After a long life or an unfairly short one, death barges in.
Death never arrives alone:
- The bills, sympathy cards, and junk mail pile up like a paper Everest.
- There are endless follow-up phone calls and half the people don’t call back.
- You’ve found most documents for the estate, except several are missing key pages with signatures and you’ve looked everywhere, including under the beds.
- The woman at the funeral home was so kind, but the insurance agency had a confusing phone menu and you still haven’t talked to a real person.
- The dimwit at the credit card company demanded an official death certificate to close the account even though their web page promised they’d take copies.
Your loved one has died and the business of the estate swamps you. For some, nearly everything is organized because your loved one was a good planner. Folders were labeled. Contact info for insurance and credit card companies were on a spreadsheet. But even with easy-to-find details, “closing the estate” is exhausting.
However, most folks aren’t that organized.
Whether a loved one was orderly or neglectful about their finances, your attention for months (or years) has been on the ever-changing demands of their declining health. Who cares about future obligations when a loved one has pain right now? You should’ve asked your Mom where she kept the tiny key to the jewelry box when she was alive, but there was always tomorrow—until there wasn’t. You should’ve asked your husband about the new insurance agent’s name because the old one had retired. But it was more important to reminisce than ask dumb questions about “business.”
And what if it was a sudden death? Literally everything will be a mess with non-stop stress.
In the days after death, you are VERY busy.
Sometimes, you’re the only one in the family handling . . . everything. Why can’t others assist? (And you shouldn’t have to ask them to help!) Tensions rise. Tempers flare.
Sometimes, if you’re the estate’s executor, you are responsible for everything. But family members are bossy and critical or never answer calls or emails. Tensions rise. Tempers flare.
When I phoned to offer grief support from hospice after a loved one’s death, many said they were glad to be busy. Busy means they don’t have to think about the death. Busy means they have a real project to tackle. Busy means they can start and finish a goal.
I’m staying busy! I’m doing fine!
For others, it’s not the busy-ness of the estate’s demands, but returning to their jobs. Last week, they buried a beloved. A few weeks prior to that, they were overwhelmed by the slow (or rapid) dying of their loved one. A month or a year before, they had just started on the relentless scheduling of medical appointments and/or emergency room trips. Now, the “awful” is over, and they can get back to . . .
Or you are retired, but there are household chores: weeding, mowing, repairing, and more! Everything has been neglected. You want to reclaim . . .
So much to do! You complain about the calendar-clogging obligations, but secretly you prefer it that way. Being busy represents sanity and salvation. Busy is a band-aid.
But what if busy means you don’t take time to grieve? Band-aids don’t help broken hearts.
Obviously, there are important estate tasks after the death and tasks at home or work that no one else but you can accomplish and tasks that provide a paycheck and put food on the table—but please don’t forget the tasks necessary for grieving and healing.
Let me suggest three:
Who have you avoided visiting since your loved one died? Maybe it’s someone you feel close to, but dread your emotions spiraling out of control when you see them. But “letting go” does help. If we contain our grief, our efforts at “control” may become like a wall around our life.
Why not “schedule” time for yourself? What if you accepted the invitation to a friend or family member’s home and let them pamper you for a few days? Why not schedule a long walk or a leisurely drive to a favorite spot? Why not meet that trusted friend for a three-hour lunch . . . to talk or not talk, to be with someone who accepts whatever you say or do? Many are good at scheduling time to accomplish goals. But we fail ourselves when we don’t literally schedule time to heal.
Please listen to what your tears (or absence of tears) are saying. We hate crying in public. Tears ruin make-up. Tears are hard to explain to co-workers. Tears flow at the worst times. Or: why won’t any tears flow? Wet or dry, our tears shouldn’t be ignored. Listen to what they may be revealing. Do regrets or guilt prompt tears? Are there memories you need to share, but fear others will judge or laugh at or ignore them?
I have ignored one bit of grief work for the death of my parents. In the final days of her life, Mom shared where she and Dad had their delayed honeymoon. Why had I never known about it? Married near the start of World War II, my parents were only able to sneak away for a brief time to a spot on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada called Lundy Canyon. I’ve been to many places in the Sierra, but never there! I’ve promised myself I want to glimpse hints of what my parents saw when they were young. This pandemic has become another speed bump in getting there. But I will go. It is part of my grief work.
What “work” do you need to do?
Yes, of course you are busy. But in grief, you also need time for you, and for your ongoing healing.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by