Six months ago, my mother died. She died suddenly, without warning. Utterly unexpectedly. She died without a will, without life insurance, and without giving me a list of which credit cards she had.
I talked to my mother every day, multiple times, but never asked her about these things, and so on top of my shock and grief, I’ve had to manage the paperwork involved in a person dying. My dad hasn’t been too much help. He, for instance, didn’t think he had a credit score, much less understand how to turn off the auto-payment on my mom’s Dunkin Donuts app.
Just last week, I think we finished tying up all the logistical ends of ending someone’s life on paper. It’s the paperwork that pops up in the midst of my grief, demanding that I try to pay attention and think clearly and give official statements. Or find notaries, sign affidavits, accept the apologies of customer service agents offering their condolences in addition to their prying questions they need to ask in order to make things official.
For the first few months, every time we opened a closet, we found more credit cards or online accounts that needed to be closed. It grew to where I found it easier to call and pretend to be my mother, closing the account because “I’m leaving the country,” than it was to deal with the actual truth and much more involved paperwork of closing an account for someone who has died.
I know things now that I didn’t want to know for many decades. I know how to order an urn from Amazon. I know I am strong enough to sign to accept the cremains of my mother and bring them back to my parents’ house. I know that I still can’t convince my father to sign a Power of Attorney document, so if he has a stroke, we can’t sell his house or car to help pay for his care. I know we’d have to wait for him to actually die, because at least we got him to draw up a will.
Just last week, I helped him gather up my sisters’ social security numbers so he could finalize the beneficiary paperwork for some retirement funds. Six months of torturous logistical detail on top of the agonizing loneliness of not being able to bitch about it all to my mother.
It feels ironic that my last post prior to this was advertising a Get Your Act Together event I was unable to hold, for all the reasons I just listed above. I haven’t felt up to organizing another one, but I want to soon, because this work is so important. Do it for yourself, do it for your parents, and do it for your children. Do not leave this burden for those who will mourn, because it sucks…but I’d so much rather it be me dealing with my shitty paperwork than my children. And I’d much rather my father handle all this than me, but there you go.
We have but one life, and we know is that it can end at any point, without warning. If you’re moved in any way by reading about this great sadness in my life, I’d ask you to please look into getting your act together. And, when you’re done, make your parents get their act together. Tell them they owe you this final kindness.
Hopefully I can get an event together for Pittsburgh sometime this summer. In the mean time, I’m still working on my grief now that I’ve finally (hopefully) finished the paperwork.