Dealing With a House Full of Memories

Barbara, Asheville, N.C., asks
My mother died recently at age 85. I’m the only surviving child. She left a huge house full of “stuff.” I just can’t bring myself to do what’s needed to clean it out and sell the house. Is this normal? What can I do to get over the hump?

Drs. Gloria and Heidi respond:
First of all, we want to say how sorry we are to hear about your mother’s death.  As you say, you are the only surviving child,  so we assume that you have also suffered sibling loss.  It is difficult to say goodbye to the home and mother you knew and not to have other siblings with whom you can cry and share special stories.

Some would mistakenly tell you that since she lived to 85, your mother had a good life and it was time for her to go–but losing a parent is painful no matter the age. We all know we have to see our elder loved ones go but that doesn’t mean that we don’t miss them dearly. Home and Mom were a place where we always knew we were welcome. So not being able to clean out the house is totally normal.

We suggest that you don’t do it alone. Ask a favorite aunt, friend, or friend of your mother’s to help. Tackle things one room at a time. You might want to deal with personal items last. Some people just box up some of the personal items, label the box, and put them in storage to go through at a later date. Also, think about those left behind and offer them some of those special items to remember your mom. For the furniture and larger items, you can have a house sale. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can hire people to do it and if it is too painful, take a few days of vacation while the items are being sold. Ask the people you hire to contact an organization like Volunteers of America to pick up what they don’t sell. When you get back, the house will be empty and ready to go on the market.

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