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No two people could be as different as my brother and me, but even if siblings share a lot of similarities, the death of their parents and dividing of an estate can be a wedge between them.
I’ve heard numerous stories about money and possessions segregating families into warring factions. Accusations fly like nuclear missiles, and the devastation lasts a lifetime.
At the end of this post, I’ll provide tips to help others grease the task of dispersing an inheritance, but first allow me to share my story. I learned a little from being the executrix of my parents’ estate, but the two primary reasons it was mostly hassle-free weren’t things I put in place. You could say my brother made it easy for me.
He lacked an attachment to the family and to the household property. And he was a resident in a Florida prison.
What is the single biggest component of finding healing within grief, besides expressing it?
Embracing the new.
Inviting what’s next into our lives.
Believing we can love and laugh again.
Today is the first day of spring. I hadn’t noticed until I received a life-changing phone text this afternoon, and then I realized the irony.
A real estate agent sent me a text about my parents’ home:
“Just sent full price offer in.”
The house where both my parents died, the house I’ve spent eight years cleaning out, has been listed for sale only four days.
It’s a mobile home enclosed by conventional roof and walls, and it sits on a beautiful treed 13-acre lot. The floors sag. The ceiling sag. The cellar fills with water.
I wonder if my mother was beautiful. I wonder if we shared the same hair color. If her eyes were blue. If she grinned when she held me. If she held me. I wonder if she thinks of me.
Surely she must think of me. At least on my birthday.
These are things normal daughters don’t have to wonder. But I’ve wondered these things all my life. Now I wonder if my mother is dead.
I was adopted. I don’t go around thinking about it a lot, but earlier this week, USA Today published an article by Betsy Brenner on its front page. She was adopted in the 1950s, a decade before me. She was 14 when her adoptive mother died and a new, emotionally-distant stepmother was insufficient to fill the void within her. Eventually, she sought out a meeting with her biological mother through an intermediary but was denied. By the time her state’s adoption records were open later, Brenner’s biological mother was dead.
What a waste land. A dirty, wet road led past 15-foot-tall piles of car parts, discarded machinery and crushed appliances. I situated the truck bed under a crane that dwarfed the vehicle. And me.
As a menacing claw reached inside and crunched my parents’ old dryer in its grip, I leaned away from the rear window, pressing my body into the steering wheel. I was inches from destruction.
It was probably my sixth trip to the recycling center after harvesting metals from my inheritance, but I’d never before noticed the site’s parallels to our grief journey.
Who was your first Valentine? Maybe that cute boy with the cowlick who sat in the back of the classroom comes to mind. Or maybe you think of your daddy. I do.
Our dads get us ready for all the Valentines that come afterward. If our dads treat us well, we look for a romantic partner to treat us well, too.
I didn’t always get a man who treated me well, however, I never settled for emotionally abusive behavior. My daddy hadn’t been like that. In the end, I found a Valentine who was like my dad. Unfortunately, Dad died before I met Richard.
I realize Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday, but I value its message – that love and relationships are important.
We wear internal labels like name tags on our chest. Mother. Daughter. Wife. Winner. Loser. Lazy. Sick. Wealthy. Poor. Sinner. Saint. Do any of those labels sound familiar?
They often come from external voices, from people we admire, or even people we don’t. But the loudest voice we hear is the one that comes from within. Our internal voice.
I started thinking about identity this week after an editor called me an “accomplished journalist.” I liked the label, but it came as sort of a surprise. That’s because my inner voice often tells me I don’t measure up. I wear the name tag “Inadequate,” despite all the bylines that Google reveals, or all the job offers I get. I’ve struggled with that label all my life.
One of the other name tags I wore for a long time was “Daughter,” and another was “Caregiver.” Even after I became “Wife,” I focused on the other two labels, and then my mother died, and I was lost. I was an identity in search of a cause. I poured myself into the project of taking care of what my parents left behind. Cleaning out their home. “Dutiful Daughter,” I was.
I found the lists after he died and wished I’d been more attentive to and thankful for who my father was. He’d put check marks beside the names and addresses on the list. They signified thank you notes he’d sent to each of the people who’d given him a gift.
My father was a mail carrier, or postman, and each Christmas Eve he arrived home with a bin of goodies plucked from mailboxes. It’s my understanding that mail carriers aren’t supposed to accept gifts, but apparently his office was lenient because everyone accepted the treats.
Dad shared. I tasted shortbread cookies in round tins, homemade fudge wrapped in cellophane and candies in rectangular boxes. But I didn’t grow up enjoying these Christmas treats.
What does an unfinished life look like? One way is a half-empty container of Coke.
That’s the first encounter I had with an unfinished life. My father had been dead only a few hours. I walked into the kitchen and there was the rest of his Coca-Cola in a sippy cup.
It wasn’t the last evidence I’d find of a life interrupted.
The “Crime Scene”
I found Mom’s half-done crossword puzzles. Her hand-drawn plans for a circular driveway that was never poured. Dad’s paint-by-number pictures. A harmonica he’d hoped to learn to play.