Out of the Ashes

Week end Post Saturday April 25th, 2009

During the dark days of living with chronic fatigue syndrome, never did I think I would recover, let alone have a life again. As I began to recover and feel stronger I distinctly remember one day which will always remain in my memory.

I had just filed a food story with the Cairns Post and received a phone call from Adelaide saying my mother had just been found dead and please get to Adelaide urgently. Apparently she had died several days earlier.

This picture of a parent being found like this is a hell no one should go through but it happens.

One the plane to Adelaide, although desperately upset, I thought about what the coming days would hold. One thing was for certain: I would be the person designated to deal with my mother’s personal possessions.

This thought was particularly frightening as my mother was very Victorian in her views and so the thought of going through her personal possessions, her clothes, her office was particularly daunting. It was a feeling I came to learn later was no uncommon when a parent was born early last century.

It was a distressing flight but, on the other hand, I felt secure that when I arrived in Adelaide I would be able to find lots of literature that told me what I had to do, what as right, and when dealing with possessions, what I could and could not do.
However, despite extensive research, with librarians, professionals, in the industry and bookstores, there were no resources to help and guide me with the enormous task of dealing with a household full of possessions.

I was astonished.

How could it be? People die every day. There must be resources to help. But apparently there wasn’t. What a revelation! Rather boldy, I thought: I’ll write something useful, once I know how to do it.’

As I began wrapping up, something bothered me, badly, and it was negativity.

I thought, ‘I don’t want to do it, it’s and awful task, but I must do it, so I need to change my mindset.’

After a long walk, looking at the task positively, I came back and begun with new zest.

Four “wrap ups” later, I came to find a lot of people view the task negatively.

I realised I needed much more information to write a useful book, so I created a research website and survey, paid a person to promote it, and responses started to come in.

Ten months later I began to read the thousands of answers. All I could do was cry.

The stories were so poignant, so amazing, and so personal.

How could I possibly do justice to these peoples experiences?

I needed to be objective.

Sorting out a deceased person’s possessions is a time-consuming and extremely complex task. That thought was constantly re-affirmed in the respondents’’ answers.

Many wondered the right time to start and whether legal issues were involved. “We didn’t know.” People described how their health suffered, they could not think clearly, they had no energy, they were frightened of the role, but most knew they had to keep going.

The family pet produced some very sad stories. One is detailed in a chapter called “Pets Are Family Too” In Wrapping It Up. I tried to think of the difficult situations that may arise. What if Grandma was registered on one? I registered on a site and searched the 60-95 age group and found many people. The electronic age has its complexities when wrapping up PINs, passwords and social networking sites all need special attention.

Wrapping it Up has involved several Cairns residents. Dr Veronica Griffin wrote the important chapter on “Grief Stress and Nutrition”. Mick O’Shea did the computer work for the survey and website. Alan Caudell advised me on putting a book together and printed it.

On the Gold Coast, retired chartered accountant and tax agent Ron Clarke wrote the forward. Barbara Goldner drew line illustrations.

More than 200 personal stories and anecdotes appear in Wrapping It Up (Now Closing the Final Chapter). It’s not a maudlin book – in fact in parts it’s funny – but real. I wanted it to be a useful, easy-to-read guidebook. Many have said it’s taken away the fear of the subject and for me that is a great compliment.