Fragile boxes, fragile heart: saying goodbye to our first home

Today is moving day.

It’s been nearly 3 months since we accepted the offer (before the ‘For Sale’ board was even up!) so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea.

Except that I haven’t got used to it. I’ve pretended that this day isn’t coming; and now it’s finally here, I feel devastated.

As I wander through the empty rooms, I feel the overwhelming need to catalogue every, tiny detail: every scuff on the paintwork, every nail in the wall; I want them all etched into my memory. I love this house, its marks and imperfections. Each one tells a story; our story.

When we bought it five years ago, I never imagined this would become the house I really grew up in. Tom and I were in the enviable position of being able to get onto the property ladder early doors and I moved in as soon as I finished university. Despite having been in a relationship for 6 years, it was our first time living together. After reluctantly giving up my childhood residence, and a nomadic few years with my parents, this house represented stability, security, but most importantly – home. A steadfast companion to bear witness to our life together.

In so many ways, this move feels premature: the house more than caters for our current needs and could no doubt see us through many years yet. We bought it very much with ‘long term’ in mind, and whilst we acknowledged its shortcomings (lack of storage, awkward layout, on-street parking) these were all issues which we (perhaps naively) felt could be overcome with a bit of home improvement and a healthy dose of gratitude. Sure, we’d probably outgrow it, but this idea that you constantly need to be chasing the next thing – bigger house, bigger car, better job – is the result of 21st Century consumerism, and we wanted to steer well clear of that thank you very much. This house has character, and history, and soul – properties like that just don’t come up in our town, at our budget, very often; we’d be fools to give it up. I joked with friends that Tom is so attached to No.17 he’d only ever leave it in a box, and genuinely believed that we would spend the majority of our lives here.

And we have LIVED in this house.

The empty bottle(s) by the back door signalling the end of the working week; Ray LaMontagne serenading our date nights in front of the fire; lazy Sundays of smoked bacon, coffee and all day pyjamas;  Christmas mornings spent nostalgically watching Father Christmas.

It was right here, on that spot in the lounge (just to the right of the ominous mark on the carpet) where Tom got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

The corner in the dining room where I sat on the floor at 3am trying to coax a 12 week old Rosie to sleep in her puppy crate; convincing myself that the cultural benefits of listening to Catriona Young’s Radio 3 show outweighed my need for sleep (sadly, they did not).

The step down to the bathroom, where I anxiously perched for a full five minutes, awaiting the emegence of those little blue  lines.

The spot in front of the fireplace where the afternoon sun floods the window, the perfect lighting for capturing Leo’s ‘milestone’ moments.

This house, so full of love and joy, has also been marred with sorrow; shadows of the life we would have had.

There was a time, in the dark weeks and months after Findlay died, when I felt I couldn’t stay here. How could I remain in the place where we were supposed to be a family? How could I ever be happy here, surrounded by the ghost of the life we were denied? All at once the house I loved, the house bought with dreams of drawings on the fridge, a sandpit in the garden, seemed empty and cold. I felt betrayed.

But No.17 didn’t let us down. It became our anchor: pulling us in close and absorbing my anger, my pain. The house morphed from the tomb of what might’ve been to a sanctuary where Tom and I could lay out our grief, acting as sentry when we couldn’t face the world outside.

Saying goodbye to Findlay was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I will never understand how I walked out of those hospital doors, clutching a memory box and Tom’s hand, my arms aching to hold the baby we were forced to leave behind. As Lang Leav so poignantly describes, losing Findlay was like hearing every goodbye ever said to me—said all at once; every sadness and loss connecting together to create an all-consuming supernova of grief and sorrow.

I remember thinking at the funeral that if I could get through today then nothing would ever be this difficult again. No loss, no sadness, could ever come close to the magnitude of seeing the tiny, white coffin of your child being laid into the ground. Nothing in the world could ever break my heart again; it had already suffered catastrophic damage.

But it turns out I was wrong.

Rather than Findlay’s death numbing me to any other loss, it has made me more vulnerable to its pain. The thought of leaving this house shakes that web of goodbyes and I find myself catapulted back to the nucleus of grief; it’s like reliving all those losses all over again. Just like after Findlay, I feel cast into the abyss; scrambling in the darkness. I don’t know where we go from here.

A broken heart is a fragile thing. The fracture lines remain visable long after you’ve pieced it back together again; weak points, threatening to crack open again at any moment. It will always need to be handled with care.

It seems silly to mourn bricks and mortar, but this house is saturated with our life and – more importantly – with our love. Findlay existed here. It’s where I carried him, where we made plans for him, where we grieved for him. We have breathed him into every corner. The memories, the hopes, the love we have for him, have all been immortalised in its walls and fibres.

And perhaps this is what scares me, what makes moving out seem so impossible. The fear that by leaving the home where he was conceived and carried, the house where all of our memories of him are grounded, we are somehow leaving him behind too. I read that a house is the vessel which holds our memories, so does that mean you risk leaving one behind when you move?

Of course, these memories don’t belong to the house – they are ours, and we will take them with us. After Findlay’s death, I sought comfort in the words of E. E. Cummings; just like Findlay’s heart, all these memories will be carried to our next home.

But your first home is more than just a vessel; I love the very bones of this structure. Even with all our possessions boxed up and loaded onto the van, all the components and accessories of our life removed, I still feel comforted by the sense of home here.

Because this house has loved us too. It has been our most faithful of friends. It has sheltered us and held us. It has shared our grief and celebrated our joy. In a relatively short space of time it has seen me transformed: I arrived an idealistic graduate, with a head full of dreams and a hangover. I’m leaving a wife and mother, with an abundantly fuller heart and nursing an altogether different pain.

This is the house I really grew up in.

In this house I learned to love with a depth and strength beyond all measure.

I learned that even the most shattered of hearts has the capacity to grow and be renewed.

I learned that I can survive; that from the wreckage I can gather up the fragments of my life and piece them together.

For all these things, and more, I am eternally grateful.

Saying goodbye is never easy, I just didn’t realise a house could break your heart.

Perhaps houses can’t, only homes.

Our house on the day we moved in