The House that Grief Built: A Grief Relief Column

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2018

While staring out my window every morning, I watch as the construction workers arrive across the street and busily begin their day of hammering, sawing and piecing together two new homes.  It has been a fascinating process to observe, from the lot being roped off to the foundation being poured and the studs and beams set into place, what was once an empty space has started to take shape into a beautiful home.

For many, grief is a lot like this- from the starting point of a received diagnosis (the roping off) to the foundation setting (the actual death) and to the building from the ground up (the grief journey).  We find ourselves unable to visualize a finished product or a home that feels sturdy and strong enough to live in again, and we stare numbly at times watching the construction go on around us, sometimes progress being so small that we find it difficult to see that anything has changed.  And yet, with time, it does.  With each carefully measured beam, every expertly hammered nail into place, the framework begins to rise from the ground, a testament to our strength and fortitude.

But perhaps we hit snags along the way, a crack in the foundation or a broken window.  We might grow frustrated with the setbacks, especially if it feels like everything has been ripped up and torn down, a measure taken in order to provide a sturdier chance of survival.  This too is a normal aspect of grieving- the forward progress only to run smack dab into a wall sending us backwards or tumbling to the ground.  Good construction allows for starts and stops.  It is supervised by those who intend to build a product that is worthy of living in and they make sure that careful and precise work take top priority.

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The thing is, when we lose someone we love, our foundation is rocked.  It feels anything less than solid and yet, it is the place in which we must start focusing on living again.  And, with each step taken to identify feelings and work through the pain; with each wall built- not to keep people locked out, but to provide safety and stability, we begin to feel hope again as it shines through the clear glass of new windows.

In the beginning, not many people state that they can envision a future without their loved one.  They describe their loss as being “total” and live as though their home has been condemned, no longer worthy of calling it a home.  However, through the support of others and from listening to those who have already stepped upon the grief path, they begin to see that they are building a new residence, one that has changed but also one that they can stand to live within.  By reinforcing the walls and creating a safe and sturdy foundation, they slowly but surely begin to build a new life.  And, like grief, they may try to take some short cuts along the way, only to learn that they have to rip it all up and start over again.  However, they are more likely to develop resilience, a strength that comes from experiencing the devastation of loss, and this will allow them to find and use the tools that will assist them in constructing their present and future.

In the end, after the roof goes on and all the finishing touches are made, you can stand back and admire the house that grief built through your own sweat and tears.  You can smile at your progress and know that there will always be small projects or home improvements that need to be made, but you can be proud of your hard work and the effort you have brought forth, one nail at a time.