“Our mother’s legacy divides us”

“We are a family of two sisters and a brother. We have to clear out our parents’ house after they die, and it’s not going very well. Our brother is afraid of being “caught”, he is also very attached to all objects. Do you have any advice to make this go better and we don’t tear each other apart? », Francoise, 58 years old.

Huge question! The death of parents is always a delicate moment that puts the understanding of siblings to the test. We can have understood each other well until then and yet everything explodes, or on the contrary have had distant ties and then get closer.

What’s playing? Understanding what’s at work will help you better navigate this tumultuous time and find the best possible position in relation to your sibling. A sibling is always formed from an experience of losses and lacks.

An unconscious calculator

The eldest, on the arrival of a second, loses the exclusivity of his place and of the parental gaze. For the youngest, he will always miss the few months or years that separate him “from the big one”, who in addition had the chance to know a time when the parents were “just for him”.

That’s why between brothers and sisters, it doesn’t stop counting, comparing. Thanks to parental authority, however, everyone learns to respect the other, and what I have called “the fraternal superego” makes it possible to establish the best possible agreement between rivalry and complicity.

Despite this, feelings of injustice, of having less than the other, are frequent and painful. One of the characteristics of these sufferings is that they are stored in “an unconscious calculator”, and that they retain their emotional charge for a long time, even in adulthood. As long as the parents are alive, they manage, more or less, to maintain the links and the disappointments remain rather muted, although warm in the unconscious calculator.

The return of the repressed

But when the parents begin to be dependent and when they die, there is a real return of the repressed. And the brothers and sisters who felt wronged by the parents will tend to present to their siblings the bill for what they feel they did not receive during their childhood.

The inheritance is a real godsend for the unconscious which sees an opportunity either to catch up and repair the past, or to preserve the favors already obtained. It’s time for the most sordid settling of accounts. And this will play out on the objects left by the deceased, which carry a massive symbolic charge.

To obtain an object is not only to maintain a link with the missing relative but also to remove it from the others. If to this are added dissatisfactions from his adult life, the feeling of failure, the claims are likely to be further amplified…

When the past pollutes the present

When in a family, we can talk about it, it is good for everyone, alleviates the sufferings of the past and allows everyone to grow and suddenly no one needs to claim more than their share, everything is going pretty well. . We can even end up laughing at parental preferences, at their clumsiness.

But, I admit, this optimistic scenario is not that common, and I understand your concern, because if your brother is not willing to discuss it calmly with you and your sister, all your efforts are going to be compromised. The problem is that the return of the “unconscious calculator” implements a lot of irrationality where the past comes to pollute the present, impact the future and the good understanding of the siblings.

Open dialog

As a first step, I therefore advise you to do what you can to open the dialogue. Do not hesitate to meet a mediator or family mediator, seek advice and advice from a notary, the intervention of a third party allows you to get out of the face-to-face which can be bloody and quickly turn into a dialogue of the deaf. .

It can also help you clarify your positions in relation to your sister and measure how she too experiences this risky situation. Don’t kid yourself, it may take time, but it’s worth trying because the relationship with brothers and sisters is the link to our origins, and we all aspire to peaceful fraternal relationships.

Accept the break in the siblings

On the other hand, if after having tried the maximum, having yielded as much as possible on the objects, the inheritance itself, nothing changes, it is time to adopt another position, especially if the blockages are such that they poison your life, clutter you, impact the couple, or that your children no longer want to hear about it. It’s time to accept the loss of the link with your brother, his distancing. It’s always painful, but it can be lifesaving for your own balance.

It is also important to give heritage back its essential meaning. It’s actually a gift. post mortem, that is to say beyond death, that he carries within him a message of transcendence. He speaks of continuity, of permanence.

Inherited objects are memory carriers, traces of a life that existed before us and will continue to exist after us. So knowing how to receive the heritage left by one’s parents is important, it means believing above all in life and we will honor them by putting the gifts received at the service of joy.

Nicole Prieur is a philosopher and therapist. His latest published work: The Necessary Betrayals – Allowing Yourself to Be Yourself (Robert Laffont). His website:

“Our mother’s legacy divides us”