After both parents are gone

A solution for the surviving adult children


It is always a difficult time in one’s life when you lose a parent. You look to them to be there for you and expect them to be around forever.

But when the surviving parent dies, you begin to question your own mortality. You are watching the passing of a generation, and now you are standing at the front of the line. You are thrown into planning for funeral, burial, and financial disbursements while still trying to maintain a relationship with the other surviving siblings and relatives. You realize, as you sort through everything, that a person’s entire life ends up in a cardboard box.

Besides the tangible things to deal with, I also had to retrain myself on certain habits I had. The biggest one I had trouble with was wanting to pick up the phone and call them, whether it be a birthday, holiday or even just to tell them something that was going on in my life. Maybe just to hear their voice and ask how things are going. I had to accept the cold fact that there wasn’t going to be anyone there.

My father died from cancer. He had been sick for many years, and most of the family dealt with it calmly. But when my mother died suddenly two years later, it came as a shocking blow to all of us. She also died of cancer, but no one knew she had it, except her. No one knew just how sick she was until the very end. She had always felt that most of the things in her life were out of her control. So, when she realized she had cancer, even though she could not control it, she could control her own death.

As my sisters and I discussed the events of the past, everything began to make more sense. Now we could understand why she didn’t want to come visit anyone. We all live in different states, and for that matter, we might have just as well been on different planets. If we had seen her, we would have found out. Her biggest fear was to have to be dependent on someone else for either her care or her home.

After seeing my father go through treatment after treatment for his cancer, never getting better and the cost draining them of most of what they had, she knew if she had sought medical treatment herself, there would be no guarantees that she would be cured, and her independence was all she could call her own. She felt that remaining silent was the only way she could pass on what she had to her children rather than everything going to pay medical expenses.

How to divide everything fairly

There are six kids in my family. It is not an easy thing to try to divide up everything fairly. But one of my sisters came up with a plan that just seemed to work for everyone. Since my mother left no will, after probate, everything would be divided equally in six ways. There was still the question of the household items. Furniture, keepsakes, etc. Everyone went through the house and wrote down on a piece of paper the things they had special attachment to. Then, we put a number beside that item. Number 1 is the most important, and number 3 is the least important. This way, if two or more of us wanted the same item, they could decide among themselves how important it was. If more than two wanted the same item, it was decided by lottery. Each person would put their name in a hat, and then someone else would draw a name. If no one wanted an item, it was donated to charity. That system didn’t make the loss any easier, but no one went away with any hard feelings.

As I unpacked the boxes I had brought home, I couldn’t help but wonder just how important all this stuff was – bits and pieces of things that were somehow important to my mother. It gave me the idea to put together my own sort of “time capsule” box. One that would be filled with things that told others who I was – what made me the person I am. Then, someday, when someone took down that cardboard box from the shelf, it would be more than just a box of stuff. It might even tell a story.

Darlene Kemery, of Olympia, has been writing and creating art for local publications for more than 30 years. 

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  • WayTooOld

    Thank you for sharing this personal experience. It sounds like you and your siblings very much worked together and supported each other. I appreciate your story even more because that wasn’t quite how it went with my family..

    Saturday, April 20 Report this