QUESTION: Our mother recently passed away unexpectedly. She was only 73. Although her affairs were in order regarding funeral expenses and settling of her finances, she left a houseful of valuable furniture, accessories and collectibles. There are four of us, two sisters, my brother and me. Our sisters went into mom’s house and began taking what they wanted without asking us how we would distribute her belongings.
We all attend church with our families, and my brother and I believe there has to be a spiritual way to settle what has become a major disagreement among us. Do you have any suggestions?
~ Trying Not to be Angry
Dear Trying Not to Be Angry,
The passing of your mother has activated internal responses from you and your siblings that are unique to each of you. The desire for each of you to have something that was your mother’s should be a matter of mutual discussion. The chance of more than one of you wanting the same item is going to be pretty high. The process of everyone agreeing who gets what can be difficult and hurtful.
Seeking a spiritual solution to the assignment of who gets what would be best accomplished by simply scheduling a meeting with everyone giving adequate time to work through the list of your mother’s things. Talking through who gets what [while] engaging the spiritual characteristics and attitudes foundational of your faith is the optimum desire. Honesty, sincerity and transparency are very difficult to practice when someone decides something should be theirs and no one else’s. Grace, mercy and kindness should be in abundance with the understanding that someone is probably going to be disappointed. Hearing someone’s reason for wanting something of your mother’s should be accounted for in releasing anyone’s claim to the same thing. If these suggestions do not work, then there is the spiritual concept that if someone believes they should have your shirt, give them your coat as well. The memory of your mother given within the knowledge of your faith that you will be with her again should allow your spirit to release things of this earth, for those things you will give up someday anyway.
Dear Trying Not to be Angry,
I think you’re spot on when you say “there has to be a spiritual way to settle” the disagreement with your brother and sisters. This experience that you are having is unfortunately very common within families, especially when a parent passes on. It might not seem to the person taking the belongings that they are acting inconsiderately or selfishly, but it can certainly seem that way when you are the one that feels taken from. Real or imagined, you’re not feeling respected or valued.
Everyone in a family has their own way of dealing with the loss of a loved one. Many times having something that belonged to our mom and dad has a way of making us feel closer to them even though they’re gone. It sounds like your sisters feel that claiming the items that belonged to your mom before consulting with you and your brother is perfectly okay. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation for their behavior. Maybe they think the items they’ve taken are ones you and your brother wouldn’t be interested in.
Whatever the case, harboring feelings of ill will would only create a wedge between all of you at a time when you need to pull together and be each other’s best allies. Whenever we’re feeling slighted or taken from, keeping an open line of communication can be tough but is always the best way to handle the situation. By expressing your feelings, your needs and, most importantly, your desire to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable for everyone, you will start a dialogue that gets all the issues out in the open. Perhaps once your sisters are aware of the impact their actions have created for you and your brother they will reconsider their own actions.
Remember, we can’t control anyone else’s behavior. Our power lies in our ability to take charge of our thoughts, our behavior and our actions. The Teacher Jesus said, “It is done unto us as we believe.” Believe in the harmonious resolution with your family. Keep God foremost in your thoughts and trust that the wisdom that created you will also create the perfect solution.
With God all things are possible.
QUESTION: We’re the parents of five amazing children, although they’re not children anymore. Our youngest, a daughter, just left for college and in discussing our “empty nest,” my husband and I both agree that we’re feeling sad that our parenting days are over. We’ve always encouraged our children, but were not overly-protective; however, with so many things happening on campuses to young women, our protective instincts are coming out full-force, and frankly we’re concerned about her.
Are we clinging to her because she’s the last one to leave home? Please help us to think of her new college experience in a more trusting, faith-filled way.
~ Worried Parents
Dear Worried Parents,
I am not surprised that you are concerned when your last child is leaving for college. You are having a natural reaction to her departure and are entering a new phase of your lives as parents. But you have done this successfully before. And, as the mother of four grown children, I can tell you that you will always be parents – just not in the same way. So what can you do to make yourselves feel better about the dangers of college for young women?
One thing is to keep in touch with your daughter through various forms of electronic media. Although not the same as having her at home, these ways of communicating will give you a closer sense of connection while she is away. Just don’t overdo it.
Another thing is to encourage her to make contact with a religious congregation or group near her campus. The leaders in such communities can provide her with guidance or support, and religious groups near campuses usually have lots of activities for college-age young people. Or, if you have not been a part of a religious congregation, you could encourage her to join a service organization or interest group. Having a group of people whom she trusts can give her, and you, a greater sense of security. There are also health centers available on most campuses to provide counseling and other assistance.
My hope is that, in addition to the suggestions above, you will find new spiritual connections for yourselves. Perhaps, if you have more inspiring and fulfilling things to do, you will have less worry about your daughter. And I wish you well in this new chapter of your lives.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford, minister
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills La Crescenta
Dear Worried Parents,
It’s refreshing to see that you care so much about the welfare of your children and recognize that your responsibilities as a parent do not end when a teenage child leaves home for college. I fully understand the need to give a young adult freedom and to help them “fly on their own.” However, although universities provide a wonderful learning experience and a solid foundation for the future, there is an un-mentioned harmful component to college life that often includes drugs, alcohol, promiscuity and other negative elements that can be devastating to a young person’s life.
Recently, a string of prominent newspaper articles exposed these dangers that are unfortunately present on many American universities.
That said, have faith and trust that the moral values and principles which you instilled within your child will enable her to withstand the challenges of university life and the difficulties associated with young adulthood.
The lurking dangers should not make you overbearing parents but should instead initiate healthy counterbalances such as regular communication and positive reinforcement.
The most important part of any child’s upbringing is constant and positive engagement. This is important during early and middle childhood and is equally – if not more – important as an adolescent metamorphoses into young adulthood. Your ability to connect with your child on a regular basis and the trust that she has in you will ultimately serve as a protective shield from the negative elements of college life that you – correctly – fear so much.