One advantage I've had in this whole situation is the ability to take my time going through my mom's belongings. We had separate apartments in the same house, and I already paid the rent for both anyway. I can't imagine having to do something about Mom's stuff on a short deadline, or long distance. I think I would have completely cracked before now if I had to deal with that too.
Over the past three months, I've gradually gone through Mom's apartment, focusing as much as possible on one category of stuff at a time. Clearing out all the food was the first priority. Then finding, organizing, and taking action on all the paperwork. It's taken the entire three months to do that. I kept finding stashes of paperwork all over the place. Fortunately I didn't come across anything that absolutely should have been taken care of right away, but it was so very frustrating to keep finding something important in among magazine clippings, take-out menus, and all kinds of junk mail.
Then I had to deal with the really difficult stuff. Which pretty much falls under the category of Everything Else. Once again, it felt wrong to be making decisions for Mom, without her participation or knowledge. When my grandmother died, there was much less time to empty her apartment. But decisions could be final. We didn't have to wonder if Grandma would ever need that stuff again. Or be afraid she would miss any of it. Going through Mom's stuff means thinking about things she probably won't be able to do again. Wondering about what her quality of life is going to be.
Another thing that was different about clearing out Grandma's things is that several family members were working on it together. We could share memories as we worked. It was bittersweet at times, but in many ways it was kind of fun. None of us are very good at keeping in touch, so the time we worked in Grandma's apartment was spent catching up with each other as well. In contrast, working in Mom's apartment these last three months has been almost unbearably lonely.
This last weekend my dearest friend drove up to spend time with me and help me go through all the stuff. The help she gave me went far beyond the physical work of sorting, packing, and schlepping things to storage. The company of a trusted friend got me through the loneliness and the worry. With her support, I could even make decisions about the really difficult stuff, like Mom's yarn stash. I could never have gotten so much done without her.