When Death Moves In: grief after a death in the home

Before we get started, I just want to give a quick heads up about the content of this post. We’re going to be talking about death and grief in the home. To do that topic justice, it means we talk about some very specific details of people dying at home, both expectedly and unexpectedly. If you’re coping with difficult memories, images, or trauma around watching someone die, finding someone deceased, etc you may want to make sure you are in the right physical and mental space before reading on.

My sister’s boyfriend died of a drug overdose in my family’s sun room. If you’re a regular around here you probably know that. You probably also know that my dad died in an ICU in a hospital when I was 18, several years before. Because my dad’s death didn’t happen at home, I hadn’t thought a lot about how death consumes physical space. I thought about how grief and memories consume space; I knew there were places where I felt like I could still “see” my dad. I would walk into the sunroom and anticipate him sitting in “his” seat on the sofa. I would glance out onto the driveway, see his car, and think to myself “oh, dad’s home!” and then would immediately think, “oh no, dad’s not home, he’s dead”. But until John died, I hadn’t thought about how a death itself can live in a space. I didn’t realize how completely similar but totally different that is.

The night John died, I got the call and rushed home from work to find my sister sobbing on the porch. She had come home just a little before and found him.  Though it was much too late, she called 911, pulled him to the floor and started CPR. By the time I arrived the paramedics were there and he had been pronounced dead, but he couldn’t be moved until the medical examiner arrived. I can picture John’s body now as clearly as that day, when I walked into the living room he was laying on the floor, motionless. His defining brown curls faced me, and I just stood there, lost. I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing to do.  We had to wait nearly two hours for the medical examiner’s office to arrive.

When my dad died we all gathered around his hospital bed.  In college I volunteered for a hospice so my only context for home deaths were in hospice beds, with support and family. In this moment I was surrounded by paramedics I had never met, who seemed as uncomfortable as I was upset. I wanted to touch John, to hug him. I don’t know if they paramedics told me that wasn’t okay to do or if I just assumed it wasn’t, but I didn’t touch him. I just stood there and stared while the image of his body and his curls, laying on that floor, burned into my brain.  It became clear later that, during that time, John’s death moved into that space for me.  For months I would picture his body on the floor every time I came down the stairs and walked into that room.  I would avoid sitting there because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the image of him on the floor.  Until writing this post I never asked my sister about her experience in the space.  When I called her to ask I barely had to finish the question.  She immediately knew what I meant, the trauma the room held for years.  Yet we never talked about then, never considered what (if anything) we could do about it.

In the years since we have worked with countless clients and families whose loved ones died at home. Some were anticipated hospice deaths. Others were unexpected, some traumatic. No matter the type of loss, time and again we hear people share their feelings that the deaths that occur in the home resides in the space.  Even with the best and most dignified and supported of deaths, these memories and feelings in the space can sometimes feel overwhelming to manage.

We wish you could provide you the magic answer. We wish we had checklist of solutions that would clear your space of the difficult death memories to open the space for all the other, wonderful memories. Sadly, that isn’t how it works. What we can do is talk about some suggestions, tips, and ideas and think through the benefits and considerations.

#1 Change Everything

Sometimes this takes the shape of moving, sometimes this takes the shape of getting rid of all the old furniture, decorations, and photographs and creating a newly decorated space.

Benefits
Sometimes the triggers are just too much and this feels like the best and only option. Depending on the situation, you may still need to deal with the traumatic memories with the support of a counselor. Radically changing the physical environment can make it easier to manage those difficult emotions in the moment by reducing triggers.

Considerations
Many of these radical changes are not easy. Also, they can be hard to undo if you rush and then regret it. Once you have sold you home, given notice on a lease, or moved out you often can’t go back. It can also be hard to get back items you have given or thrown away, or otherwise change things back once after the fact.  Finally, sometimes you think changing everything will help and it doesn’t, which can feel like a waste of time, money or energy.

#2 Change nothing

Fear of losing memories, whether they are positive or negative memories, can be strong.  It can be appealing to leave things exactly the same to keep a connection with your loved one and those memories.

