On March 30th, my mum was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. On April 4th, she passed.
On March 31st, I flew to France to be by her side for what would turn out to be her last 5 days. On April 17th, I flew back to Singapore to be by my son’s side and support him through his final IB exams.
The 18 days I spent in France were surreal: dealing with my mum’s hospitalisation, death, funerals organising and funerals, handling administrative and legal matters, organising the emptying of her house to put it on the market, leaving my childhood house for probably the last time etc.
Most people I have dealt with during this period have commented on my organising skills and how much I have managed to handle in such a short time. To be honest, I kept it all together while I was busy handling all I had to do, but back in Singapore the reality and brutality of what had just happened quickly came down on me. Obviously, I am going to need time to process it all.
But this is not the place for me to share about me dealing, or not, with my mum’s passing, and although it is still raw and excruciatingly painful, I thought I would share how my organising skills have helped in this situation.
Project management skills
Considering I had limited time in France, instead of rushing into doing things, I sat down and started making several lists starting with a list of the big areas that needed to be tackled e.g., funerals organising, communication, legal stuff handling, home purging etc. before going into more details into each area, including:
- Who would speak at her funerals and which music would be played
- Which parties to inform of her death
- Which of her belongings I wanted to keep and passed onto the family and relatives
- Which documents I needed to keep / scan
Being an only child, although I had amazing support from my relatives and friends, all those decisions needed to be mine. Being a control freak and perfectionist by nature, I would have liked to do everything by myself in order to honour my mum’s memory. However, I had no other choice than delegating the execution of some of those projects so I could focus on the important ones, the ones I felt my mum would have wanted me to take care of and as a result that would give me peace of mind.
My mum owned 25% of the house she was living in, the rest belonged to the 3 children of her late husband. The four of us were involved in deciding what to do with the house; we decided to sell it.
To be honest, I was not ready to be dealing with it, but living so far away from France and being worried about leaving a house unoccupied for a few months, I decided to start the process of emptying her house at that stage.
My mum had spent the last 46 years in that house, and although, inspired by my job and bored at home because of covid restrictions, she had done a fair amount of decluttering in the last few months, you can imagine how much I needed to go through.
So, I summoned up the little courage I had to go through all her personal effects and put aside what was truly meaningful to me and wanted to keep. In the end, I took her jewellery, one T-shirt, 3 scarves, a set of 6 coffee cups, a set of colourful crystal glasses and a jug, a lot of photos, 2 laundry bags, a few of her toiletries (it seems my mum and I shared a passion for shower gels and soaps) and a painting that she had specifically left me. Except for the painting that I have left for the time being at my aunt’s, the rest fitted in a hand-carry suitcase, also belonging to her.
In the process, I put aside a few items to pass as memories of my mum to various family members and relatives. I filled several bags with her clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories that will be donated to a charity. I threw what was damaged or had expired. I passed unnecessary paper and photos I already had to a family friend who will burn them on my behalf. I gave away food to the family and medicine and old X-rays to the pharmacy for recycling.
The children of my late stepfather are taking over from there and will take / give away / donate / sell the rest i.e., the furniture, decorative items, electronics, linen, kitchenware, tools, other consumables etc.
Years of personal and professional decluttering experience had taught me to let go but the amount of stuff I went through and the number of decisions I had to make in less than 2 days was huge. Somehow I found the strength I never thought I would have, amidst several crying spells, to be very decisive. Although what I kept from her is very little, I was very intentional in my choices and am confident and feel at peace with my decisions. And beyond the things I took, I know that my mum’s memory really lives in my mind and in my heart, not in the stuff.
One of the main organising principles is to find a home for everything you own. That has been the most difficult for me to apply in this whole process. It has been only a few days since I came back home, but I have not been able to find a home for many of my mum’s belongings that I brought back with me. It is not that I do not know where they should go, or that there is no space for them, but it feels that once I will have found them a home, that will be admitting that my mum is gone forever. And that, I am not ready to face yet.