A couple of months ago, my son bought a new house and moved farther away from me. It’s not terribly far, but about double the 20-minute ride to the old one. So now it can take up to 45 minutes (depending on the time of day) to get to their house and babysit my two youngest grandsons every Wednesday night – or to just drop by for some weekend play time. However, his move has added some weight to the idea that I’ve been contemplating about making a move, myself.
I’d been toying with the idea of moving ever since Rick died. I’m always questioning and examining things in my life, asking myself how I want to spend my future, now that our previous plans have been upended. Where do I want to live? What do I want to do with my evenings and weekends? Where do I want to vacation? Life is so different without him, and now – as a single woman – I’m constantly trying to pin down what I really want. And so, the thought of selling this house and moving has been bouncing around in the back of my mind. I know there are things I need to repair, and sort, and update, so little by little I work on the projects, because that’s what we always did together. Besides, I enjoy painting and fixing up things and making them nice. These home improvements are a win-win proposition anyway. It’s a fun hobby. Plus, if I stay, the house looks better. If I leave, it sells quicker.
I have to admit, the home invasion last fall did kind of spook me and has something to do with my thoughts of moving (and has also prompted some of my family and friends to nag – er, encourage me – to move). The privacy of the dead end street Rick and I chose together now leaves me feeling a little more vulnerable living here alone. Plus, I could live in a place that’s a little smaller, or maybe go to one of those condos Rick and I were considering before he died. It would be less maintenance and upkeep.
My commute to work doesn’t really factor into my location decision, because, hopefully, I’ll be retiring in the next couple of years. I really am free to decide where I want to live and if or when I want to make the move.
But what’s struck me about this whole thing is how casual I feel about that idea now. When Rick was diagnosed with lung cancer, his bucket list wasn’t to do anything magnificent. He said he wanted to clean out and finish renovating our house, then move to a condo, so he knew that I’d “be okay” after he was gone. The day after he died, I walked out on my deck, surveyed all that he had built and said, NOPE. I will never leave here – and I will never be “okay” without him.
We practically built this place together. It was a foreclosure that need a lot of TLC and we worked day and night to do it ourselves. We tore out kitchen cupboards, then reinstalled new ones, built an island, installed new countertops, and totally rearranged the kitchen. We opened walls, laid flooring throughout, installed all new doors, and lights, and put crown molding throughout the house. In the basement, we put in studs and insulated. Rick built huge, strong shelving all the way around our 2 ½ car garage. He built three decks and a fountain in the backyard, planted flowers and shrubs, and even assembled the gazebo on one deck right after his last chemo treatment.
So, the morning after he died, as I looked around at all we had done together, I thought, I will NEVER leave this place, our place.
And now, 18 months later, I am contemplating doing just that. What changed?
I’m not exactly sure. It seems many things have changed on many levels. In practical terms, I don’t need this much house. And the fact that some strange man was able to enter my home while I slept a few feet down the hall does factor a little into my new attitude. And, of course, living closer to my son would be more convenient and less wear and tear on my car. But I know there is more to it than those practical considerations.
For one, there’s Rick’s last wishes – he wanted me to be installed in a maintenance-free smaller condo, but right after he died, I couldn’t even consider moving, and was also advised not to make any major decisions for one year. It does comfort me to know that if I do leave, I have his blessing.
But, two, I think over the past year and a half of grieving, the physical reminders have begun to matter less and less. When Rick first died, I didn’t want to part with anything, nothing he had touched, or owned, or created. I gathered all his things and put them in his office. I left as many of items untouched as I could: the mints on the livingroom table, the toothbrush in the bathroom cabinet, the things in his office, and on his desk, and on the bedroom end table. I tried to keep him frozen in time. I tried to stay close to him by clinging to his possessions.
And as time has moved on, I’ve discovered that those “things” have meant less and less to me. His memory isn’t present in artifacts, and keeping any or all of his possessions won’t bring him back.
After a year and a half, the house itself has begun to morph into my house, not ours. I’ve rearranged things to be more to my liking and meet my needs as I live here alone. Little by little, day by day, the house is becoming my house, the house of a single woman.
At first, most of the changes were done out of necessity, but against my better wishes. I had to change the sheets he slept on for hygienic reasons. I had to move things from where he left them because they were collecting dust. Some changes happened by chance. I don’t use the larger pans or the BBQ things as often as he did, so they migrated to the back of the cupboard. I hadn’t actively chosen to move or discard anything he touched or used, but life goes on, and change is constant, and little by little I began to relinquish my hold on things that used to seem so significant.
Other changes seemed to occur out of a need to amuse myself, to please myself, or to give myself a sense that I am still living. For so long after his death, I felt my life was over and I would never find pleasure in anything again, so I began to treat myself, to try to discover things that made me happy. That’s why I ultimately bought the new sofa that appeals to me now, not the one we picked out together. And after months of internal debate, when I finally made that tough decision, I could almost imagine hearing Rick’s throaty chuckle and him saying, “Buy the couch you like, honey. After all, I’m not going to be sitting on it!”
So after little changes here and there, my living room and bedroom look different from the time when I shared this home with Rick; the decor is a bit more feminine now. It’s my house, not ours. And, I’m positive, if he’s watching me from someplace near, that he’s rooting me on, urging me to create a space that’s pleasant, to do things I enjoy, to make decisions based on what I like. I know he wants me to live a life that’s interesting and to make it exactly what I want it to be.
And, now, contemplating the idea of moving from all we created isn’t as horrifying as it once was. I’m not totally comfortable with the idea just yet, because obviously there are so many memories here. But the idea of a new beginning is a little exciting, and looking at neighborhoods and houses is fun. And I’m starting to enjoy the idea of doing something different and wondering where I’ll end up next.
Yes, the idea of leaving our world behind makes me sad sometimes, but it doesn’t tear my heart out the way it did on that day nearly 18 months ago, the day after Rick died. And I’ll take that as a win. So I’ll keep working on my home improvement projects and checking Zillow listings, dreaming of where I want my next adventure to take place, and wondering what lies ahead for me in my new life. It’s time to accept change and embrace my future.