Benefits
Beyond the fact that this option prevents you from having to do much work, it also can succeed in keeping the connection with the person who died.  It can also provide a sense of familiarity that is appealing when so many other things feel foreign.

Challenges

As you might imagine, changing nothing can bring up overwhelming grief triggers every time you walk into a specific space.  This can be hard at first though, in some cases, that distress turns to comfort with time.

#3 Make some changes

No surprise, some people don’t want a full change, but they don’t feel good leaving things exactly the same either.  In this case, small changes may be the solution.  Things like a coat of paint or rearranging furniture are sometimes just enough.

Benefits

This can be both logistically manageable while also providing just the right amount of shift to help your brain focus on more positive memories (or at the very least not immediately trigger the most painful death memories).

Challenges

It can be hard to know how much is enough, what is too much, and what to change. Also, as with any of these, if other people live in your home (or feel an emotional attachment to it) may have their own opinion about what you should or shouldn’t do to change things. It is important to do what works for you while also communicating.

#4 Make thoughtful changes

If you decide to go with some changes, think them through and decide what will help.  If the death itself seems to have taken over the space, you aren’t going to change that overnight.  You can move things into the space that bring up more positive memories, or that shift your focus.  Maybe it is photographs of wonderful times together that you have enlarged and framed.  Maybe it is introducing a color or artwork that brings you a sense of calm or that reminds you of your loved one. Whatever you decide to do, take your time and consider the idea that you cannot change or eliminate the devastating loss that occurred in the space.  What you can do is think of how to make room for other things.

As always, we would love to know your experiences, tips, and thoughts!  Leave a comment to let us know if you have dealt with a home death and how you’ve coped. 

October 11, 2017

39 responses on "When Death Moves In: grief after a death in the home"

  1. I lost my husband 4 weeks ago from cancer. He was 66 years old. He was only diagnosed in September so we had very little time to really understand what was happening before he actually passed away but the one thing he was definite about was that he wanted to die at home. There was no way he was going into a hospice and, although I was hesitant about being able to care for him at home, I wanted to do everything for him that I could.

    The end came much more quickly than I thought possible and he died in my arms in our spare bedroom – we’d moved in there because it has an en suite and we thought it would be easier for him as he became weaker so he wouldn’t have to walk as far to go to the toilet or have a wash.

    I thought that it would make the house unbearable to live in if he died here. I didn’t think I would be able to stay here after he died because I would always feel his death here.

    In fact, it’s the opposite. The house feels warm and calm. I can feel him still here, just out of sight. I know that he loved me and only wanted good things for me so how could his presence here be anything but comforting? It’s difficult, sometimes, to go into that bedroom now, but I make myself go in there at least once a day to “demystify” it and try to make it just another room in the house. It will always be the room where my beloved died, but in a way, that makes it a special room, not something to be afraid of.

    I miss him so much. The pain is unbearable. Each day that passes, however, means I’m another day closer to being with him again. He was my soulmate and I can’t see myself living for too much longer without him – I can’t eat or sleep properly and the only reason I get up every morning is that I have to look after the cat. He told me that we promised her a forever home and I have to stay here and take care of her for the rest of her life. I know we’ll be together again, though. We promised each other that we would be together “not just in this life, but for all our lives to come, for as long as our love shall last” and I believe that promises like that have power. I’m not actively going to harm myself but I’m looking forward to my own ending, however it comes, so that we can start our new incarnations together.

