Home Builders: Creating a new safe place after loss

This post was written for The Grief Toolbox www.thegrieftoolbox.com.

ImageLike many children, I was under the impression growing up that Home would forever exist as I knew it – a stationary, unchanging bubble of safety to welcome me back any time I needed.

When I lost my mother to a brain aneurysm, I was 26 years old and still operating out of these assumptions. It is natural after all, to hold on to such safety nets as adults until something pushes us beyond them (I still crave those safety nets). A gigantic proportion of grief is really a search for Home as we knew it. No matter how old we are, we want to know that somebody will take care of us; we want to know that there is a completely recognizable place that exists. Even if we don’t get along with our parents, they offer us things deep down that we may not realize, be it as simple as a sense of familiarity when we walk through their door.

Losing Home as we knew it is tragic; it leaves us vulnerable, lost and afraid, feeling like a child again. It is frustrating to search over and over for that which we are missing – there must be some apartment, some vacation spot, some friend’s house that will offer to me the Home I crave! But after my own tiring hunt that has lasted nearly three years, I’m beginning to see what it really means to be an adult: it is to be a Home builder. Unfortunately, factors such as not being able to return to the familiar for a Turkey dinner, or knowing that your children won’t experience your original safe place and your amazing loved one, make the process of building your own Home more painful and slow. While in most circumstances you have time to develop blueprints and move gradually from your childhood Home to your adult one, losing a parent can feel like you are suddenly standing on top of a pile of wood and nails without a backup shelter.

Right now my husband and I are literally setting up a new home for ourselves. It feels good; it’s progress. However, I know that for me it’s going to take a renovation of mind, body and spirit more than it will paint and furniture. It’s going to be a long-term project; I will have to build and tear down and rebuild and adjust as life develops. I will need to add new rooms as I have children, as my career fleshes out, as I try to become the calibre of woman that she was in different life situations.

It can seem almost as hard to re-enter a phase of normal, home-building, happy life as it was to leave it, and unfortunately, the first step involves letting it sink in that Home is gone – letting it hurt. It’s almost a separate grief than that of missing a loved one and it is just as painful. But once it really sinks in, I believe there is a freedom to be felt that relieves the necessity of constant searching and allows all energy to be put into the positive, constructive process of creating a new safe place.

For me, it is getting time to stop searching and to start building. From one unschooled architect to a group of others, I clumsily arrange my building supplies and think of you who are surveying the same sort of chaos. You can do this. I can do this. It is likely to be slow, messy and less polished than the normal building process, but it will happen. It must, because the Homes we build are those that will bring comfort, familiarity and love to others in our lives now and in the future. Our own foundations must be poured and passed on.

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7 thoughts on “Home Builders: Creating a new safe place after loss

  1. Hi Jennelle, sounds like you’ve had lots of changes in the last few months. It’s good to have you writing again. I liked this post because you said exactly how I’ve felt. Well done.

  2. Hi. I can so relate to what you wrote. My dad still lives in my childhood home. My parents bought the house when I was 4 years old (I turn 43 in May). To me it will always be my parents’ home, even though my mom has been gone for over 3 years and my dad is getting remarried in May. I’ve watched this house change over the past year or so. I used to stand in my mom’s closet because it smelled like her and was such a strong reminder. One day I opened the closet door and it no longer smelled like my mom, and then I realized her clothes had been replaced by those of someone else. My heart broke. Things have been removed, rooms redone, furniture taken out and replaced by something not related to my mom. One of the most difficult things has been to watch my dad’s fiance sit at the kitchen table with her daughter, having an everyday conversation. This is something I can no longer do, but I can still picture my mom sitting at that table, drinking a cup of tea while working on the NY Times crossword puzzle. I’d sit next to her and be lucky if I could fill in one word.

    I wrote this about 6 months after my mom died: http://peace4me521.wordpress.com/2009/06/18/just-a-house/. My dad has “remade” the house into a new home and that’s fine. But there are times when I wish he had sold the home and moved into a new place with his fiance. I’m glad to be able to go back to my childhood home and see reminders of my mom, remember the good times. But it saddens me because I don’t feel comfortable in that house anymore and sometimes like I don’t even belong there. My home is with my family – my husband, son, and daughter (and all our pets), and throughout my home are memories of my mom. Take care, Kathy

  3. Beautifully written, thank you for sharing. My experience is somewhat different, because we moved around a lot when I was a child, and then my dad left and remarried, and then my mom got involved with someone else and eventually moved cities to be with him, leaving me behind at University. I so desperately longed for a stable home, moving was torture to me every time. I feel like I have searched for and mourned the loss of that safe space so many times over, and I suppose I hadn’t thought of it this way before but at least it was one less thing for me to struggle with when my mom died… Anyway, you’ve also got me thinking about the importance of building my own home, and it’s given me a lovely new perspective on the longing I have been finding within me to have a place of my own – not rented, but somewhere that I can paint the walls with purple swirls, express myself, but also somewhere for my family to feel safe and stable.

    1. Beautiful thoughts Laurel. It is interesting that something which was a hardship for you at one time has given you an area of stability in dealing with loss. I’m glad that you are feeling positive about the home you are building now, I’m sure you are doing an excellent job :)

  4. This was beautifully written as per usual Jennelle. I love how you said, “No matter how old we are, we want to know that somebody will take care of us; we want to know that there is a completely recognizable place that exists.” What a profound and positively accurate statement. But it is so true that grieving Home is a separate sort of grief but one that needs to be experienced all the same. Thinking of you as you continue to build your new home, one that you will fill with much love and new memories.

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