I have worked with many clients who have chosen to move away from their home after the passing of a loved one. The information in this Open to Hope article may help you decide if this is your best path at the moment.
Things to consider
People suffering profound grief may want to move house, to run away from the events that have taken place and find a new job, to move the kids to a different school to escape. There are two ways to look at the choices we make.
One is to make a decision because you desire to move towards the new situation, home, job, or people. For example: you want to move closer to your relative because you love them and the move will benefit everyone. This will feel good, your body tingles with joy and you are pleased about the positive effect that this huge decision will have on the family.
The other decision is to move away from the current situation. For example: the death of the beautiful person in your life has made you miserable, you don’t want to go home after work, nothing feels right, you are uncomfortable in your own skin.
Human beings have a fight or flight response that releases the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine into your body to keep you safe in times of danger. The third response is to freeze, which often involves dissociation from the experience. The person can become quiet and withdrawn.
When you are under great stress for an extended time it can be difficult to know what feels right for you, so the easiest answer is to take flight, to run away. This is your gut reaction to the situation.
Honour your feeling of flight, listen to your body. But take it in chunks.
- First, use the exercises in this book to decide if the belongings currently in the house are the problem.
- Print photos of each room in black and white. It gives another dimension, and can identify any problem areas.
- Go through everything and choose to keep it or get rid of it. If you decide to move house, everything has to be packed up anyway and the rubbish removed.
- Then put everything back together and allow some time to decide if you still feel the same gut reaction to running away. Your gut reaction affects everything you do, every decision you make.
- After taking the steps to de-clutter your living environment, remove anything that recalls distressing events in your life and use the relaxation techniques. You may find that you now have a new relationship with the home you live in.
A fun activity
An amusing activity is to have your friend play a game and pretend they live in your house and you are the visitor. Arrive at the front entrance, ring the doorbell. Your friend will answer the front door and invite you into your home, show you around, room by room, and give you a welcoming drink as you both sit at the dining table.
This will give you a feel for what your home is like for someone visiting you. It’s a bit of fun. Have a go at this and notice the things you like and dislike about your home.
Selling the home and moving away
If you decide to make a fresh start in another house, town or country, once the home is on the market there is no privacy. Prospective buyers, neighbours, all sorts of people will be trudging through your kitchen.
The following ideas can help you say goodbye to your home before you start to dismantle everything and be ready for the open house days.
The attitude of the real estate agent you select is very important. You want someone who is genuinely interested in compiling a top class advertising campaign and getting the best possible price at the time.
Neighbours may be aware of the circumstances behind the house coming onto the market. Your family needs to decide whether to talk to the sales people about your loved one’s passing if they died in the home within the last year.
Presentation is seventy-five per cent of the impact as the buyer drives up to your front door. Staging the home has become an important part of the sales campaign.
The front entrance is vital. The potential buyer needs to feel that they want to live there.
De-clutter just inside the front door. If possible arrange the space to have an arrival point before going into the next room. You can do this by arranging a console table with a vase of fresh flowers on inspection days. Place a rug to define the entry, a coat rack by the door, or paint one wall in a strong colour as a feature. This outlines the foyer, and gives those who enter the sense of moving over the threshold from the outside world into the private, nurturing space inside.
When the place is strewn with dozens of photos, travel souvenirs and other items, it is too personal. As a general rule, remove thirty per cent of the furniture to allow for a feeling of spaciousness. Get rid of junk and pack up your knick-knacks.
The colour schemes and wallpaper should fit with the type of buyer the area is attracting. One or two wild colours are great if it suits the demographic; otherwise paint the walls and ceilings in a light neutral colour scheme. Set yourself a budget for preparing your property before it goes on the market. Renting a dining suite and lounge display package and buying a new doona cover could add tens of thousands to the sale price.
My belief is when you have a loving environment, buyers feel this welcoming energy and want to buy your property, however humble.
Consider having a get-together and say goodbye to the home, whatever happened there. You are moving towards a new life. It is time to let go and to create a space for the new owners to move into.
Bless this house
House blessing is a tradition practised around the world. It can be done at any time, in the home you live in now or when you move. It can be a simple or elaborate ceremony to clear the energy from previous situations and people living in the place or after a major change in a family’s life.
House blessing can also be a rite of passage, a time to change from your mourning clothes and other traditions associated with the passing of a family member or friend.
While studying to complete training as a funeral celebrant, I read about burial rites and customs in many countries, including in Australia before the Europeans arrived. To put our lives in perspective, ancestral remains of Mungo Lady at Mungo Lake in New South Wales are one of the oldest ritual burials found to date. Mungo Man 3 has recently been dated as living 40,000 to 42,000 years ago. Imagine how many generations have lived and walked across the land you now call home.
The following poem can help everyone mentally shift from living in the past and look forward to the future. Please change the words to fit with your situation.
Our home is a haven
This ceremony is to say thank you to our home for providing us with shelter through difficult times.
Our home is a haven for everyone who crosses the threshold.
Our home is now a place of peace and joy.
A place to gather with family and friends.
A place to enjoy a meal, talk and share the ebb and flow of life.
We are moving to our new home, and wish to share the feeling of warmth, generosity and kindness we have experienced here.
