I want to change the way we plan for death.
The most difficult project.
I was a cute kid and by all standards had a great childhood. But about a month after I graduated from college, my mother died from breast cancer, her second fight with the disease in four years. My brother was 15 and my sisters 21 and 27. Just six years later, we lost our father to lung cancer. I came home to be with him for his last few months. Me and my little sister would sit on the front porch looking blankly at each other in the early summer heat. We weren’t sure what else to do. By the time someone is very sick, sick enough for hospice, they are doing their own inner preparation for death. They are not really able to engage in the type of conversations most people assume we would have.
It was all organized.
When my father passed away, everything was organized, in the traditional sense. He faced his death early on and planned meticulously. As one of his executors, I appreciated that he had given clear instructions for which funeral home to call and how he wanted his service conducted (no eulogies!). He had contacted his peers and arranged handing off his extensive professional library and the research he hadn’t had the strength to complete. He had arranged his finances. He had even designed his gravestone.
But there was so much stuff left.
But my father hadn’t really accounted for all the stuff. He was a serious collector: of shells, of rare books, of coins as a child, of flower seed catalogues. To make matters worse, our Philadelphia home had been in his family since the 1930s, and its many extra bedrooms, expansive basement, and attic space meant there had been little purging done over the years. My mother added to the rooms with art she inherited from her parents, her sewing projects, and the countless art supplies she stocked for us (her rubber stamp collection was the best!). Our house was magical and quirky and brimming with stories and history. But outside of a few hand-selected items, our father’s will only said “all tangible personal property in equal parts to my issue.” It was up to decide what to do with everything.
Processing our family home took over everything else.
While beloved, our home was not something any of us felt we could afford to keep, or wanted to uproot our lives in other cities to go back to live in. And taking everything inside of it was equally impossible. So instead of spending time looking at old photo albums or that great collection of rubber stamps, or just crying together, my siblings and I spent the weeks and months after our father’s death talking with real estate agents, estate attorneys, professional stagers, storage facility owners, auctioneers, and art appraisers. We were surrounded by dumpsters, looming deadlines, and astronomical utility and storage bills. At one point, after hours spent in a storage room filled with cancelled checks and old report cards, I screamed to no one in particular, “this is a sickness!” It would take us over a decade to divide up the contents of our home, and this was just the stuff we had agreed to keep and store.
I think death should be done differently.
Rushing through the contents of a home that old and big was not a good idea - I know that things were lost and tossed along the way. I let anger and grief dictate a lot of what I did during that time. I’m still not sure why we didn’t talk to our father more seriously about the family home and its contents. By the time it really mattered, it felt like he was too sick to press the issue. It would have been hard to talk about in the best of times.
I think as a society, we need to do a better job of preparing ourselves and our families for something that happens everyone: death. We need to find time before we are sick or dying to talk about what is important and should be passed down, and organize ourselves so that the ones we love most are left with a little less burden and a little more meaning.
I started Sprinkle Trust because these are hard conversations and topics, and the industry around death is impersonal at best and impenetrable at worst. I have no idea where this will take me, but I hope my story resonates with some of you. And I hope you’ll add to the conversation and help me find better ways to get people through their and their family’s most difficult project.