Q&A Wednesday: how do I help my grieving dad get organized?

Reader Kimberly had a tough question about how to help a grieving dad pick up the pieces:

My mom passed away last month and she was the one to take care of the household. My dad is now left with trying to figure out what bills to pay when, what things to keep for taxes, what documents are needed for the house – you get the idea. I’m at a loss on how to help. It’s on my shoulders to help him as I live much closer than my sister does – and I don’t want to overwhelm him in the process of finding a system to work for him.

Any idea you all may have, I would be very grateful.

First, Kimberly – I am so sorry to hear about your mom’s passing. Thoughts, virtual hugs and prayers are going out to you and your family. Especially on this Mother’s Day.

Pick ONE Starting Place for him

When there are a lot of pieces to pick up, it can quickly become overwhelming and paralyzing. Probably the most important thing you can do is help your dad to focus on ONE organizational project. I’d recommend starting with the bills as that’s urgent AND important. Sit with him while HE creates a system. Be there to ask guiding questions and to offer advice but refrain from doing it for him. The act of thinking the approach to bill paying through will help reduce “organizing the finances” from this big, scary thing to a concrete system that he has the confidence he can master.

Once he has one system down, then move on to the next. For example, putting a master calendar together with key dates, appointments, and perhaps even reminders for when to do basic home maintenance activities.

Make an Appointment with an Accountant

It might help reduce anxiety levels if he hears from an expert what files he will need to keep organized for annual taxes (e.g. life insurance policy payments). Our free checklist of what financial documents to keep might help as well. Once he has clarity, you might want to invest in a filing folder like our Tax.filer for him so that he can just drop relevant papers into it as they come in over the course of the year.

Respect Grief

The waves of depression that descend after a loved one passes are powerful. I know that in the wake of my mom’s passing I had great intentions to organize this or that, but felt under water and literally too heavy, too under water to move some days. So, please, be kind to yourself. Put in place a support structure for at least the first few months that takes the pressure off of you and your dad. Maybe outsource some of the basic chores. Then, gradually increase your dad’s levels of responsibility after that until he is as self-sufficient as he is able to be.