Family Vs. Stuff

Recently an acquaintance of mine, Joe, shared that he was “stuck” in his grief. Upon asking some probing questions I found out that shortly before her death his mother gave some jewelry, which Joe referred to as “family heirlooms”, to his sisters who, quickly after their mother’s death, turned the items in for cash.  I sensed his mounting rage as he shared details of their deception adding “they didn’t even need the money”.

Before the “heirloom cashing” the siblings had been close even referring to them as his “best friends”, however at this point they had not spoken in well over a year.

I asked him 2 questions:

Q1. How has your anger towards your sisters affected your life?

A: Joe’s anger was negatively affecting other relationships; most concerning was that the bitterness he carried was interfering with his ability to connect with his wife. He had also isolated himself from the rest of his family intentionally missing his niece’s wedding and the graduations of 2 other nieces.  However he said he did “the right thing” and called the nieces to explain that “because of their mothers” he would not be there but sent a nice gift.

Q2. How do you think your mother would feel knowing that her “stuff” caused you to cut off your sisters and miss family celebrations?

Tears welled up in his eyes as he said. “She would have never wanted this to happen.”

I shared the following with him:

  1. Inheritance is left to family as a gift. Unless there’s a contingency on how it’s to be used, then the person who receives it can do whatever they want with it as it now belongs to them.
  2. We place emotional value on inheritance based on a story we’ve attached to it. Inheritance is, simply put, stuff belonging to someone who, prior to their death, made a decision to give it to someone else.
  3. Destroying relationships with people we love over stuff eventually destroys all our other relationships, as we displace anger and bitterness onto those we’re still connected with.
  4.  Anger and bitterness breed anger and bitterness.  Harboring bitterness over alleged offenses by family members will create an inheritance of anger and bitterness for future generations.

Joe’s story is not unique; I’ve heard hundreds of similar stories over my 20 year career.

However; the bottom line is: If you are going through something similar or know someone who is ask the question: “Is this what your deceased loved one would have wanted?”  If the answer is “no”, then put down your anger and pick up the phone TODAY, call those family members and begin the healing together.

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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5 Responses to Family Vs. Stuff

  1. Nanoosh says:

    BetteSeptember 6, 2010I like the steps provided in this ariclte. In July, my mother and I had to determine if she was able to go to Maine (from PA) for a visit. Unfortunately, more me than her. Emotionally, I really wanted her to be able to go, but somehow I knew deep down that it wasn’t the best decision for her health, and for those in Maine that would be caring for her.It seems like with the word intuition comes trust and honesty. When it comes to trusting others and being honest with them, I don’t struggle. When it comes to trusting and being honest with myself, that is another topic in itself. I like this ariclte. It reminds me that my intuitions about my mother’s needs are important. Who knows their carees better than we do Caregivers have an intense responsibility. We have been entrusted with giving our carees a respectful and happy send off (so to speak) from the life they had and felt so good in. It is so important to be reminded that our thoughts and opinions in their needs are necessary.


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  4. I read an interesting quote I thought I would share….

    ‎” Not everyone is healthy enough to have a front row seat in our lives. There are some people in your life that need to be loved from a distance. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you let go of or at least minimize your time with draining, negative, incompatible, not-going-anywhere relationships. Observe the relationships around you. Pay attention. Which ones lift and which ones lean? Which ones encourage and which ones discourage? Which ones are on a path of growth uphill and which ones are going downhill?

    When you leave certain people, do you feel better or feel worse? Which ones always have drama or don’t really understand, know, or appreciate you? The more you seek quality, respect, growth, peace of mind, love and truth around you…the easier it will become for you to decide who gets to sit in the front row and who should be moved to the balcony of your life.”


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