Guide To Google Drive

The Spreadsheet You’ll Need When Someone You Love Dies

Managing the logistics of death can also be a way to heal

This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier

I’m a spreadsheety kind of person by nature. The tidy progression of columns and rows is comforting to me. Maybe that’s why a spreadsheet was one of the first things I made after my mother died.

My sister and I faced the difficult task of figuring out what to do with our mother’s beautiful house. My mother, who worked hard for every dollar she ever spent, had collected a perfectly gorgeous and bewildering array of framed art, pretty objects, handsome furniture, and lovely clothes. Her sense of humor, her sense of style, and her sense of how to live well were all expressed by her things. Neither of us could imagine loading them into a Goodwill truck.

We weren’t the only people grieving her loss — my mother had friends and colleagues and family members spread across the country. So instead of giving all of her things to charity, or hiring an estate liquidation company, my sister and I decided to try to rehome as many of her things as we could, finding the people who knew the stories behind this scarf, that lacquer tray, that blown glass perfume bottle. We wanted to give the people who loved her most something meaningful to remember her by.

The first step was the easiest. We went through the house and took photos on our phones. Then we uploaded and organized the photos into shared Google Photos folders, sorted by room and by type. We also created a shareable Google Sheet listing all the objects and pieces, and linking to their respective photos in the shared folders.

Then we sent emails with links to everything, in waves — first to our family, then to our mother’s closest friends, and then to others she was close with, people who we thought might like something of our mother’s to remind them of who she was.

In the process, we inadvertently created a digital community of mourners, a space to appreciate my mother through the things she had owned. The shareability of the spreadsheet made it possible for people to see what others had already claimed, and to leave notes for us and for each other in the cells: “I remember when she got this. I loved this picture. I would love to have it, if that’s alright with you.”

The process took six months, all told, but it didn’t feel tedious or onerous. Giving away my mother’s belongings via spreadsheet never felt cold or impersonal, either. It felt like a relief. It felt like something about this whole horrible experience that I could organize and make some sense of. The one island, in an ocean of sadness, that made sense.

Siobhan Adcock is the author of two novels, The Completionist and The Barter, as well as essays in Ms., Salon, Slate, and McSweeneys.

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