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.

In My Hometown

I have been doing a lot of packing boxes, planning, saying goodbye, unpacking boxes, painting and arranging. I have not, however, been doing a lot of blogging.

Here I am, back in my sunny hometown, in my husband’s condo that I haven’t quite learned to call “ours” yet, trying to let it sink in that life has significantly changed yet again!

I have been in a strange space the last month or so – I have been anxious. The anxiety phases come and go in waves, and perhaps always will to some degree, but this was rounding the corner into depression. I blame clouds, rain and a lack of blogging to some degree. I also believe that your body knows more than your mind at times. The anxiety was getting my attention and informing my brain that it was time to go home. Time to soak in the love of those I know best. Time for the comfort of the old and familiar. In other words, the place that once felt overwhelming is the place that is now offering security and freedom. I need those that knew her; those that know me better than I do. I can’t do it alone. The choice to go home was made more certain by the fact that everything allowing it to be possible presented itself to us without our even trying.

This move has been big for us. It meant leaving a beautiful place, amazing people and the ocean. It meant a two-day road trip through the mountains (beautiful). It meant Adam starting a new job again. It meant a huge lifestyle change (did I mention I filled up with gas about once a month on the island?). It meant gaining many friends and family. It meant entering back into the “real world” where the absence of my mom is felt more directly. It meant a salad of amazing, tough, precious things.

My first few days following the move were characterized by the aforementioned anxiety, but weight is slowly being peeled from my shoulders and I am realizing that I am safe – that I really am home even though the city and I are both different than two years ago. Though it was heartache-y to leave the island and our incredible people there, it feels right and good to be here.

Thank you, island friends, for being everything I needed the past couple years and still do. Thank you, home faces, for making this feel like the place we should be. Adam and I have constantly been in conversation about how lucky we are to be surrounded by such people wherever we are. We feel incredibly spoiled by the richness of our friendships.

So, cue Ty Pennington… “MOVE. THAT. BUS!!”

Just kidding.

Hopefully this marks the return to a more frequent blogging habit, thanks for sticking with me!