QUESTION: My father is 86 years old and suffering from dementia. He is still in the early stages, so we care for him at home. He lives in the home he and my mother, now deceased, lived in for 52 years. We didn’t do much cleaning after my mom died five years ago because the house still served as our family home for holidays and special events, and we used her beautiful plates, serving dishes, etc., as part of our celebrations. My problem is my two sisters have decided it’s time to clean out the closets and cupboards and are packing up my mother’s treasures and giving them to a local non-profit that sells the items and raises money for the homeless. While I’m in favor of charitable giving, I am finding it difficult to part with my mother’s cherished house wares and in some cases, antiques. I don’t want to appear like a hoarder, but I can’t help the way I feel. I would like to keep her good china and other items for myself and also have some of her treasures to have to pass down to my daughters. Neither of my sisters has children and I don’t think they would understand this kind of nostalgia. Should I just keep my mouth shut to keep the peace? —Natalia
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ANSWER: I certainly understand how you might think this is a difficult situation, as most family situations are. But the truth of the matter is the answer is very simple. You need to express your feelings and wishes to your sisters and help them to understand that you are emotionally attached to these treasures that connect you with your mother and her love of her home. Since you have the added stress of providing care for your father, it would be best to set up a special time and place to meet with your sisters. Offer to take them to lunch at a favorite nearby restaurant where you will be able to discuss the situation in a quiet, calm manner. Present your case the best way you can, perhaps giving examples of why you want to keep, for example, your mother’s hand-painted china gravy boat. Explain how she brought it out every Thanksgiving and you can still smell her delicious homemade gravy. Hopefully, these words will ignite memories of their own that will help them to understand your request. It is important that they also understand why you would like your daughters to have heirlooms that remind them of their grandmother. In the midst of finding a solution, please remember to take your father’s feelings into consideration as well. He could easily be experiencing times of clarity and might wonder why his daughters are clearing out his home. In time, you will all be responsible for going through your parents’ belongings and deciding where they will go. You might also consider that your sisters think they are helping to get a jump start on this process. The only way you will know for certain is to ask.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.