  2. One week before I was set to move across the country in May, my father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. After 8 years of living on my own I decided to move back in with my parents and help with his care. My mom had been adamant on him dying at home so that is what we planned for. It was so hard taking care of him that summer, our worlds got smaller and smaller and for days on end we wouldn’t leave the house. I remember so clearly being woken up at 3am by my mother as she told me he had finally passed. That was October 14, 2017. We had many conversations about how we may react and what would make us feel most comfortable in that moment. We waited for 6 hours for the doctor and funeral home to come pick up his body. I spent most of that time outside on the porch because it was too hard to be inside. The air was hot and still, and the smell made me feel sick. I went up to see him a few times. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be as I had seen him confined to that bed in my parents room for the past few months. As soon as they took his body away we had to clean and air out the house. My mom insisted on rearranging her room and getting rid of all medical equipment right then and there. We agreed that the past 6 months were not the way we wanted to remember him or our lives together. Everything in this house reminds me of him. His favourite chips in the pantry. His writing on the calendar. His shoes in the front hall. It was my 26th birthday this past weekend and not having him there to celebrate was so painful. I do find the house still comforting and I know I will eventually move back out on my own. I often see him sitting in his favourite chair next to his record player, that’s how I remember him best.

  3. My uncle died in February ,2012 he name was John Sidney Moore I woke up one day and the house was all quiet and it never usually was there was his telly on where he would be watching something , anyway this day the flat was so eerily quiet and the thing was my curtains was closed and he was always up earlier than me so it felt strange as I opened the curtains and went to his bedroom I found him on the bed he passed away and was very blue .my first thought was to sit beside and say goodbye and say that at least he would not be in pain anymore he was 80 when he died .The family had given him a surprise party the year before as his 80 th was in the October of that year.i called a paramedic and my mum and dad (when he was alive we lost him this year in january) and told them that my uncle had died (he was my mum’s brother) they both came straight away all of them paramedic included and he was declared dead straight away and had been for some hours .my mum and dad stayed with me for most of the day that day along with the paramedic and the police eventually because it had been quite a while since my uncle had seen a doctor .
    The shock stayed with me for months and I found I couldn’t walk past his bedroom for fear of looking in and in my mind’s eye seeing him on the bed lying there .I eventually got past that but I comfort ate so much that I ballooned to over 18 st with the grief .in the end I started to lose the weight and redecorated his bedroom and made it into gym for me but it took me four years to get over it .I still have a picture a small one that he had in there which I put back up so he was still there in a way .I still think of him now and then when I am working out .

  4. My son died suddently in my great room,this room I am always in.His poor dad broke in my home when i was on vaca.& found him blue gone 16 hrs.kneeling…so sad..most times I feel at peace but lately I worry that he never realized was happened…2-27-17 he apparently was on phone n collapsed..

  5. My husband had a heart attack and died suddenly at work.

    • My husband of 17 years died of a heartattack as we we were beginning to make love in our bed. He had no prior problems and it was very sudden. He was 49 years old. This was in may of this year. Everyday I go through the motions of life but feel something different on the inside. I changed the furniture around in our bedroom and tore out carpet and put a hardwood floor in. I still see him and hear the noises he made as it hit him. I will never get that out of my mind.

      • Shelly Ferraro I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my husband 17 months ago sudden heart attack on our bed. He was only 52 and we had been married 28 years. I certainly can relate to the noise made by my husband. I still cannot get it out of my mind. I did purchase a new bed and changed a few things. I sleep on the couch most nights. God bless you and everyone on here. I pray God gives us all the comfort we need.

  6. mmMy wife of 24 years and 43 days died on 24th July this year. Last year on October 11th she was diagnosed with brain cancer GBM grade 4. The doctors told me that she has 2 years to live. But she survived just for 9 months. Her last few months were terrible. She had lost her speech some 6 months back and couldn’t eat. She had to put on a food tube and started losing weight. She couldn’t move much and was soon bedridden which resulted in bed sores. She also had fungus infection in her mouth and thrombosis besides other ailments. Prior to her illness she was very fit and 6 days in a week we would walk 5 kms daily. Her last days were very painful as she suffered a lot but couldn’t express it. She died after several hours of struggled breathing. Even though I knew she won’t live long I am unable to except her death as a reality. I could see her suffering in silence and couldn’t do anything to help. The doctors had given up on her one month prior to her death. The grief is unbearable and I cry very often. Everything reminds me of her especially the bedroom where she died. She was the only person I loved more than anything else on this earth. She has left a deep vacuum which I think will never be filled.
    I am very grateful for all the people who have shared their grief. It has made me feel that I am not alone in this difficult journey. I am greatly encouraged by knowing how each one is trying to cope up with their grief. But one thing is for sure. The pain is mine and the sorrow is mine.

