In some homes, the soul of the space has been lovingly crafted over time. The memories we make there, bit by bit, laugh by laugh, with some heartache thrown in for good measure, make it seem inconceivable to ever abandon the house itself. We say that it’s the memories and people that make a home, not the things in it or the structure itself, yet when we’re forced to leave a treasured home behind, it doesn’t merely tug at the heartstrings — it damn near severs them.
I’ve left old apartments behind before, and while I was sad to leave certain aspects (this balcony was the best!) or bemused with some observations (it looks so much bigger in here without my furniture), I never anticipated the mourning that ensued when we began the process of selling my parents’ home in Arizona.
This was not the home I grew up in. In fact, there are two memorable homes that came before this sacred one in question. There’s the house where I spent ages 2-12 in Indiana, and the house we originally moved to in Arizona where we lived for seven years. Then, my Mom and Dad bought a lot up the street, and built their next house — the one rich with memories.
They picked out every nuance of this house together down to the light switches. Cantera stone was brought in from Mexico, vaulted ceilings were employed to showcase the cacti-speckled mountains seemingly within arm’s reach of the backyard, lighting throughout evoked a cheery feeling at daytime and a cozy vibe at night. This house was built for entertaining.
I never truly “lived” in this home like my younger sister and brother did. Construction completed while I was in college, and throughout my four years just two hours away I’d never spent more than a month or two there at a time (summer breaks, etc.). I got hired to work for a newspaper in California and started two weeks after graduation. This was never, in a sense of living, my home.
But in the sense of soul, this was my home through and through. We LIVED in this house. Friends always felt welcome like it was their own home, and treated it as such. A whirlwind of moments from those 10 years would reveal late nights musing over a favorite song (“now listen closely to this part”), wine in hand; or Christmas mornings, when my Dad would play the same song every year as we gathered around the tree to open gifts (Johnny Mathis’ “Sleigh Ride”), the smell of Mom’s egg strata in the oven; or the New Year’s Day we all jumped in the hot tub in our pajamas.
The memories created there took on more profound meaning than ever before after my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. We clung to each other and to our constant — the house. I flew in from California frequently and the house didn’t let us down, it pulled us in and made us feel safe when we were so scared we couldn’t think straight. It reverberated the sound of Dad’s favorite Van Morrison songs. It wore the tread of visitors trickling in and out to spend time with us. It echoed the crying — it amplified the laughter. It kept bending and creasing, like a giant old sweatshirt, to be exactly what we needed when we didn’t even know what we needed.
And it continued to wrap us in its walls, even after Dad passed away in 2011. The memories were suddenly immortalized. Our home was unconditional and selfless. A steadfast confidant. A man in the storm.
So what is it that makes us mourn the loss of a structure? It’s not the great architecture, or the way the light pours in through the windows in the morning. It’s the loss of the vessel that held our memories. It’s almost as if leaving a home rich in such a lived-in history causes our memories to spill out everywhere, and we feel like we’ve spun out of orbit, scrambling to collect them.
As my Mom watched the movers load the last boxes onto the moving truck, I didn’t have to be there to guess that she felt her heart strings sever. I know that, like a death, she doesn’t know where to go from here. I know that her pain is overwhelming. We’ve all discovered now that it’s possible to grieve the passing of a home, too.
As I sat in my own home in California seeing the empty house through photos sent to me on my phone, I felt my heart breaking. It’s still breaking.
But we have to remember that we have lost the vessel, not the memories. We just have to build a new place to hold them. —Kelli
[Thanks to Grace for encouraging me to step out from my editing curtain to share this! And thanks to my friend Niyaz for reminding me that a house is just a vessel.]