Clearing out our deceased daughter’s house took more than a year.  My husband and I could only work for a half-hour before we were overcome with grief.  Our daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash.  Nine months later, her former husband was killed in another car crash, and we were raising her twins.

Packing up an entire house is a monumental task.  After talking with our grandchildren, the family decided to give the contents of the house to Rushford, Minn., flood relief.  We packed the kitchen first, then moved on to the family room, living room, and bedrooms.  The garage was the last area to be cleared.  “This is my favorite house,” Helen had said.  “I just love it.”

We listed the house with a top realtor.  Our daughter had started to finish the lower level and we carried out her plans, transforming the cave-like area into a bedroom, office, media room, and bathroom.  Even with a drastic price reduction (the buyer gets the lower level for free), nobody has been interested in the house, and it has been on the market for a year and a half.

The home that brought our daughter so much happiness has become a constant worry.  Three weeks ago, we had torrential rain and the lower level flooded.  The laminate floor buckled, the baseboards were ruined, and water was wicking up the walls.  According to the insurance agent, many basements had flooded and repair services were scarce.  He recommended a restoration company and the crew came within an hour.

They pumped out the water and set up huge fans and a dehumidifier.  An insurance adjuster looked at the damage and, within minutes, handed my husband a check for the maximum amount the policy allowed.  “Don’t even try to save the floor,” he advised.  “Replace it.”  Unfortunately, he thought the repair costs would exceed the amount of the check.

A plumber identified the source of the leak as a stuck valve in the sump pump and repaired it.  The restoration crew removed the damaged flooring, baseboards, and plasterboard.   We were pleased with the quality of their work and progress.  When I walked into the media room, I saw a red heart on the floor.

“Helen probably painted that,” I said, and cried.  We asked the twins about the heart and they said the man our daughter had planned to marry had painted it when he was helping her seal the basement walls with rubberized paint.  The painted heart was a symbol of their love and the future they would share.  It was all so sad.

Carpet can be picked up and cleaned, so we are installing it on the lower level.  Though the carpet will cover the heart, it will always be visible in my mind.  It is a grief marker, a reminder of sorrow and, more important, of love and happiness.  The painted heart is painted on my heart and it will be there as long as I live.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit

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