I am going out of my mind. We just had our mother’s funeral last week and my sister has started to go into our mother’s house and is taking things out. These are family “things” some of value, most of sentimental value. What should I do?
This is a terrible situation. You have just had the emotional rollercoaster of a funeral and now to have to deal with dividing up personal possessions is truly stressful (especially when there is fighting and mistrust).
You have to find a way to talk with your sister. Doing this in person is always the best. Emotions are already raw, and the next couple of conversations may dictate the future direction of your relationship with your sister, perhaps for years.
If you do have a face-to-face conversation with her, try and bring some logic and structure to the conversation. Try and stay on track for the purpose of the meeting. It is highly likely that both of you may say things not directly related to the dividing up of the possessions, which will complicate this already toxic situation. When other issues come into this conversation, it can end up being a bee’s nest.
Ask her calmly some specific questions, such as:
- What did you take?
- Why did you take those specific things?
- Does she have an idea of what your mother’s wishes were about the possessions?
Suggest that the “taking of things must stop”. Tell her how hurtful this is to you. Tell her you want to work with her on dividing them up together. You should also:
- Try to get her to agree to a plan
- Find some simple common ground to begin to divide up things
- Take a video camera or pictures of things and where they are in the house
- Take your time – if you are not in a rush to clean out the house – take some extra time. It will help with your grieving process.
If you cannot meet face-to-face, then these are conversations that need to happen over the phone. Writing letters and emails are less productive, and can come back to haunt you later. Written words can often be interpreted incorrectly.
If your verbal conversations do not work, it is also highly likely that this will force another level of “communication.” At some point, if the two of you are not communicating and making progress, you will need some help to work things through.
Perhaps you have a mutual friend of a trusted family member who might act as a liaison for this process.
There is of course another option. You could hire a 3rd party to negotiate an arrangement. You might want to think about hiring a person has no history with the family and no emotional or professional stake in any of the possessions or family relationship.
I actually know of one family who could not work through things even with a 3rd party negotiated, so one sibling formally charged the other sibling with theft. The lawyers took over and decided everything. This permanently destroyed their relationship, but it did allow for a more fair distribution of the possession. These siblings are still not talking. Both feel hurt and betrayed. There were no winners in this situation. They lost control and they lost each other – which is very sad. I hope this does not happen to you!
So think carefully about everything you do and say. Plan your words and your actions. Your sister needs to know how important this whole issue is to you, and perhaps will meet you half way. Good luck and let me know how things go.