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The Most Important Thing

Imagine a baby girl sitting on the floor surrounded by all of her personal stuff. A big stack of diapers, baby bottles, a stuffed bear, a rattle, and a blanket. Oh, and a ring of plastic keys. No car or house for those keys. No washer and dryer to clean Mr. Blankie. No sewing kit to sew Teddy’s torn ear. No mail, dishes, vacuum, newspapers. No address book. No passwords! Not much stuff at all.

Over this tiny baby’s lifetime, the accumulation of things—and life experiences—will grow to an immense and unfathomable size. Instead of Mommy being the most important person in her life, dozens and dozens of people will have joined her tribe. She will have her own babies. And they will have theirs. She will have had many cars, many addresses, countless keys—and too many passwords! If today she were to sit on the floor surrounded by all of her personal stuff—at let’s say, age 88—you would need an excavator to find her in the heap.

And when she leaves this earth she will leave alone, just as she entered, alone. And these often repeated words will never be more true: you can’t take it with you. And since you can’t take it with you, all of it must be left behind.

Somebody, maybe you, will be responsible for distributing, disseminating, or discarding what remains of our 88-year old baby’s personal stuff. The temptation is to insist that she manage this task herself, before she goes. Frustration arises when your insistence is met with her complete and utter lack of desire to part with one dang thing. Resentment happens—on both sides. Dread is born. Fear pays a visit. Your self-righteous self labels her as pigheaded.

Don’t do it. Don’t insist that mom’s plastic bread clips are stupid trash. Don’t declare her doll collection useless on the grounds that kids don’t play with dolls anymore. Don’t pull down a hatbox and remind her she hasn’t worn a hat in years. Unless she asks. If she asks you to donate, dump, or ditch her old hats or dolls, do it. If she wants more room in the drawer and needs help cleaning out all the rubber bands and grocery bags stuffed in there, be accommodating. No shaming, no judgement, no comment.

When she’s gone you can call the estate sale people and they will do all the work. She will be none the wiser. She will have been spared. What does this have to do with in-home care? Nothing and everything. It is about providing the highest level of care and comfort for an aging parent. And that’s everything. No thing is as important.

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