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Administration of Death

November 16th, 2016

I was having coffee with a friend whose mother had recently passed away.  She was telling me how exhausted she felt with all the stuff she had to do in the days and weeks following the loss of her mother. I was taken back to my own feelings of overwhelm when my parents died – an overwhelm that was parallel to, and sometimes melded with – the sense of loss and solitude that is inherently part of the situation.

Death is an administratively cumbersome experience for those who are responsible for tying up loose ends.  Beyond the planning and execution of a funeral and reception (which in my world is a social event unto itself, complete with food, drinks and entertainment) the paperwork of the deceased just keeps coming.  Credit card bills, insurance claims, magazine subscriptions, proxy forms, holiday cards, alumni news requests, census requests, letters of condolence; everyone needs, and many cases deserves, a response or notification as to the current state of affairs.  Some days are devoted entirely to administrating the life of a person who is no longer alive, which in turn creates a bizarre irony when you spend what is left of the day administrating your own bills, subscriptions, school newsletters, insurance claims and whatnot. It’s like a dog chasing it’s own tail, and leaves precious little time to actually think about and feel what the experience of losing a loved one is really like.


After my own parents had passed away it took over a year for me to feel like I was getting the paperwork under control… and that was with the help of lawyers and professional executors.  When the onslaught of mail slowed to a trickle I felt an opening of some space in my head for reflection about my parents, our lives, and the events that transpired in a relatively short period of time.  I began to allow myself the luxury of actually grieving.



One afternoon, several weeks after my father died, I received a forwarded letter from a person I didn’t know.  It was addressed to my mother. Clearly uninformed as to her death months before, the author was expressing his sadness at my father’s passing and said that he hoped she (my mother) was faring well and to please call if she needed any help.   Reading the note over and over I felt like I had failed on some civic or familial front.  By not notifying EVERYONE who wanted to or needed to know about my parents, I had somehow fallen short of some obscure obligation to honor my family.  That feeling of disappointing opened up its own can of worms, and I found myself caught in a vortex of unresolved issues and unfinished conversations.

It made me appreciate the paperwork, the telephone calls, the busy details that are part of death.  When you are paying bills or making phone calls you don’t have to focus on what is behind the action, just the action itself.  Afterall, sometimes it’s so much easier to get lost in a spreadsheet than to have to confront your own emotional demons. 




Copyright 2016

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