Monday, April 29, 2013

To Move or Not? Making Decisions in the Wake of Recent Loss

Waiting hurts. Forgetting hurts. But not knowing which decision to take can sometimes be the most painful. ~ José N. Harris

A reader writes: Two months ago we lost our 18-year-old son in a traffic accident just two blocks from our home. He was driving alone. We are talking about moving because my wife can't drive by the intersection anymore and does not feel comfortable in the home. I need some advice on the subject of moving. Would this be good, bad, or too soon? Would we regret a move later down the road? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks.

My response: My friend, my heart hurts for you as I read of the tragic death of your precious son. I am so sorry.

You've asked for advice about moving: Good, bad, too soon, something you'll come to regret later?

You know yourself and your wife better than anyone, so in the end this is a decision that belongs only to the two of you, especially since you are the ones who must live with the consequences of your decision. I can only share with you what experience has taught me, over many years of walking with and learning from other bereaved individuals.

Usually it is wise to avoid making hasty decisions, especially in matters of such consequence as moving. If you and your wife feel compelled to make a quick decision to move, I offer this useful rule of thumb: Make no major decisions for at least six to twelve months after this death, until you've experienced all the seasons of your emotions. This accident happened barely two months ago, and I would expect that at this point, you're both still frozen in a state of shock, barely able to believe (much less able to make any sense out of) what has happened to you. You and your wife are extremely raw and vulnerable right now, and not in the best frame of mind to be making major decisions, such as moving.

You also would be wise to focus on caring for yourselves right now—perhaps consulting with someone outside your immediate circle who can help you sort out the pieces. That might include seeing a grief counselor or contacting your local chapter of The Compassionate Friends. Hospice facilities in your community will have trained, helpful people who can assist you in sorting things out emotionally, and help you to look at your options, find ways to cope, and stand with you while you work on making wise choices.

If you believe that making this decision is simply unavoidable, I encourage you to get the best advice you can find, from others who are more objective and not emotionally affected by this horrific tragedy in your lives.

Until you're emotionally able to make any big decisions you won't regret later, you might try making ones that are reversible. For example, if you simply must get out of your house, consider renting out your home rather than selling it, or staying someplace else for a while to see if it makes any difference.

I can tell you, though, that even if you do move away, you won't be able to leave your grief behind. It goes with you no matter where you go.

It may help for you to see comments from some other bereaved individuals:

A mother writes: When we lost our son many years ago, we started to sell the house and move away from all the memories and hopes. A dear friend talked us into renting a house in another town for a year, close enough so that it did not involve either of us needing to leave the university where we both were teaching. We leased our closer-to-campus house to a visiting professor and his family, and we moved into a smaller place about 20 miles away, where everything was a bit cramped, but as my husband said, "it didn’t feel empty." We stayed there for more than a year, then when our home was vacant, we redecorated a lot before we moved back in, including our son’s room. That year away from everything, with time to focus on our own loss and sorrow and to get counseling and not be confronted with so many changes that we needed to make at home, really helped us. We gained some peace and comfort. It was a lot easier to accept and adjust, and to get through the shock and trauma, than if we had tried to do it all at once. I am so happy we did not sell our home. We raised our other children there, and had years and years of happy memories with them, and with friends for dinner parties and wonderful evenings. I am so glad we waited.

Another mother says: My husband and I lost our son at four and a half months due to a genetic problem. While he was sick we talked about if he passes away we would leave this area that we lived behind. We knew we should not make drastic changes during our grieving process. After our boy died my husband's dad bought us tickets to Hawaii to visit family. We agreed that we were not going to move, but while on our trip I was offered a job. Things fell into place and the move felt right. It feels like a different world we left behind. The change was good for us. We left things back home in a way that we could return if we changed our minds. It has been 5 years and we are feeling more at home in our new location. We still keep in close contact with friends for support back home who knew us. I could not live in the same place or home that we lost her in.

A widow writes: I sold a house because of bad memories, too quickly and rather carelessly. I simply stayed in a motel for months and months relishing the simplicity of a suitcase. I simply ran. Planning is essential, and impossible at this moment.

A widower says: There is one thing that I have learned going through this sad journey and that is that decisions rarely need to be made quickly. I felt the urge to act on things right away and sadly, some of them turned out wrong later on down the road. Emotions can cloud judgment and grief is the most intense emotion I have ever experienced. I know that when I entered grief counseling, I learned that. When I lost my wife, we had just moved into a second home in another state as her parents lived there and we needed to be there a lot to help them. My wife went so suddenly that I didn't know how to deal with that house. I ended up giving it to her brother and all of the contents because it wasn't mine. We didn't use my money so I didn't care. Later I realized how much of my wife I lost over there. I didn't think that what was mine was hers and what was hers was mine. If I had been the one to pass, I would have wanted my wife to have what was bought with my money and I am sure that she would have felt the same. The point I am trying to make is how bad decisions can be made when you are emotionally compromised.

I also invite you to read this article, which I hope you will find helpful: When A Child Dies: Resources for Bereaved Parents.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.

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  1. I was sure I would move after my husband's death. When he was ill, I couldn't imagine living in our home without him. I wanted to escape from my aching grief. But I waited to make this major decision, and now 5 years later, I'm still living in the home we shared for so many years. The home we created and the familiarity of the land nurtured and healed. It gave me a solid foundation on which to build a new life that included my loss. I don't think leaving would have helped me escape grief. I had to learn to be with it and let it transform me. And now, as it was immediately after his death, my husband's presence is within me more than about my surroundings. Where I go, he is with me. The body is gone. The love remains.
    Thank you for your wisdom, Marty, and for giving me a chance to consider these ideas again.

  2. You are so welcome, dear Elaine, and thank you for enriching this post with details of your own experience! Valued and much appreciated ♥


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