We desire to leave this place with a gentle, loving atmosphere and wish the new occupants abundance, good health and long life.
Thank you, house.
Leaving your home with a feeling of wellbeing for the new owners is a double blessing that comes back to you, like looking in a mirror.
Moving into the new home
Moving to a new place is an adventure. Embrace the unexpected.
Send invitations for a fun celebration with music and refreshments. In some cultures the host puts on a sumptuous feast, in others the guests bring food and wine as gifts.
Below is a beautiful non-denominational house blessing inspired by the house blessing of my friend and teacher Gerry Heaton.
Bless the new house
May the creator who dwells in all things be with us.
We thank this planet for providing our daily needs.
We ask that this blessing release old patterns, negative energy and anything that no longer belongs to us or this place.
May this home be a sanctuary for all who enter.
May this place bring prosperity, health, harmony, and wellbeing to everyone who crosses the threshold.
May the Spirit of Fire fill this place – may the warmth that it brings be with us always.
May the Spirit of Earth fill this place – may it keep us strong.
May the Spirit of Water fill this place – may our emotions be balanced.
May the Spirit of Air fill this place – may our thoughts be pure.
We thank all those who have dwelled on this earth. We respect your traditions and culture and wish you well. We ask that you now go to the light and allow the new energy to fill this place.
This new energy will go to the very corners of this home, into the fabric of this structure and into the ground upon which it stands.
This home is now a beacon of light, drawing towards it only good thoughts and deeds, increasing and radiating this energy back into the universe.
Let the angels that now protect this home take their rightful place.
The following three stories illustrate how our environment mirrors what is happening in our life.
My dear friend had a top executive job in the city and lived in a stylish upmarket high-rise apartment. The only problem with this ideal picture of a successful accountant was that she preferred country life and the wide open spaces. The windows in her apartment only opened a few centimetres. She felt trapped.
One day I arrived at her unit during a wild lightning storm and she was standing at the window fidgeting, desperately wanting to smell the storm, to hear the thunder. She looked like a caged animal prowling from one room to the next, wanting to experience the elements. We talked about her getting an apartment with a balcony, moving to the suburbs or commuting from a beachside cottage to her job each day. She realised she was at a turning point in her life and that her home was a reflection of her situation of feeling trapped in a life she did not enjoy.
Maria consulted her mentor about her career. They discussed what she wanted to accomplish in the next five, ten and twenty-five years.
A few weeks later Maria resigned from her well-paid position and returned to her parents’ home in a beautiful town in rural Queensland. Maria’s plan was to follow her passion and use her savings to allow her to take one year out of her life. She wanted to finish the collection of short stories she had been working on for the previous eight years and see where life took her from there.
She received recognition of her writing skills four months later, winning the major prize in a competition which was to attend a writer’s workshop. She continues work on her book.
Jan contacted me for an interior design consultation after the death of her husband Charlie. I initially spent an hour with Jan discussing paint colours and a different floor plan to create a more enjoyable conversation area in the lounge room. Then the discussion shifted to her bedroom, a room that was austere, unwelcoming and drab. Jan explained she often went to sleep watching television.
We spent the remainder of the consultation talking about the things she liked and disliked in each room.
Jan had previously been to a physiatrist for depression. She realised she needed more time to let herself mourn and heal the loss of her husband.
Months later, we sat down to start redecorating. Jan was a different person. Her eyes sparkled, her voice was excited, her pretty pink top and jeans were flattering to her body and skin tones.
The colours and textures we selected to decorate her home were completely different from the colour scheme we had talked about initially.
The next story illustrates how a loved one’s belongings can bring back memories of them.
The first home I helped with after the death of someone I knew was in 1989. I was also involved with the presentation and sale of the home and handing the property over to the new owners, another stumbling block.
Liam died suddenly. He was the older brother I never had. After the funeral, I was asked by his solicitor to make an inventory of the house, cars, and his jewellery for the executor of the estate. Liam had recently moved into his new home and we had spent months renovating and selecting wallpaper, fabrics and new furniture.
His friends decided to buy all his belongings instead of everything going to auction. This sounds strange, but as I type, the desk and hand-knotted rug from his study keep me company. These things have moved with me sixteen times in twenty-four years.
Recently, I stayed with friends who moved nearly a thousand kilometres north to sunny Queensland. My girlfriend placed the coffee mug on the side table next to me, caressed the side table and said, ‘This was Liam’s.’
It is amazing how a piece of furniture can transport someone back in time!
This is the end of the third installment from Belongings for the Open to Hope newsletter.
The next installment contains the final section of the book and discusses relationships with your family members and work mates. People suffering a profound sense of loss are more vulnerable to relationship conflicts at work and at home. It is my belief that your personal space is a reflection of what is happening in your life in the present moment. By making small positive changes to your living environment, your outlook on life will shift, your mood will lift, and your personal relationships will improve.
If you know someone who is bereaved by suicide, the final installment can also help them remember the happy times they shared with their loved one. The final installment also gives advice to survivors of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and domestic violence about what to do with objects that have been bequeathed to them by their abuser
My thoughts are with you.
With love, Anne Jennings