Caregivers, when you clear out your loved one’s belongings, be careful what you donate to a charitable organization.
The Toy Gun that Took My Nephew’s Life
On September 13th while working at one of the major organizations that accepts donated items, my twenty-year old nephew picked up a toy gun and began playing with it.
Chris was an FUN-loving kid who continually tried to find ways to bring JOY to others. I can just imagine him as a caregiver–he would have made it FUN.
In his assistant manager’s office, he lifted what he thought was a cap gun and looked it over. Then in jest, he placed it to his head and pulled the trigger. What happened next surprised the manager who was sitting at her desk in the office. Chris collapsed. She nudged him. He didn’t move. Thinking he was still joking around, she nudged him again. Her employee (and buddy) remained unresponsive.
The toy gun my nephew held, according to a subsequent police investigation, was a real gun registered in 1920.
The Silver Dollars that were (almost) Given Away
While my nephew lay in a coma, I called a long-time caregiver friend to comfort her. She had lost her mother a few months earlier and was feeling guilty about taking a respite when she got the call that her husband died.
During our call, she explained that her daughter was going through some of her grandmother’s boxes that were set aside to be donated. She was happy her daughter did, because at the bottom of the box were silver dollars.
At a book club meeting the following week, a group of us were talking about collectibles and antiques in the hostess’ home filled with pieces that we recognized from our childhood. I related to the group what my caregiver friend had shared with me the weekend prior. One of the attendees mentioned that each silver dollar was valued at over $100. I haven’t confirmed this, but imagine if her daughter had not looked through the box marked for donation.
If the two examples above don’t yet get the point across about looking through your belongings before donating, the following will.
$100,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds
Overwhelmed by my father’s and mother’s accumulated life belongings in their Wisconsin home of forty-five years, I was faced with clearing out everything after my mother died and we moved my father into our California home.
I recall my brother saying he would simply toss everything. I think the analogy he drew was to open a fire hose at one end of the house until everything was cleared out.
Fortunately, he was not the executor. As I went through every sheet of paper and each page in the piles of newspapers and magazines, I found my father’s notes, U.S. Savings bonds, and cash.
One of the findings was in the living room between two old books in the built-in oak bookshelf. Between these books was an old sheet of paper folded in thirds held tight by three dried out rubber bands. When I scraped off the rubber bands, I saw cards. Turning them over, I saw $1,000 in each corner. There were a few…actually, twenty eight, to be exact. The face value of these bonds was $28,000. With accumulated interest over twenty to thirty years, their value exceeded $100,000.
If I simply grabbed the old books off the shelf and tossed them in a box to give away, imagine what our family would have lost.
Imagine the unintended results of not looking through your belongings.
The toy gun that took Chris’ life was likely donated along with boxes of other goods that a family was trying to clear out after the death of their loved one. Perhaps the owner or a family member placed the gun at the bottom of the box to keep it safe and away from guests; only to have forgotten about it–maybe for years–before unknowingly donating it with other boxes. I am certain the family would be horrified to learn a life was lost after a kid played with their family’s gun.
Imagine if my caregiver friend’s daughter wasn’t curious enough to explore her grandmother’s things.
Imagine the $100,000 we would have missed if I took my brother’s approach and simply tossed everything instead of spending hours going through each sheet of paper.
The police tell me that they are called in from time-to-time to pick up a gun that has been donated. Unfortunately, my fun-loving jokester nephew got to it first.
Please, PLEASE, PLEASE, look though boxes of belongings before donating them. You may save your family’s inheritance–money and a LIFE!
Brenda Avadian, MA
Caregiver Spokesperson, Advocate, & Author
Update on my father in law: After replacement of two heart valves, he is at home and making steady progress following heart surgery.