Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sneaky siblings are really hurtful

My sister-in-law (SIL) lives in a distant city and when her mother was alive, she called regularly. With the same regularity, my Mom-in-Law (MIL) asked me to drop things at the Post office for her. Often, these packages were addressed to the distant sister-in-law. At the time I had been married into this family only a year so I didn't feel right asking questions. I thought it best to just do the favor for MIL since she couldn't get out herself.

Now I wish I'd said something - a question, a hint, a suggestion - something, to let my husband, other SIL and brother-in-law (BIL) know what I suspected - that distant SIL was asking for the few dear, dear things that belonged to their grandmother and MIL was sending them. Since the death of my MIL, the kids -without the distant sister - talk about things and ask "I wonder what happened to that?".... I see these things at SIL's home so I knew exactly where they are but I maintain my silence. Things with the distant SIL are strained enough speaking up might exasterbate things.

Maintaining my silence is tough, really tough. I hear the emotional connection that my other SIL and BILs have for these things. I know that they would enjoy having something to remind them of their grandmother. Who's at fault here? Distant SIL asked for the items and MIL complied; she could have said "no". I can't help but feel that distant SIL should have been content with an item or two and then left something for someone else. She had not visited for years; she never drove MIL or her husband to the doctor; she didn't cleaned MIL's house, mowed her yard or help financially. Did she "deserve" all of those dear items? If we keep score on "helpfulness", then no. If we rank it on emotional attachment, she'd rate high BUT..... I wish she'd put some value on the feelings of her siblings and her emotional attachment to THEM and share the mementos and thus memories. In the end, it's the people who are left with us who should mean the most.

Mom shares belongings with Non-family

Now that Mom has moved, we must decide what to do with 60 years of accumulated stuff. This, I fear, will cause some major conflict within my family especially because Mom has a couple of close friendships with women who are like daughters to her. She wants them to have something and I agree but can't help feeling odd and asking myself, "...but, what if I want the thing Mom wants to give away?"

The whole topic of downsizing must be approached gently, which I can deal with but this non-family business is another matter. I understand how she feels about these gals and it's taken me some time to understand it and to appreciate it and them. I'm grateful that someone else loves my mom and sees that she still has a lot to contribute. These gals are a few years older than I and she met them when they came to her home to clean. Once I realized that they were devoted, trustworthy and generally nice people, I employed them to spend a few extra hours with Mom each week when family members could not be there. I realize the scenario sounds fishy but, trust me, these gals really love my mom and often visited her even without getting paid for it. Now that she's in assisted living, they call and visit; they join her for lunch; they discuss politics and grand kids and just laugh. If my Mom wants them to have something dear, it's because they are dear people to her and I support her wishes.

If it's something that I want for myself I'll take this approach:
  • First, I'll ask myself WHY I want it. Is it something to which I've always had an emotional attachment? Did it belong to a grandmother or grandfather?
  • Will I use it? Or, will it sit around gathering dust and be in the way?
  • Second, I'll think about monetary value. Do I want it to sell for myself or should it be sold to benefit my mom's care? If it's just for MY or another siblings enrichment, then we'd be real stinkers (we're not stinkers but we do raise a little odor now and then. Nobody is perfect) and it will eventtally be sold to benefit Mom because THAT is the right thing to do.
  • Is it something that my Dad gave Mom out of love like a wedding band or anniversary gift?
  • Is it something that I'm sure a brother or niece, nephew, grandchild might want?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then I'll tell Mom that I think someone - or that I - would be disappointed not to have the item. BUT, I will also tell her that these are HER things and she should do what she wants with them. I don't want to apply pressure to her nor do I want anyone to be terribly hurt if they truly want something that means a lot to them. I have great emotional attachment to a very few things; things that were used daily by my great grand mother then my grandma and my Mom. I grew up using these things and I want to use them in my own home. To me, it's a way of honoring their memory and holding onto the important things I learned from each of them. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of the tough things they endured - I can continue also.

So - what about family? That's the tough part. Past personality conflicts come back; grudges take hold; greed and that sense of entitlement creep in. One child wants everything; another wants to exclude one sibling or one or more kids or grandkids wants things only to sell for cash. This is exactly why it's important to write things down. Several years ago Mom taped notes under or inside many things identifying who should get what. We are discussing this in detail now. She expected to be gone by the time we had to use her notes but having them helps. Surprisingly she's not changed her mind. And, she is less concerned about hurting someone's feelings if they don't agree with her. After asking for a turn-of-the century mantle clock; she told my brother very directly, "No, that goes to (Grandaughter). You are not careful enough and it will get destroyed." She told him to take some large old family portraits instead. He seemed satisfied but I wonder if he'll make his daughter feel bad over the clock. If so, I'll tell her that it's what Grandma wants so don't give in and give it up.