Little Deaths: Part 1

Leaving your childhood home

Yesterday, I found out my home in New Jersey has officially been sold.

I have known for a few months that my mom put our house on the market. I was very supportive when she told me about her longing to start fresh in a new home; all of her kids have had a fresh start in a new town, so why couldn’t she? While I’m overwhelmed with excitement for her to start this journey in a home she can call her own, I’m surprised by the rush of other sensations flooding in. I feel grief, joy, immense nostalgia, longing, and many other feelings that I can’t yet name. I never thought my heart would be so attached to a place; a place that holds many wonderful memories, but also traumatic ones. It almost feels like I’m in the midst of a break up in a toxic relationship. I suppose if you really love something, you have to let it go.

I call this series “Little Deaths” as inspo from Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser, my new favorite book. She often mentions the concept of little deaths about the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. We can experience death within ourselves (our soul) on a large scale, for instance losing a loved one, cancer, natural disasters, pandemics (like the one we are experiencing right now). We may more commonly experience death within ourselves on a smaller scale — failing, acknowledging our mistakes, learning something new, disappointment, breaking your favorite mug, etc. No matter the scale, death provides an opportunity for grief, then growth.

“Our lives ask us to die and to be reborn every time we confront change — change within ourselves and change in our world. When we descend all the way down to the bottom of a loss, and dwell patiently, with an open heart, in the darkness and pain, we can bring back up with us the sweetness of life and the exhilaration of inner growth.”

From Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser

I wasn’t expecting to feel such grief over the selling of my childhood home. Ignorantly, for years I’ve put my focus on the negative experiences I’ve had there. Maybe to protect myself? I’m not sure. But, in light of the state our world is in, I’ve realized how important home is to me. Home in it’s broader meaning. The joy I feel from my home being sold is overwhelming and illuminating. I am so excited for my mom it brings tears to my eyes. She has been through so many little and big deaths in her life and has come out the other end stronger and wiser. She deserves a place to make her own, for real. Not only is it a fresh start for her, but every time my siblings and I visit her now will bring a new experience, rather than visiting a home with some hearty baggage that lingers in the air. We all get to visit “mom’s” house now and I can’t wait to do that for years to come.

I’m grateful for the joy, yet simultaneously I feel sad. There’s no better word for it; sad is just right. Thinking of the memories in this home makes my heart beam and nostalgia overwhelm my senses. It’s been years since I’ve lived in this home, but every time I visit the feelings of love, comfort, and anxiety coexist. I’m reminded of the big things — my dad, our first two dogs, and my pop-pop, all who are not with us anymore. Our home reminds me of family friends that would spend every summer living down the street from us. They would come to our home daily to enjoy food, wackiness, and laughter. Our home reminds me of my best friends, my first love, and my first heartbreak. And home reminds me of the little things; like the first time I snuck vodka from my parent’s cupboard and yacked all over my dad’s boat while my best friends held my hair back. Playing Wii for too long in our playroom. My little brother brushing my hair. Making whacky videos on our Mac. Living on the water. Eating family dinners together every chance we got and making newcomers play the “family thing” where we would all go around the table, one-by-one, telling each person what we like about them. And the classic tradition of getting to my little brother in the family game and everyone always saying, “I like yo hayaaa.”

This house holds the world that was my childhood, my innocence. It also holds the absence of my innocence and the events that propelled me into my adulthood. When I knew the house was on the market, my sister and I planned a big trip to surprise our little brother for his 21st birthday and to see our home for the last time. We bought our flights for April 6th… then COVID happened. Our plans were canceled and our longing for closure was on hold. Saying thank you to my home isn’t comparable to the tragedy the world is facing (i.e. big deaths vs. little deaths; not comparable), but this I still grieved.

But when my brother texted my sister and I saying the house has been sold, something struck in me. I knew that I need to be in this house one last time. I needed “closure” — is it closure, or grieving my little death? Also, the opportunity to help send off my mom on her this new journey is one that I can’t miss. My sister and I are booking our flights to go to Jersey today for next week. We will be safe, isolate ourselves, and be clean and cautious beans. But if I don’t do this now, I’ll never fully grieve this little death within me.

If there is one thing I want you to take from this, it’s knowing that home is where the heart lies. My heart lies with my mother, my father, my siblings, my extended family, my partner, my friends, my pets… a home exists to create a home inside of you. I’m thankful for this little death and the lessons to come. Thinking of you all. <3

“…and so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.” 

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe