There’s plenty to do when a loved one passes away, and none of them are pleasant. But you can take the sting out of them by being organized and coordinating with others. Involving other family members in difficult tasks after you lose a relative can be therapeutic, a chance for everyone to come together for mutual emotional support. It also makes it easier to indulge in a little self-care at a time when you need to nurse those emotional wounds.
Let Everyone Know
One of the first things to do when a family member dies is to let family and close friends know what’s happened. These are difficult phone calls to make, and it can be a very difficult task for one person to handle. To ease the burden, make a list of primary contacts and divide it among a handful of people to ensure that everyone receives notification in a timely basis. Remember to let your deceased relative’s former employer know, as well as friends and family living abroad or in other parts of the country. You can also ask the people you contact if they’ll help by passing the word along to their own family members and perhaps help you work through your call list.
Sorting Out the Departed’s Belongings
Sorting through a deceased loved one’s belongings is an emotionally challenging task. There’s a physical aspect to it that connects you to a lost loved one through your senses. Be ready for powerful memories to come flooding back when you handle your relative’s favorite putter or begin the process of cleaning out his or her closet. It’s perfectly okay to shed some tears — it’s a good way to begin the healing process. As you go through what’s sure to be a roller coaster of emotions, consider pairing the task with a bereavement program that can guide everyone through the grieving process. If you can get several people involved, it’s possible to work in shifts so that everyone can take turns or spend some time alone with their thoughts.
The best approach is to take it a room at a time and make separate piles (or use boxes) to divide what will be donated, thrown out, recycled, or handed down to other family members. One of the cardinal rules when sorting through belongings is to see each room through to completion. It’s okay to take a break, but try not to stop and come back to it tomorrow or the next day. It’s too easy to let it get away from you and leave the job incomplete. If you’re unable to throw away any of your relative’s belongings, find someone who can, as this is an important part of the sorting process. Otherwise, you could end up defeating your purpose.
When someone dies, it’s important to assemble important documents that will be needed to file insurance and Social Security claims, as well as to provide proof of death to debtors and settle all outstanding financial responsibilities. Gather the will, Social Security card, life insurance contract, funeral preneed contract (if one exists), organ and/or tissue donation authorization, and Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty if your loved one served in the military.
It’s natural that you should want to help out at this difficult time, especially if it means relieving other family members of some of the burden they’re facing. While that’s a noble instinct, be careful not to neglect your own emotional and physical needs and overdo it. There’s nothing wrong with spending an hour or two resting, taking in a movie, or running your own errands while helping your family. Self-care is always important.
When a death occurs, it’s important for family members to pull together for mutual emotional support. It can be easy to forget that there are many tasks to be performed after someone passes away — often arduous and always painful — that frequently go much faster when there are multiple hands available to see them through. It’s an act of grace and mercy for those who were closest to the departed, who are the ones who suffer most.
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