    • Daniel sorry for your loss I bet your sick of hearing that, I lost my husband in March this year. He died with me by his side holding his hand in our bedroom in a hospital bed. I have never seen death in person let alone hold their hand. It wasn’t long but the gurgle sound I can still here it was so hard to watch then he dropped one tear down his face that leaves me with the most pain. I slept in the room that night and following till this day. There are no comforts to bring other then from God. Ask for peace and comfort in your grief and he will provide trust me take your time.

      • Nina,
        I also just lost my husband on June 20th, after being diagnosed on May 20th this year, with 4th stage stomach cancer.
        He also came home with hospice help.
        My daughter and I laid by his side as he passed. As we both weeped knowing we were going to loose him within hours…
        Our precious Lord put my daughter and I both to sleep next to him. When we woke up he was gone…..
        As hard as that was listening to him gurgle for air as his lungs were filling with fluid, I’m thankful that our prayers were answered and he went fast and didn’t suffer very much. I do find some comfort in that.
        It’s still soooo hard, like it was yesterday.
        Our “25th” anniversary is December 20th, go figure, exactly 6 months after his passing. I’m still devastated 😢

    • Hey Patrick I hope your better I’m the person who suggested God asking for peace and comfort I hope you took my suggestion and receiving the peace and comfort necessary in this process. Hold on stay strong I promise you will feel the ease take your time.

    • The love of my life brought me flowers the week we were moving to the property of our dreams to build a home and retire….He walked in, gave me the flowers, put them in a vase, said something was wrong and shortly after I went to him, dropped in front of me…
      I still see the flowers in the vase, feel his knees hitting mine as he collapsed, his arm reaching to mine as I give CPR, I see them dragging this force of a man across my floor and all the machines that were there, see the strangers frantically around me in the laundry room screaming questions, hear the hopelessness in their voice and see it on their faces, remember so very many things from this unexpected death of my high school sweetheart of 45 yrs and most giving man I ever knew. At 61 yrs, healthy and vital as anyone, he dropped, and our home forever changed….none of the precious memories of building the home and loving our life on this farm could cover the horror of what was that day. I am so sorry for your loss and the memory of it….sorry for everyone who knows the devastation of this hole in your being. I still wish a pact existed with God to take us both….seems only fair for how much we were one…

  7. After my 22 yr old son died from accidental overdose just 9 months ago in our guest bedroom, I gave away the entire bedroom set and replaced it with the one he had away at college . Now it’s like a new room but it has his bedroom furniture that was never there before. It’s comforting to go in there knowing the bed and all were from happy times at college!
    We also changed the way the room was set up like direction of bed, dresser etc. it’s now a happy place.
    I also took all his clothes and gave away some but kept our favorites and put them in his old bedroom closet which is now an office/spare room. So, you can choose to go in the walk in closet and spend time with his “stuff” but the rest of the areas are different and new. Feels much better! I did this rather quickly because I already planned to change the furniture when his lease was up at college just a month after his death. Just didn’t plan on him NOT being here with us…..so young but all of you have lost young people. Sad for everyone…
    Love love love to all and…
    HUGZ!

