Two steps up to a small concrete porch with a wrought-iron railing, you enter an arched door leading into the front hallway. The living room and dining room is the entire length of our cream-city brick house on 91st Street. Wooden built-in china cabinets flank the side window of the dining room, and a chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Cleaning the one hundred and one tear-drop crystals and the lamp’s flame-shaped bulbs is my job every year before Thanksgiving.
We have two octagon windows in our upstairs bedroom that we three girls share. When my sisters leave home, it feels like a luxurious dormitory with its bathroom, walk in closet, attic and privacy from my parents. Soothing shades of blue and green, replace the old black with pink peacock wallpaper (I’m not kidding) that was here originally.
The basement is home to an old piano, our Barbie doll house and our gerbil’s cage that sits high on a card table. Three rickety wooden doors lead into different closets, all serving as scary settings for my older sisters’ stories of ghosts and creatures that live “down there.”
Memories travel from room to room in my mind, retelling my childhood years spent in this home from the age of four to twenty…
We have strong connections to our homes, the places where we grew up, where we have lived with college friends; spent most of our marriage, where our children have grown up. Life has happened there, years have gone by. Mundane daily routines; holidays and celebrations that highlight our years and devastating life’s losses have taken place as we lived life within their walls.
Whatever the circumstances, leaving a home where you have lived for a long time elicits grief. Leaving the known and venturing into the unknown is stressful, change is often difficult.
This aspect of grief becomes very traumatic for many of those who have lost a loved one. Saying goodbye to our previous life often includes changing homes, downsizing or having to sell due to a changing financial status.
Whatever the reason, grief runs deep as we leave the house where we had lived with our deceased loved one. Memories flood our minds from the years that we spent together, and fear of leaving can stop us in our tracks.
I have facilitated grief support groups for many years; the stories shared are as varied as each unique person makes decisions about where they will live.
For some they will never leave their homes, it makes the most sense economically as well as emotionally. Others are forced to downsize and selling the house is the only option. For those people I recommend the following:
– Take pictures of the house, and/or each room if you don’t have them.
– Keep a journal and write about your feelings as you are going through the process. What were the highlights of your life that you remember taking place in this home? What were some of the challenges?
– Allow as much time as possible to go through things and pack. You might have to leave more quickly than you had hoped, but you can begin the “grief work” that is necessary before you go.
– Ask those people to help who will be the most likely to listen to your stories and allow you to talk about the deceased.
– Allow yourself to openly express your grief as it surfaces, whether that means crying or laughing.
– Listening to your loved one’s favorite music while you pack may help if your emotions seem “stuck”.
– If you are not ready to part with personal possessions of the deceased, take them with you (it is better to have too much stuff than to have regrets because you rushed the process).
– Hold a memorial service in the yard with your family and friends before leaving as a way to mark this special place. If your loved one was cremated, leaving a small amount of ashes in a special garden or area of the yard as you read a favorite poem or sing their favorite song, may be helpful.
– If you have the energy, invite your family, friends and neighbors over for a light meal so that they can say goodbye. Guests can also share stories of the memories they have of their time spent in your home. You may want to record their stories so you can listen to them after the move.
– Remind yourself often that even though you’re moving from your home, you will take all the memories with you in your heart – no one can move those away from you. Remember your loved one wants YOU to keep on living, and for YOU to be happy!