Monday, March 11, 2019

In Grief: Saying Goodbye to A Family Home

We carry our homes within us which enables us to fly.  ~ John Cage

A reader writes: I found out Saturday afternoon on a walk that there are people living in my parents' old house. Intellectually I knew it was going to happen, but emotionally... (I always have this dichotomy: an intellectual grasp of something, and an emotional grasp. There is quite often a significant lag time for the emotional grasp to catch up. I am trying to follow others' advice about letting the emotions lead, but its hard. My basic "default" setting is intellect first, then emotions.)

At first I naively thought that it was visitors for my old neighbors who were taking advantage of the extra parking space. But nooooo.... After my walk I went to my apartment, did some things and later on drove past the place. There were childlings running out of the front door and riding bikes on the sidewalk. That evening after I walked past the place (from a block away; I don't want to give anyone in the old neighborhood the idea I'm stalking, not that anyone's noticed my little "leaning into the pain" drive-bys) I saw soft lights in my old living room (what people long ago would have called the formal living room or front room). Maybe they're "camping out" until their stuff arrives as I never saw any moving vans (yet) or just trying out the place overnight on a weekend. The sale is still pending, after all. 

I went home, had dinner, and went for a long walk. I felt inside me a tugging to say a prayer for them. I didn't want to. No way. After about 30 minutes the tugging was stronger and I bowed to the inevitable and said a prayer. 

The words just flowed out as if someone else was writing them. I said something to the effect that I hope they love the place as much as I did, that it be the home for them that it was for my family, that they miss it when they are away and long for it on their return, that they find it a warm, welcoming haven and safe harbor, a loving hearth and home. That the fact that the previous family called it home for nearly 60 years may mean something. I then prayed that any resentment about the issue and self-pity I may have be removed. To me that was my releasing of the place to them, in my mind: psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. It is no longer my home, but theirs. I no longer have a claim or mental hold on the place. It is over, the page has turned, I can move on. 

I do feel somewhat better. It's almost like a trigger. I think of the house, and what I had planned to do with it this year (if my Mom was still alive, i.e. the landscaping and whatnot,) and then this feeling that:

"No, it's not your place anymore, not your task."

"But what about..."


"But what if they..." 

"STOP IT!!! It's their home now!!!"

"But I needed to ..."

"Yes .....?!?!?!"

"But I wanted to..., um, oh, well... OK." (sniffle) 

We'll see if this is indeed a page-turning, or if I'll relapse into resentment. I will work on keeping the page turned. But there's a breeze that wants to blow it back. Gotta hang in there. 

My response: My friend, your lovely post describing your conflicting feelings about your parents’ home now being occupied by another family (and your beautiful prayer for the new family) reminded me of a poem my mother used to read to me when I was a child. We were about to move away from our first home, a big, beautiful stone house that I knew my mother really loved, and I think it was her way of helping both of us accept the idea of turning our beloved home over to another family. I’ve moved many times over since then, but this poem has always helped me to say “good-bye” to all the homes I’ve known and loved, along with the hope that, as you say, the new occupants would love them as much as I had. Perhaps the poem will help you, too:

The House with Nobody in It
by Joyce Kilmer

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it. 

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two. 

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside. 

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I'd put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I'd find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free. 

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known. 

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet. 

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart. 

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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