  8. Our son had Marfan, a genetic disorder that weakens connective tissue in arteries. Over a five year period he had two aortic dissections and was rescued each time by emergency surgery. That last major episode, he spent over 40 days in the ICU. They replaced his entire aorta with a synthetic one. He would never dissect again. He was, however, left weakened and unable to return to work so he moved in with us. Three days after his 41st birthday, he called out for help from his bedroom. We rushed upstairs to his room and followed a trail of blood to the bathroom where he was on the floor. He was drowning in his own blood. His pulmonary artery had burst and his lungs were filling up with his blood. While his mother tried to give him CPR, I called the ambulance and waited at the street to direct them in. He died that evening, March 18th, 2017.
    The following morning, I undetook the task of cleaning the bathroom and attempting to remove the blood stains from the carpet in his bedroom unsuccessfully. When his sisters arrive with their families for his memorial service, we gave them our bedroom and the spare while we into his room. We did not want them to see or have to sleep with the blood stains.
    Since then, his mother has moved back to our bedroom, but I have remained. We have made very few changes, but it may be time. Thank you for these suggestions. Perhaps we will be able to create a respectful place for our memories.

  9. my son was killed in a car accident 1 mile from his home. he was living 3500 km from me with his dad. they werent getting along and he wouldnt worry me with that. he was alone. his brother came to tell me. mass hysteria. i find out 2 years later it may have been suicide. i will never know. i will go to visit the spot again rest some flowers and come home to look at his picture and his urn. i loved him so much

  10. This is a great article. Thank you wyg. I am in deep grief over the loss of my 22 year old beautiful son to suicide. It is a heartbreaking journey. Only 4 months ago. I came home from work to discover the house locked and our door key not in its hiding place. I thought my son must have been out with his girlfriend as his car was still in the driveway and he forgot to leave the key. I climbed through a window and went to my bedroom and saw his bedroom door was closed and I could see some blue rope. In my daze/confusion I opened the door and couldn’t open it right open as he was slumped against it. I screamed out to him. This is seered in my mind of course. In my shock and numbness I managed to call my husband and the police and they called the paramedics. My husband arrived home before either. He was able to force my sons bedroom door open. Ill never forget his cries and howls. The experience is numbing. Having police and paramedics in your home and then family and friends appearing. Then by 10pm that night its just me and my husband and silence. It’s all too much for the mind to absorb. We have been through the unthinkable. My faith keeps us from crumbling. We are in counselling since. In my grief I find every information/resource I can get my hands on to assist and support me through this. As far as changing things around I didn’t go into his bedroom until a week and 1/2 later. I knocked on the door and said ‘It’s mummy darling, I’m coming in’ My heart was pounding but I needed to do this. His room was its usual messy state, bed covers strewn around and clothes. My darling never made his bed anyway so I removed the sheets and blankets and pillows like I always did on Saturdays and folded his clothes and talked to him through my tears. I continued to do this since and now air his blankets in the sun each week and dust his room. A neighbour bought a beautiful peace lily the day of his life celebration and that is in my sons room. We put a beautiful photo of him on his wall and each morning when I rise I go to his room I say ‘Good morning my darling I love you!’ and I open the curtains. My sons office faces the water where we live and its a nice bright room. He has all his personal possessions in there too. So we have 2 rooms full of his belongings. The office is hard to be in. His computer and guitar and clothes and gym bag and other personal effects. His degree he graduated last year in Exercise Science. So many memories. It hurts so much. I had to put some photos away as they were too painful. I know we will move one day. It is not the same home for us anymore. We lived here 16 years my son was 6 when we moved here. He is the youngest of our 3 children. My older children live not too far and are married. It is very hard here now. My husband and myself and the house is so quiet without our darling boy. We have wonderful memories here with our children growing up here. So many family joyous memories. I think about leaving but it frightens me too. The finality of it. Where to go?? Probably closer to where my daughter lives. It is too soon to move, we are still adjusting to life without our boy but I know we will do it one day. In the meantime we are thinking of replacing our old couch for a new model and some new cushions. It is really baby steps each day. The mind and heart battle everyday. Peace to all xo

  11. Interesting. I am at peace with where my son died. In my bed, my spot. He was not feeling well, fell asleep there so I used the spare bed a few feet away. I am not sure why or how, but it comforts me knowing that he was not under duress, simply went to sleep and never awoke. I still sleep there and similar to this story….waiting for medical examiner, his body on floor… etc. does not occupy the space as much as the memories of he and I watching tv in my room, playing games etc. do. All of grieving is awkward. I vividly recall all these moments with clear detail. Some good and others bad. I refuse to let the bad dominate. “If you contemplate the circumstances of death, then you must also remember how they lived.” quote from Joseph M. Marshall lll Grieving is hard permanent work. Living is hard work. Thanks for all those sharing these difficult times of their lives. It truly helps knowing we are not isolated in our sorrows.

