Nine months ago, my husband and I sold our beloved little Craftsman in our favorite Seattle neighborhood and moved to the suburbs. We needed to move—six people, four of them growing rapidly, in a two-bedroom house was becoming untenable. No, it was already untenable. I was at the end of my rope, and my sanity.
So we moved.
And I am still grieving. I miss my little house so much. I miss my old neighborhood. It doesn’t help that now it takes 45 minutes to visit my friends or that every third day, something in our new-to-us house breaks: the furnace, the electrical outlets in the kitchen, the dishwasher. Even the baseboards are falling off the walls.
I have raged and railed and grieved. I have given thanks and made (figurative) lemonade and tried to look on the bright side. I have beaten myself up with shameful words. I have hidden. I have half-hoped the house would burn to the ground. I have tried to let go of my anger and grief. I have pleaded with God.
But I am stuck in this house. I cannot go back. I cannot unmake the decision I made last summer.
After nine months I am still—still—grieving.
Three weeks ago, I got sick of it. I was tired of expending so much emotional energy on this dung-hill of a house. I was tired of being sad and angry. I was tired of spinning inside my own head, beating myself black-and-blue with might-have-beens and should-have-beens and what-ifs and if-onlys.
So I tried something new. I decided I would choose my response to this house, this move, this town, this life. I know I cannot change how I feel. But I can choose how I respond to how I feel. I can stop being afraid of my emotions. I can stop cowering before them. I can stop fearing that they will overwhelm me and ruin my life. I can stop telling them they’re not welcome, that they need to leave.
So I said to myself, “Little Kimberlee, I know you loved your little house. I know you miss it. I know you miss Seattle. I know you dislike—sometimes you even loathe—the thrice-weekly drive into the city. I know it’s painful to see your old neighborhood each week and not be able to live there. And it’s totally okay for you to be sad.”
I wrote those words down in my journal. I told the sad part of myself that she could grieve. I told her she could cry. I told her I would stop shaming her and let her feel what she needed to feel.
I told her I was no longer afraid of her sadness, her sorrow, her grief, or her guilt. I told her I would carry her sadness gently, tenderly. I apologized for refusing to be gentle with her, for belittling her grief, for beating her up, for dragging her to her feet and forcing her to march and move on.
I told her that from here on out, I would let her grieve until she was ready to move on.
But I also told her that I wasn’t going to let her grief rule me, that I needed to go about my days and love my kids and do my work and live my life even as she grieved. I told her I was sad, too—she is me, after all—but that I was going to transcend that grief, that I was going to find joy in the midst of her sadness, that I would look for the gifts of my life and be grateful for them, and that I would show them to her, not to cheer her up, but simply to remind her that there is life beyond her sadness.
I told her I would carry her gently, hold her tenderly, and trust that I am strong enough to walk with joy with her and her sadness in my arms. I told her I would laugh and live and love and that eventually, she would, too.
“But,” I said, “for now I’ll let you grieve. Till your grief runs its course, I’ll let you grieve.”
“In the meantime,” I told her, “I’m going to let both things be true at the same time: we’re going to feel grief and gratitude; we’re going to feel sad and sing a song of joy.” The crazy thing about this conversation I had with myself? It worked. I have grieved—I’ve probably cried more tears in the weeks since that conversation than in the months before it—but it’s simple sadness untinged by the guilt and shame that were forcing me in on myself, that were making me feel angry and trapped and helpless as well as sad.
We still live in our house with the broken furnace and the falling-off baseboards. I still live in the suburbs. Those things aren’t going to change anytime soon. But by inviting my grieving self to the table and feeding her on the milk of human kindness (as I would feed anyone else in her shoes), I no longer feel trapped by those things. By extending hospitality to a part of myself that I wished would go away, I have changed. Not a lot. Just a little. But that tiny little change?
It’s setting me free.