongings with her and take things back with me. My mother had me take most of her photographs, memorabilia, and more. I also had discussed with her what her last wishes were. This was not an easy conversation to have, but it allowed for her to make decisions and also prevented me from always wondering if I did as she wanted. The last trip before my mother’s death, I took her art supplies (my mother was an artist). As I loaded paint brushes and palettes in my suitcase, I realized all the things that are important to her are going with me and she probably was not going to live much longer.
After her death, it was very emotional going through her clothes– folding them for donation to the community. I didn’t think it would be that hard, since we were not that close and I had things organized ahead of time, but it was. My cousin and my husband came to help me clear out the room, too. My cousin wanted to let go of her clothing very quickly and then I realized how hard it is for our clients to do this. My cousin was helping me; however, I felt these things were not being honored.
My mother’s ashes were buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery six weeks after her death. This decision had been made and arranged before she died. Now I understand how being organized was so important.
Many of our CD clients procrastinate about many things, including dealing with the death of a loved one. As a professional organizer, it is so important to help our clients with these issues. For example, we must realize the importance of understanding their feelings and emotions while honoring their loved one’s things as they are letting go of them, giving them the space and time to do this.
If we are working with a client in making prearrangements, it is important to guide them in:
· gathering paperwork so you know what is happening
· updating the will or making a will
· understanding the bills so when a death does come you are organized and not searching for things
· talking to a parent about what they want done when they die
· asking if they want to be cremated or buried
· finding out if they want to have a service of some kind
Knowing what your loved one wants and starting the process of helping them or you taking care of the funeral arrangements before their death is very important. It was peace of mind for me knowing to have the funeral prearranged. I didn’t have to worry about what to do with my mother and run around trying to find a funeral home in the city I was born in, but not familiar with, with little time. As professional organizers, it is important to stress to our clients the importance of being organized when caring for a loved one.
As for the bunny…I went to store to buy some cookies for the staff at the skilled care place that had taken care of my mother. As I was going to the checkout, a big stuffed rainbow colored bunny was staring at me. I recalled my aunt telling me that when my mom lost her arm at seven years old, she received many stuffed animals from the people of El Paso who read about her accident in the newspaper. That may have influenced me as I picked up that giant stuffed rabbit and bought him. As professional organizers, we know how hard the stuffed animals are to find a new home for. When I got to my car with my husband and drove to my cousin’s home, I hugged that big bunny. I guess I needed it for my own grief. The bunny helped me. As a side note, my cousin has a granddaughter who is two years old and the bunny now lives with her.