My husband and I became engaged a few months after moving out of our cohabited rental apartment.  He was visiting me from his new job and temporary apartment on the East coast; I was roughly 900 miles west of him with a one-semester gig, living in a rental room within a house of students.  We giggled nervously about our lack of communal abode, and then I said, with love-struck naivete, "Home is where you are."


It was one of those developments were you got to pick your model, and within, some variables of your new house.  We thought we lucked out with location (down a long driveway off the road, backed up into a grove of trees with a creek and trailhead beyond), and set about selecting tiles and cabinet faces.

It was a unique, open floor plan with quirks -- not your typical prefab house -- and yet, it never felt like ours.  We made decisions with an eye toward resale.  Even though my husband had just started a job here, and I moved my dissertation writing to my new office, we never thought we'd be there forever.  (That said, we had no idea where on earth we might otherwise be.)   We chose white where I would have preferred color; tan where I would have preferred black.  It was pretty, composed, and put together.  I cringed every time I put a nail in the wall for a picture.  It wasn't us.  

From my windows I espied foxes, deer, and turtles.  Woodpeckers, blue heron, cardinals, finches, the occasional hawk.  We welcomed our dog Max into our home here.  The bedroom where I lay despondent after discovering I was miscarrying was a lovely deep blue-gray with high ceilings.  I labored with Bella all night in the living room, my cat Tucker (who had journeyed from the midwest with us) by my side.  We brought Bella home here, through our attached garage.  She had a lovely yellow westward-facing room on the second floor.  We dreamed of another baby here.  And yet, the house lacked soul.

When I pulled out of the driveway for the last time, Bella in the backseat, 12 weeks pregnant with Maddy, I got a little teary, but I realize it was probably stress more than anything.  I left behind no close friends, and save for one, no fabulous neighbors.  The memories that occurred in that house were less tied to the house and its structure as much as they were simply knotted up with my life.


I realized I wanted to live in my current home about 10 feet beyond the front door.  It was warm.  Even though it was enormous, it was comfortable.  It felt like an old sweater. (A one-hundred year old sweater, in fact.)  It had soul.

We moved and I immediately began taking down wallpaper and painting and choosing what I wanted -- this was my forever house.  I picked bold colors.  Defiantly nailed holes in the walls where I wanted my stuff.  To this day I find myself staring at features -- the window on the second floor landing, the arched, leaded windows around the front door.  The dutch doors, the views of the yard out the southern-facing windows.  The beautiful renovated master bathroom we inherited.  And some mornings -- even one I distinctly remember only days after Maddy died -- I often find myself stopping in my tracks, staring out of a window thinking, "I can't believe I live here."


I knew from experience that the baby wouldn't sleep in a separate room until at least six months of age, so we never set one up before she came.  But I had it mind -- the two back to back rooms on the third floor with the cute window seats, funky angled ceilings, and amazing night views would house my children.  We'd re-do the god-awful third floor bathroom, and I could hear bathtime in my heart, bouncing off new white and glass blue tiles.  Tucking one in, padding a few feet over, and then the other.  The big room on the second floor, across from our bedroom, where Bella slept for the moment, would become the playroom.  I envisioned moms sitting on the U-shaped bank of window seats warming their backs in the window while children played on the floor in front of us.

I am thankful I did not have to take anything down, close a door, or redecorate.  My father quickly dismantled the bassinet we had set up next to our bed, and chucked it in the attic.  Thus ended any physical presence of Maddy in our house.

Bella remained in her room, the would-be-playroom, and does to this day.  Maddy's would-be room  is now my husband's office, which was not a difficult transition seeing as we never even painted.  The god-awful bathroom is still god-awful.  Bella's would-be-room is her incomplete playroom, a project I started with a vengeance, but now have trouble finishing, wondering about the permanence of sky blue paint and those pesky nail-holes.

Don't get me wrong, a large part about why I love living here lies just outside of these four stone walls.  My new neighbors are the best I've ever had in my life.  The medical community in my new location is top drawer.  We're closer to family than we were in the other house.  

But when Maddy died there was never a question about whether we were staying or moving.  And a large part of that, was the house.  Maybe it was because she never saw it, she didn't literally die here.  Maybe it's because I was fortuitous enough not to have painted or decorated or moved furniture or even set up a changing station.  Maybe it was because her presence was never given enough time to make this its home, that the house does not make me miss her more.  Maybe it is because home, the dilapidated shotgun version with both doors blown wide open so you can see right through from one  yard to the other, with the wind-stripped walls and craggy, leaky roof, barely covering my family huddled under a table, lies within my heart.

I know people who have moved from their houses when disaster struck, and were blessedly relieved to leave that part of their life behind.  Growing up, I knew a family who designed a home with their two children in mind -- and one died of cancer shortly after they moved in.  They sold it.  I remember thinking I could never live in a house where a room was already designated, if that person had ceased to be.  I know people who would probably love to move from where they are, to escape those ghosts of rooms stark empty, but the current housing market or jobs won't allow it.  (But then, I'm also asking, given the chance, would you move anyway?  Was the death just a push out the door?)  I know people who have moved because it hurts too much to wake up to the familiar, and seemingly cursed, sense of empty.

I feel extremely fortunate that my house welcomed me back from Children's Hospital on a bone-chilling February night, and never let up its embrace.  There should be more footsteps here.  Another voice.  Another occupied room.  More toys littering the stairs.  Maybe it's because she was never here; maybe it's because the house is so full of ghosts to begin with that Maddy gets lost in the cacophony.  

What was your relationship to your house after your child(ren) died?  Had you already created a space for them?  What happened to that space?  Did you move or wish you could to escape the memories that are intricately tied with the space in which you live?