When we’re in a period of deep grief, it’s like landing in a dark alley with no light at either end. We’re left with the command to find our way out, but all we have in our pocket are the car keys and a tube of lipstick. We’re ill-equipped.
The rest of the world isn’t sure what to do with us, so they bring casseroles. There are a lot of casseroles after a death, but none after a painful divorce, which is a form of death. Whichever vehicle landed us in this dark place, one thing surprises us: that the loss of someone important doesn’t physically kill us. And yet, it’s as common as birth and part of our everyday lives. Grief is the price we pay for loving.
I heard someone say she kept herself from getting sucked into the grief vortex by telling herself how lucky she was to be grieving someone deeply, because it meant she had experienced something worthy of that level of grief. We should all be so lucky. I suspect we would choose to love deeply all over again, even knowing what lay ahead.
When I lose people, I give them a job to do on “the other side” for me. I figure if we can speak to saints for intervention and assistance, why not to someone with whom we have a connection? The job is usually based on a role they played in their life here. My mom was big on letting the body heal itself and rarely administered drugs growing up, so her job is to watch over my health. My dad was a road warrior and loved to load us up in the station wagon and take off on a trip, so his job is to help keep me safe on the roads.
When I lost my friend, Carla, I gave her the job of watching over my garden. As I returned home from her celebration of life, I got a distinct nudge to mow my lawn. I was still in a skirt and was all, “I don’t want to mow my lawn right now.” I again got the distinct nudge, “Just the back, then.” The back has a small patch of grass that grows faster than the front, so okay. I fired up the mower. As I got to the back of the garden, where there is a retaining wall and a row of 20-foot junipers, I noticed that a section of the stones had fallen, due to the massive amount of rain we’d been getting. One more big rain and a 20-foot juniper would have toppled onto electrical lines, a dogwood and three hydrangeas. Still in my skirt, I lifted the large stones back into place. Thank you, Carla.
When I went through my divorce it felt like losing a limb. I didn’t know what to do with the missing-ness. A part of me was gone, and I had to re-adapt to the world as this new version of myself. Everything was harder, took longer, and required an unfamiliar way of thinking about myself in the world, this world without my limb. I kept moving, paid attention, spent a lot of time with God and we became even tighter than before. It got easier. Looking back, I now marvel at the distance traveled. While I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, it was also the most amazing time of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Eat, Pray, Love, “Ruin is the road to transformation.”
When something rocks us to the core, the filter through which we see the world changes for a while. Everything familiar now feels foreign and unfriendly. The dark alley wasn’t on our life map. Going forward seems impossible, and going back isn’t an option. We have no choice but to keep moving—as fast as possible, trying not to look too closely at the shadows along the walls, careful not to step in the sticky muck of depression. Eventually, we emerge at the other end, bootstraps held firm, with a deep understanding of the truth, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” We no longer fear our depths. We learn that feelings can’t kill us. They come from our thoughts, and we can control our feelings by controlling our thoughts. Meanwhile, the next dark alley won’t be as scary because we know the way through. Maps are created after the journey, after all.
The map will come in handy: the longer we live, the better we’ll need to become at saying good-bye.
At the beginning of the grieving season we often hear, “Don’t make any big decisions for the first year.” But, what if a big decision must be made, such as selling our home? Perhaps it must be sold in order to split the proceeds with an ex-spouse. Or, perhaps what once was our source of shared and familiar comfort has become a constant pain trigger.
Around this point you might be seeing your house in a different light: it’s about to become a very expensive product, and yet there may be “trauma-induced clutter” all around you. While you were putting one foot in front of the other, you took care of the “have-to’s” and that’s pretty much it. You took out the trash, did the laundry, fed the dog and made sure your lipstick landed on your lips and not your eyelids. You kinda let the house “go.” However, this isn’t the time to start shaming yourself.
A year after burying her husband, a woman said that she was struggling with the mess around her, and didn’t know where to start. This was part of my response, “After spending time in your deep grieving season, it’s a good thing to be looking around you and noticing your home. It’s encouraging, as if a part of you is trying to coax the rest of you into the healing season. Give ear to the coaxer, but don’t let it shame you. Instead, engage it. Have a “conversation” with it. Is it saying it’s time to make some changes? Then go that distance. Putting your house in order is a profound step in self-care. Go slowly, starting in a space you use a lot, where you would enjoy seeing the progress.”
That she was SEEING her home—actually focusing on something outside of her head—is called PROGRESS.
Another woman said that she was dealing with the death of her parents, and they’d not thrown anything away for decades. She needed to sell her own house but was stressing about the job of going through it all, now in her basement. She felt she couldn’t get rid of anything. This was part of my response, “First, just because keeping everything was modeled for you, it was THEIR belief system. It doesn’t automatically become yours. Choose if this will be YOUR mantra. Second, DO NOT buy bins or rent a storage unit. They only serve to enable procrastination. Third, DON’T start with sentimental items, or ‘triggers.’ Get warmed up first with coffee mugs, flower vases and towels. Go at your own pace, vow to keep up with ‘papers’ and you’ll get there.”
Here’s the good news about preparing your home for sale: you don’t have to go it alone. You have people to help you navigate the many moving parts of this process. I help you envision and plan the next leg of your journey, which includes coming to terms with your belongings. As you reach toward the sunlight, I grab your hand.
I’ve heard it said that, to be happy we need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. There is always someone in our life to love. If we can turn a new home into something to look forward to, it can ease the transition. As for something to do, well, preparing a home for sale will definitely occupy our time! Call me to discuss your situation and let’s see how to welcome in your happiness.
Meanwhile, to assist the brainstorming process (with yourself or me), download your FREE Dreamsheet: What Your 80-Year-Old-Self Wants You to Know.
Copyright © 2022 by Cynthia Gentry Black, Home Staging by Cynthia, LLC in Kansas City.
All rights reserved. No portion may be shared, reused or republished in any format without express written consent of the author.