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Dealing with Grief by Organizing

By Vickie Dellaquila

I bought an oversized stuffed bunny the day my mom died. I am not sure why I did, but it seemed to help me at that time. My mother died in March and, as for most people, it is a very difficult experience to go through, not only as a daughter, but as a professional organizer. My mom and I were not especially close -- I was raised by my father from the age of ten and lived with him in Wisconsin. My mom lived in El Paso after their divorce. She suffered from various mental health issues and addictions, but waited to deal with them near the end of her life. She lost her left arm in a horrible trolley car accident at the age of seven, which affected her life quite a bit and may have contributed to her addictions and issues. I became very involved with my mother’s care a few years ago as her POA and executor of her will. I have three siblings; however, they are estranged from my mother, so I took on the task of making sure bills were paid and things were being taken care of for her. I live in Pittsburgh and she lived in El Paso, which added geographical challenges. I would travel to El Paso every few months over the last several years to take care of things for my mom and visit with her. Luckily, I have a cousin in El Paso and a wonderful nurse’s aide who were my eyes and ears when I wasn’t there. I realized as her daughter and POA, I needed to make sure issues were taken care of and organized. Having life issues addressed and organized with a loved one is very important, as I found out firsthand through this experience.  As a professional organizer, I have always heard and known how important it is to have a will in place, funeral arrangements taken care of, and a plan for belongings.  With my interests focused on helping the chronically disorganized, the professional organizer in me needed to make sure these things were accomplished. One of my first tasks was getting her will in order and becoming her POA. It took many months to transfer her bills and set up a bank account in Pittsburgh for her so I could handle her finances. I had to deal with getting Social Security and an Army pension deposited into this account and it took some time and considerable effort to do so. My mom went into hospice eight months before she died. The hospice agency asked me several times about pre-planning her funeral arrangements. I procrastinated, of course. Facing your parent’s mortality is difficult; however, it made sense to get these things in place. I finally did make the funeral arrangements for my mom six weeks before she died. I am so glad I took care of the arrangements prior to her death. It made an enormous difference in my life to not have to worry about what to do and make these decisions after she died. Fortunately, I was able to get to El Paso to see my mom the day she died. I got there just after noon and she died around 11 pm on March 16. After she died, the funeral home was called. Having it already set up was a relief for me. The next morning, I needed to go to the skilled care place where my mother lived and clean out her small room. Prior to her death, each trip I would go through her belongings with her and take things back with me. My mother had me take most of her photographs, memorabilia, and more. I also had discussed with her what her last wishes were. This was not an easy conversation to have, but it allowed for her to make decisions and also prevented me from always wondering if I did as she wanted. The last trip before my mother's death, I took her art supplies (my mother was an artist). As I loaded paint brushes and palettes in my suitcase, I realized that she had left me everything that was important to her and indeed, she probably was not going to live much longer. After her death, it was very emotional going through her clothes-- folding them for donation to the community. I didn’t think it would be that hard, since we were not that close and I had things organized ahead of time, but it was. My cousin and my husband came to help me clear out the room, too. My cousin wanted to let go of her clothing very quickly which reminded me how difficult it is for my clients to do this. My cousin was helping me; however, the pace made me feel like her things were not being honored. My mother’s ashes were buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery six weeks after her death. This decision had been made and arranged before she died.  Now I understand why being organized is so important. As busy individuals and caregivers, it is easy to procrastinate about many things, including dealing with the impending death of a loved one. It is important to acknowledge feelings and emotions while honoring your loved one’s things as you are letting go of them, giving yourself the space and time to do this.  Here are some pre-arrangements you can make if you are helping a loved one prepare for their death: •    gathering paperwork so you know what is happening •    updating the will or making a will •    understanding the bills so when a death does come you are organized and not searching for things •    talking to a parent about what they want done when they die •    asking if they want to be cremated or buried •    finding out if they want to have a service of some kind Knowing what your loved one wants and starting the process of helping them or you taking care of the funeral arrangements before their death is very important. It gave me peace of mind to know that the funeral was prearranged. I didn’t have to worry about what to do with my mother and run around trying to find a funeral home with little time. It is important to be organized when caring for a loved one. As for the bunny…I went to the store to buy some cookies for the staff at the skilled care place that had taken care of my mother. As I was going to the checkout, a big stuffed rainbow colored bunny was staring at me. I recalled my aunt telling me that when my mom lost her arm at seven years old, she received many stuffed animals from the people of El Paso who read about her accident in the newspaper. That may have influenced me as I picked up that giant stuffed rabbit and bought him. When I got into my car with my husband, I hugged that big bunny. I guess I needed it for my own grief. The bunny helped me. As a side note, my cousin has a granddaughter who is two years old and the bunny now lives with her. Vickie Dellaquila is western Pennsylvania’s only Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization and owner of Organization Rules® Inc. Organization Rules provides compassionate organizing services for every stage of your life®. She is the author of Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move. Please visit

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An Update on NCAA's Creative Caregiving Guide

October 11

eCareDiary's caregiving expert, Margery Pabst Steinmetz will speak to Dr. Greg Finch, Field Services Director at The National Center for Creative Aging, Dr. Vanessa Briscoe, Professor at Bethune Cookman University and Tamika Harris from Share the Care about new developments involving NCAA's creative caregiving guide aimed at improving the quality of caregivers' lives.

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