Several years ago, possessing absolutely none of the necessary skills or experience, I impulsively purchased a fixer-upper as my primary residence. The house I purchased was badly in need of major repair. Much more than new carpet and a fresh coat of paint was required.
Not only were several rooms in need of a complete renovation, there actually were sizeable holes in some of the exterior walls. When I first walked through the home with my school age children, I pointed to the sunlight streaming in through these apertures and optimistically exclaimed, “Look boys! It has a walk out basement for small animals!”
Seven long years later I sold the house. During that time, I had fixed the holes in the walls, replaced the roof, insulated the attic, removed a dilapidated backyard shed, disposed of a garage full of items left by the previous owners, installed new windows, replaced the air conditioner, remodeled a bathroom, the kitchen, and the basement, added a sump pump, replaced the carpet, painted many interior walls, stained the back deck, and more. My home improvement project turned out to be more of a “resurrection” than a “renovation.”
Looking back, I realize that completing the project required me to answer five key questions. 1) What needs immediate attention? 2) What would I like to keep the same? 3) What would I like to change? 4) What would I like to add? and 5) What resources do I have to make the above possible?
In working with bereaved individuals, I find the work of grief recovery is very similar to my seven-year home improvement / resurrection project. The same series of questions applies.
First, what needs immediate attention? Usually this includes tending to one’s physical health, managing household finances, grocery shopping, preparing reasonably healthy meals, doing the laundry, and other mundane tasks. Often, a person in grief is overwhelmed with the feeling that “everything all needs to be done at once.” While some tasks are indeed urgent, most larger matters can wait until the fog of grief has begun to clear.
Second, what aspects of your previous life with your loved one are you able to and prefer to keep? What habits, skills, characteristics, attitudes, hobbies, and abilities do you possess that you wish to preserve and strengthen? Often, a loved one’s illness has caused several of these to be temporarily placed on the shelf. Part of the process of moving to a new life without your loved one might mean dusting some of these off and exploring how they fit into your current life situation.
Third, what would you like to change or leave behind? Is there some baggage from the past that needs to be unpacked? Perhaps there are feelings such as anger, guilt, resentment, or the like that were part of the relationship with the deceased that need to be worked through.
Fourth, what would you like to add? Is there a new degree you would like to earn, or a new skill you would like to learn, or a new hobby that you would like to take up, or a new instrument you would like to learn to play, or a new group you would like to join?
Finally, what resources do you have to make the above possible? During my home renovation project, I discovered that my resources fell into three broad categories: a) sweat, b) friends, and c) professionals. Personal resources necessary for life renovation after a loss tend to come from the same three areas. The first is sweat. Grief work is truly work requiring much emotional perspiration.
The second is the help of friends. Having friends who will simply listen without making judgment or giving advice is invaluable during this time of healing and transformation. Finally, knowing when to seek professional help is essential. Working with a trained grief counselor is much like when I called a plumber, electrician, or professional roofer for my house. I could have made those repairs myself, but the results would have been less than ideal and I likely would have inured myself or someone else in the attempt.
If you have lost someone you love, you are engaged in life’s most difficult renovation project. While there is no path back to your old life, pondering these questions will help you find your way to the new.
Phil Hohulin D.Min, is a grief counselor with the Hospice of the Miami Valley. The Hospice of the Miami Valley offers bereavement services to anyone in the community free of charge. Contact 937-458-6028 www.hospiceofthemiamivalley.org.