Friday 24 November 2017

How to mourn and grieve a house

Hellebore Lenten Rose - bring a new flowering plant with you to your new home
Hellebore Lenten Rose - bring a new flowering plant with you to your new home
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Is it possible to grieve for the loss of a house? Not only is it possible, but for some of us it might be a necessary exercise - in the same way that mourning the loss of a close family member or friend helps to bring closure.

I get attached to places so, personally, I have mourned three houses. All were characters to me in their own right - built vessels of treasured memories.

The first was my childhood home - a small Edwardian cottage which my family had outgrown. We traded up when I was 11. It had a huge back garden and because the cottage was on a main road, my brother, sister and our dogs spent most of our afternoons in it exploring, climbing, digging tunnels (we never finished any) and building tree houses. Even the dogs grieved its loss - one of them kept leaving the new place and turning up again at the old house two miles away.

Years later, it came back to market and I viewed it with a notion of buying it back, but the bidding ran too high. The huge rear garden we loved signed its death warrant when a developer outbid all. The house was knocked and a block of apartments constructed in its stead. I asked the developer if I could watch its demolition. He agreed but, suspicious of my motives, mislead me on the schedule.

I arrived to see a departing dumper truck of wallpaper-covered rubble pulling out. I fished out a matchbox sized chunk as a keepsake. Today a concrete gape - the entrance to the underground car park - marks the spot where our rose-covered cottage stood.

The next house I mourned was my grandparents' big old red-brick pile in the south central city. As kids, we were there three days a week and almost always through school holidays. This was a five-bedroom affair, with myriad nooks and crannies and a garden in which we played soccer, pitch and putt, and cricket while pausing to gorge on the fruit growing there.

In the end, after they passed, and with its big house furniture gone to auction or divided out, it was a bereft shell of its former self. Happily, a young family bought it and restored it with love.

My third mourned abode was my own first purchase made in my 20s - a run-down 1940s terrace. This was bought beside a river in an area I truly loved. I could pick up a rod at the door arriving home from work and be fishing within minutes. I restored it myself and later traded up. This was my party house. To this day, I regret the trade up and wish I'd hired an architect to extend it creatively.

Each is still a remembered character to me for its own unique palette of smells, tastes, textures and soundtracks. Each wrenched me deep to close the door that very last time. The necessary end of a close relationship. We will all lose at least one house we love for a range of reasons - trade up, bereavement, marital split, change of job to elsewhere, repossession or forced trade down by the bank. The loss, however, is rarely dealt with in a tangible fashion. Children in particular can be hard hit by a move, especially if its the only home they've known. For those selling because of a death it can feel like losing their departed loved one's last essence on earth.

Some can move without fuss but for the rest of us house grievers, here are some collated tips from various posters online who listed their own ways of coming to terms with their home's loss:

* make a 'house' album - snap the front, the back, the garden, the rooms. Get yourself and the family in the pictures. You'll regret later on if you don't;

* have a 'last supper' - some said a last big commemorative family meal eaten under that roof and salted with reminiscences helped bring a more palatable close;

*don't bring the 'clear-out' with you - weed out what you don't need to bin or give it away before you go. This is cathartic. It helps make the move real (many mentally dodge leaving a house). It avoids having to sift painful residues in your next abode;

* do bring some of its nicer bits - take roses or flowering plants from its garden to your new home and replant them there. Reset a key interiors piece in the same place (e.g. a mantel clock) so that the spirit of the old place moves with you;

* realise that children need to say goodbye for longer - to school and friends. Try to return regularly so they can see them. Enable them to break their life-long links gradually as they rebuild new ones;

* don't let 'move out day' be a shock ­- you know its coming so plan for it and be ready mentally and to physically to go.

* it's OK to shed a tear - most of us will, given that so many of our precious memories are cemented into those walls;

* houses renew - its comforting to realise that yours will likely see some new children raised happily within its walls;

* get stuck into sorting your new home - what "they" say is normally true - so when one door closes in life...

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