A Home or a Museum?
I attended a multi-week grief, loss, and transition workshop about five months after my wife passed away. There was one statement shared during the course that caught my attention. The leader said while it is okay to maintain memories of our dearly departed, we need to be careful not to turn our home into a shine, memorial, or museum to their memory. She pointed out that making changes was healthy. The house is for the one or ones left behind. It is for the living not for the dead. It was pointed out that sometimes adult children that do not live in the home have issues when things are changed.
Inform Adult Children as a Courtesy
I mentioned to my two oldest children (early 40s and late 30s in age) that I was going to remove about two-dozen family pictures from the fireplace mantle. You are informing your children as a courtesy, not asking for their permission to make changes. I guess if I’m honest with myself, I was asking their approval for a change I wanted to make. It’s a change that doesn’t require their permission or consent. After all, I’m the father, and it’s my house. I can do whatever I want.
However, I cared about their feelings and wanted them to know I was removing pictures of my grandparents, my parents, and my brother and his family. I also am transferring photographs of my late wife’s grandmother, her parents, her siblings, and their children as well as pictures of my children to storage.
I pointed out the photographs’ removal wasn’t erasing the past. Instead, it’s embracing the future. It’s admitting life continues. My house and home isn’t a museum that is a mausoleum to yesterday.
The pictures will be stored. Some will be scanned. All are available. I have a favorite photo of each of my children on my bedroom dresser. I also have a picture of my parents, my granddaughter, and my late wife and me gracing the furniture. I’ve glanced at them several times while typing the first draft of this post.
My point is you don’t need anyone’s permission to make changes to your house.
Cleaning Counters and Cabinets
In addition to removing pictures, I also have been cleaning the kitchen counters and cabinets. One of the first tasks I assigned myself was to make sure I tossed out expired food. I checked the expiration date on such routine items as salad dressing and frozen dinners.
I decided I didn’t want to make myself sick by eating or preparing spoiled food. I found out I didn’t have a lack of counter space. Instead, I had been lazy during and after my late wife’s illness and had just been stacking foodstuffs on the counter instead of putting them way in the cabinets.
Developing good habits and not being lazy in handling routine tasks had benefits. For example, it saves money. How does it save money you might ask?
By looking in cabinets, in the laundry room, and even in bathroom closets and under sinks, I don’t buy items like cleaning supplies or nonperishables that I already have. An example is I now have 3 bottles of mold and mildew remover. I bought one of them. I found another under a bathroom sink and a third in the laundry room. I’m set for years on mold and mildew cleaner.
I rearranged the living room furniture. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission. I just did it. Life goes on and making these changes help me get on with living. It also allowed me to sweep up crumbs and pickup popcorn I had spilled under my recliner. I don’t have a housekeeper, so I have to do that myself.
In the last couple of months, I replaced the windows in the house. This upgrade is something my late wife, and I had budgeted and saved to do. My Christmas bonus from 2013 had been put in savings earmarked for new windows and a new patio door.
When my wife had surgery back in December 2013 and was diagnosed with the first of the two types of cancer, she battled, we put on hold buying the windows. The thought was the money may be needed for medical expenses.
Medical and funeral expenses have been paid. The money was available, and the windows and patio door were replaced. The upgrades were made without putting me in debt. They will help with lowering heating and cooling bills in the long run.
Your Children and Siblings Can Help
Do what you need to do and it on your own timetable. Life goes on. Yes, it is different. Yes, it gets lonely. I remember when I was in graduate school over 3 decades ago. I was taking a geriatrics class. I was surprised when we discussed older adults and change as well as widows/widowers and change.
I found out contrary to popular opinion older adults handle change just fine. They’ve been living through changes all their life. Sometimes, when they seem to balk at change or overthink it like I was with my sons and the pictures, they are just respectful of other people feelings. Sometimes it helps for the siblings or children to give the widower permission to make changes.
I remember when my wife was in hospice care, the RNs and MDs suggested I let her know that it’s okay for her to die. Tell her that yes, she’ll be missed but won’t be forgotten. Rearranging furniture or putting away pictures don’t dishonor your late spouse. It merely signals life continues. I’m sure she would be proud that you’re getting on with life. I know my boys were glad to see me looking to the future instead of dwelling on the past.