Prepare yourself to feel some intense emotions.
Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can to maintain your loved one’s home.
Take breaks often, and go outside to work through how you’re feeling.
Bring a close friend to accompany you if you can.
Entering someone’s home for the first time after they die can be very emotional. It’s important to prepare yourself for any and all feelings you may experience. You can’t predict the range of emotions and memories that are likely to come up for you. It’s important to be open to those feelings, ready for whatever bubbles up inside, so as to not be completely surprised by that initial visceral reaction.
You are essentially stepping into the life of your loved one, but they’re no longer there. It can be hard to see how things were left when they passed away: the laundry they didn’t get a chance to do, the dishes still in the sink; details that, if your loved one were still alive, wouldn’t faze you. But now, with your loved one gone and the emptiness weighing heavily in the space they once called home, it can seem confusing and even surreal, completely different and just the same as it was, all at once.
There’s something intimate about entering someone’s home without them, especially if you haven’t been there in a while. You may feel like you’re invading their privacy. You may even come across things you didn’t expect to find. Know that your impressions of being welcome or unwelcome are all about your feelings, your memories, and your grief. You are here to take care of important tasks and are exactly where you are supposed to be.
Even the feeling of the carpet under your shoes or the placement of the remote control on the coffee table can have an effect on you.
There are many reasons you may be entering your loved one’s home. If they left a pet behind, for example, and you need to make sure the animal is cared for and feels safe during this confusing time. Or perhaps you are collecting important documents, and retrieving and securing keepsakes and valuables. Maybe there are steps you need to take to protect or maintain the home, like turning off the electricity and making sure all doors and windows are secure. Knowing you’ve kept up your loved one’s house to the best of your ability can help ease your mind.
As you make your way through the home, you may find yourself retrieving memories that you may have forgotten. Maybe the smell of the home brings back a specific afternoon of your childhood, one that brings a smile to your face. Or the sight of a painting on the wall, one you never particularly cared for, suddenly has a deeper meaning now. Even the feeling of the carpet under your shoes or the placement of the remote control on the coffee table can have an effect on you that you never thought possible. And, although you took a deep breath before entering the house and did your best to prepare, these details, ones you might have taken for granted while your loved one was still alive, can suddenly become very emotional for you.
If these feelings become overwhelming, take a break. Go outside and work through how you’re feeling. If you can, open up a positive space inspired by any good memories the house brought up. Remind yourself how lucky you were to have loved and been loved by the person who lived here. None of this is easy, and it’s not supposed to be. If you feel overcome, allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, and grieve on your terms.
If it helps to put yourself on autopilot and immediately get to work so you can leave the house as quickly as possible, then do that. Whatever it takes to get through this part of the process, do it. It may be a good idea to bring a close friend to accompany you and help you with the tasks, someone to lean on during an emotionally draining experience.
Remember that your first entry into your loved one’s house isn’t about packing up all their belongings, deciding who gets what and why, or what will be done with the house in the future. This first visit is just for the most important things: pets, documents, security. There will be other visits to take care of other things, and there will be time to do them when you’re not in the immediate aftermath and the worst of the pain. Later on, there will be lots of smaller tasks and other family members there to help out.
But now, for this first visit, allow yourself the time and space to work through these first, challenging emotions. Give yourself permission to feel everything you need to feel in this moment and throughout this process. And, if you can, don’t do it alone ●
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Your loved one’s house may have been their most valuable asset. But it’s also much more than that. It’s where they lived, often where you made many memories with them. And dealing with the house and all the chores and decisions that come along with it can be both difficult and healing.