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The Final Housecleaning

Barbara Bensoussan

Your parent has been laid to rest, but the worldly possessions haven’t gone anywhere. What should you do with the piles of stuff? How can you avoid sibling disputes over who gets what? Firsthand advice from children who have spent days (and months) sorting through their parents’ stuff, often crying their way through the cleaning.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

atticAfter sitting shivah for her mom, Devora Segal flew from Tel Aviv to Seattle to clean out her mother’s old house. “It was a very painful experience,” she says. “It was like confronting her death all over again.” Intellectually she knew her mother was gone, but coming face to face with all her belongings brought back a deep feeling of connection. “It was like feeling her presence in the house. It was surreal.”

Miriam Liebermann agrees that the process can be emotionally wrenching. “I was very touched to see what my mother held onto,” Miriam says. “We found personal letters we had written that my mother had obviously cherished. She kept the invitations from all our simchahs in a special file in the front of her desk, from our weddings and the weddings and bar mitzvahs of her grandchildren. We found letters we had written her from camp as kids — those made us laugh and cry at the same time.”

Cleaning out a parent’s home can be physically draining, too. When Seena Elbaum of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, started to clean out her parents’ home, she didn’t expect it to take four full months. Seena’s parents had lived in the house for 58 years and apparently never threw out a thing. “My mother was in her 80s, but she still had her maternity clothing!” Seena says. “There were straw handbags in the attic she’d kept since her honeymoon. They’d become so fragile, they disintegrated when you lifted them up. She kept all our baby clothing, which was really a shame, because nobody can use it now. But years ago, there would have been enough to clothe 50 babies!”


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