Carolyn Hax: Elderly mother lets house cleaning go to ‘someone else’

Dear Caroline: My widowed mother, healthy, vibrant, lives alone. Selling her huge house and its furniture, and going through my parents’ belongings, will be a huge undertaking one day. She says that “someone else” can take care of it, and that it is too painful for her.

The “other person” is me and my semi-separated brother. My brother lives far away and has been absent for decades. I live in the same city with my mother.

I don’t want her things or her house, just private letters and pictures. I can’t understand why or how she could hold me in this. I feel like I’ve felt this my whole life: that she doesn’t think about how her actions directly affect me.

However, it is her home, her life, and her choice.

I feel trapped, and I can’t enjoy the present with my mother without feeling angry about the future.

Home Alone: I’m sorry. This is a heavy emotional saddle.

I’m not sure home is as physically stressful as you think. As long as you’re OK with handing over control of where things end up, you can hire a company to clean out the house: all the paper, all the clothes, all the toxic cleaning solutions, and every piece of furniture. It’s not cheap but it can be cheaper than you expect, especially if the expected sale of some content can offset the final price. Get some estimates – ask real estate agents for names – dig out those precious pictures and letters of yourself, and then drop the proverbial match.

However, I’m wondering if the other mother’s burden — “that she doesn’t think about how her actions directly affect me” — is heavier than you think? Battling the nagging, lifelong feeling of your mother’s insignificance is much harder work than a house full of junk. It would make “present with mom” an enjoyable mixed experience at best.

I sincerely doubt that her indiscretion is something she personally intends and does to You; From here, it seems more like a preoccupation with the self, which would, appropriately, be entirely about herself and her emotional boundaries. If you haven’t gotten to the point of accepting this as it is – and thus treating it as unable versus unwilling to deal with your feelings in a meaningful and conciliatory way – then this is the unpacking I suggest you do.

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Finally, you’re not sure where your sibling fits in, and whether too little or too much of an issue there will end up being on your mother’s property. But perhaps this is something your mother would like to address for your benefit now. “I understand your choice of age in place. If you have an attorney drafting the paperwork for X, that would help me help you.” An appointment with a real estate attorney to determine an X-shape, given your family’s circumstances, seems like money well spent.

I meant what I said about being willing to give up your mom’s stuff. Meaning can seep into the junk pile as you come to terms with the death of the person who chose, used, and hand-washed it. Sending them in the trash isn’t for the faint of heart, even when you know it’s the only way to keep your mom’s possessions from owning yours.

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