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Published September 14, 2013, 10:00 PM

Minding Our Elders: Guilt over selling dad’s possessions

DEAR CAROL: My Dad had a heart attack, followed by a small stroke. He also has vascular dementia. Dad’s 79 and not likely to improve enough to return to his home even with a health aide. We’ve found a very nice nursing home for him where my brother and I can both visit often. Dad seems reasonably content, so I guess I’m the one with the problem. He was living in the family home that is full of belongings dating back decades and we have to sell it all. This doesn’t seem to bother Dad, but I feel guilty, like I’m being disloyal to him by selling his home and belongings. I know I need to do this but how do I get over the guilt? – Linda

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My Dad had a heart attack, followed by a small stroke. He also has vascular dementia. Dad’s 79 and not likely to improve enough to return to his home even with a health aide. We’ve found a very nice nursing home for him where my brother and I can both visit often. Dad seems reasonably content, so I guess I’m the one with the problem. He was living in the family home that is full of belongings dating back decades and we have to sell it all. This doesn’t seem to bother Dad, but I feel guilty, like I’m being disloyal to him by selling his home and belongings. I know I need to do this but how do I get over the guilt? – Linda

DEAR LINDA: The guilt you are feeling is a normal phase in the letting go process. You’re fortunate in that your dad doesn’t seem to mind that his home needs to be sold. There are good estate sale companies that can help you with the sale of the items in the house, and then a realtor can help you prepare and sell the home.

There will be items that mean a lot to your brother and you. Obviously, this is the time to take these into your respective homes. Look for some items your dad would enjoy having at the nursing home. In the newer facilities, even the semi-private rooms generally have generous wall space for pictures. You might be able to fit in a special chair or some shelving for small items. Maybe all there’s room for is a few small mementoes. If that’s the case, you’ll have to choose carefully. If your dad liked to hunt, perhaps there are some photos you could have framed depicting hunting memories. If he had small items that were gifts, such as something your mom or you and your brother gave him, keep those. You could store a few other things at your home, too, if you think he may want to see them in the future.

It’s not unusual that this process is harder on you than on your dad. From your note, it sounds like this home is where you grew up so your own memories are closely tied to the home and furnishings. The home is also a physical tie to your parents from a time when they were younger and healthy. Selling the home and furnishings is a tangible sign that life has changed dramatically for all of you. Allow yourself to grieve. It’s normal.

You may want to take pictures of many items just for memory’s sake – your Dad’s and yours. Hiring a professional estate person to help will make a big difference because they aren’t emotionally involved so they can help you choose more easily what to keep and what to sell. I know this is hard on you, but you’ll get through it.

Visiting with your dad and advocating for him has now become your most important role in his life. I wish you well.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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