Last week, we sold our house. We’ve done this three times now in various ways. Three houses. 8 years. 2 states. The ups and downs that go along with moving are established and understood. Not being able to find anything. Tripping over boxes for weeks. Trying to make the new place “feel” like home. Having to leave memories and people behind. Each of those is hard in its own way. Now add a layer of grief on top. And a 9 month old baby. And two cats. This is where we’ve been the last 6 weeks. Chaos has reigned.
The house that we left was my favorite of those that we’ve owned. When we went to see if for the first time, it just felt right. Like a place full of history and family and goodness. It had beautiful woodwork and hardwood floors hiding under 80s carpeting. A screened porch full of sunshine. A quiet neighborhood. It was the house that I planned to have babies in. To raise them. I imagined Christmas mornings, little feet running down stairs, dinners in the cozy dining room. I could see it ALL in this house. I was in.
So, we get settled. We tore up carpets. We tore down wallpaper. We painted. We dug a garden. We got comfortable. We found out we were going to have that first baby. We nested. We made a sweet room for him, full of love. And then life, as it does, changed those plans. Our son didn’t get to come home. Instead, he went to a cemetery. And that little room full of love became a little room full of heartbreak. That house became a safe haven, blinds pulled away from the too bright lights of the world that was still moving when we were not. That front porch full of sun became a place to read my way through the grief, finding comfort in words written by people who had been where I was. For me. For my husband, the house became frozen. A mark in time when life stopped. And then, a few months later, we discovered that baby number 2 was on the way. The house became a place of worry filled wonder. Unanswerable questions hung in the air. How would we make space for her when our hearts and our rooms were still full of him? We’d have to sort. Donate. Give a bit of him away. Could we do that? Could we let go of the things after already having to let go of him? It was hard. Really hard. But in the end, we had a “new” little room full of love for his sister that still had some pieces of him in it. It was good. She was born. She came home. We learned to be parents in a way we hadn’t gotten to before. We had to get rid of more things to fit all that comes with a new little person. So, more donating. More change.
Over time, we realized that there were whole parts of this house that we couldn’t deal with. The frozen in time parts. The garage full of garage sale finds, toys, benches, wagons. All intended for a little boy who would never use them. The basement full of books and office supplies that had moved out of the little room upstairs, never set up because time had stopped. A spare bedroom piled high with holiday gifts and spare clothes and items of sympathy that we didn’t know what to do with but felt to guilty to give away. It seems that the weight of new parenthood and the weight of lost opportunity were heavier than we realized. It was overwhelming. And in moments of lucidity between days of no sleep there were attempts to deal with these spaces. But they mostly ended in frustration because make one more decision was too hard. We’d already had to make so many hard ones. Deciding if we needed to keep a sequinned Christmas tree elastic tie was just enough to push one over the edge. So, mostly things got put in plastic bins and shoved in closets. We’d deal with them “later”.
Then, a new adventure presented itself. A new start, with more time for our family. This was, after all, the most important thing of all the things. So, with tentative steps we decided. We had to sell home.
Step one. Clear the space. Enough for pictures so that we could advertise. Fill the garage. Make it neat. Clean clean clean. Don’t worry about sorting much. Just declutter. OK. Deep breaths. We can do it.
A hectic week of showings. A quick sale. This is good. It’s what we wanted. But now, now we have to actually sell it. The reality sets in, like a one-two punch. What had we done?
Now, a forced sorting. A downsizing from house to apartment. So much to get rid of. And around each corner, reminders. The clothes that my husband was wearing the day our son was born in the scramble to get to the NICU sat, undisturbed for 2 years, in a stack in the garage. Small bits of clothing tucked away for when he would be older. Maternity wear shoved in a bag in the back of a closet. And memories. The last moments of expectation in the chair under the beveled glass windows, before we discovered things were not going to go as we’d hoped…sold with that same chair in a yard sale. A table of tiny sleepers. A clipping from the newspaper announcing his arrival, falling out of a forgotten book. The sweet blooms of plants meant to help us remember. It was too much for me. My husband was joy filled, preparing for a new future, and I was frozen, stuck in the gut wrenching sadness of these lost moments. I wanted so badly to be there with him, feeling joy. But it was a struggle.
Then, the big sort. The move, lengthened by distance and available help and uncertain space. After a while, I just wanted to be rid of it. That house that was a home and then wasn’t. I was angry about the fact that it couldn’t just be done. I needed it to be done. And then, it was. And I couldn’t breathe. I had to leave. I had to be far away. And as I drove, I sobbed. I sobbed for another loss on top of the biggest loss. I sobbed for the dreams that started in those walls that never came to be. I sobbed for the little boy who didn’t get to learn to ride a bike on the wide driveway and swim in the pool down the block. I sobbed for everything that was left behind. And this time, my husband joined me.
As we sat in the cemetery, needing to be near him, the realization hit. It was not the place. The place was just a place. A house that now belongs to great people who will fill it with joy. That was a good thing. It was time for the joy to come back into those walls. But the thing that stung was that that place, those tiny rooms, would be the only place that he would ever live with us. And that was hard. And we were sad.
A friend of ours lost her sweet son while living in a house not many miles from the one we just left. I remember talking to her about the fact that she and her husband felt the walls were pushing in on them, full of sadness. That they had to get out, to leave, to start fresh. They needed a new start. I couldn’t understand that, because for me the safe space of those walls, that had absorbed my sadness, made more sense to me. The connection of that physical space with the physical body of our son existing in it was too strong. But in hindsight now, I can see that I needed the push. Permission to make new memories that weren’t weighted down by grief. I am still uncertain what the future will bring. That makes me feel anxious. I am still not quite settled in our new home. That makes me agitated. But what I DO know is that this new start is a good one. A needed one. I understand now what she meant. That the connection of space to grief sometimes stops us from living fully. So, I’m going to work on getting back to living. The stress of change will over time be pushed aside by the next adventure. Time moves, life goes on. And home, the heart of it, comes with you wherever you go. But, I will miss that little house. I left a big piece of my heart there. And that’s OK too. Love is meant to linger.