  12. My Mom was murdered in her and my Dad’s home of 27 years and the home my 3 younger sisters and I grew up in. My youngest sister found her and my Dad entered the house and saw the massacure too.

    My sisters and I grew up on a farm in Kansas and spent many days “exploring” the fields and campouts on the trampoline staring at the bright star-filled sky. Home was a safe, secure, and loving place to retreat to from the world.

    Once the KBI released the farm and house back to our family, the whole farm seemed frightening. The five of us entered the house together for the first time. We walked past fingerprint soot, red tape, and sticky numbers placed throughout the house. No one spoke for a long time. Silence.

    It smelled like fear and blood. Fear seemed to permeate even the walls. Mom must have been so frightened. We arranged for a biohazard cleaning crew to come to the house, but we couldn’t wait on them. We knew where notes were that may have been helpful in the investigation and time is critical in those situations.

    We rounded a corner as a group and stared at the dried blood that covered the floor and splattered the walls. It was something straight out of a horror film.

    Weeks passed. No answers. We spent days in the house stripping carpet and repainting. But the house and farm were vacated before it got dark.

    We couldn’t sell the house- that was Home. And we live on a farm. We couldn’t burn the house and start over- there were lots of good memories there too.

    When my Dad wasn’t strong enough to move back, I did. Someone had to. I would never let our home slowly wear down and never hear laughter or feel love again. The person(s) may have taken our Mom and wife, but they will not take our lives too. It was a long, scary journey. But I was determined to win over the fear that filled the air.

    For months I stayed every weekend I came home. Slowly, I began to not cover every window with cardboard, or go through every room with protection before I would go to my room and stay there until the sunrise. I can remember the first time I allowed myself to shower when everyone else had left the house. I never had before because I wanted to hear Everything.

    We like ceremonies and gatherings in my family. …Holidays, birthdays, graduations, anything and everything. Why not hold a ceremony that invited our closest neighbors into our home and fill it with love again? I dubbed it ‘Bringing the Love back’.

    Turns out- this not only helped my Dad move back in, but the smelt fear seemed to vanish. We FILLED our home with people who loved our family. There was tons of food, laughter, and smiles. And the best part? The whole upstairs is a huge circle with rooms in the middle of it. We held hands and created a circle that literally touched every room of the upstairs. And we Prayed. That house and our family was blessed over so many times. I cry and smile remembering it.

    Being in our home seemed to be easier and easier after that. Holidays were hard. Birthday parties were hard. But we did it. Now, grandkids run through the house happily laughing often. Just like Mom would have liked it.

    I know every time I walk through the place she struggled and died. I think about her with every room I move around to. But this is Home.
    Our Home.

    • Gene bell, I love the idea of the “‘Bringing the Love back'” event so much….wow, I was really moved thinking about the strength this much have taken and also the extreme power I could imagine it had. Thank you so much for sharing

  13. My mom died here at the home (with hospice attending) we shared almost 4 months ago. For financial reasons we allowed a relative to move into her room right away. So I was forced to pack up her stuff. It was so hard. I cried the whole time. I gave away a couple items but most of it is in the garage and even though it’s been 4 months, I dread going through it. It has to be done. If I’d have had my way, her room would’ve stayed untouched for awhile. But maybe it’s just as well.

    In my mind, that room will always be her room. And even though everywhere I look are memories of her, I don’t want to move.

  14. Frank Panzer, your story is a little similar to mine. Can I get in contact with you by email?

  15. I have been a long time follower of your blog. This post, like the others who have responded, hit “home”. Our youngest son, Matt, died in our home. Matt was 22 years old when he died. He had his tonsils removed on Thursday and died the following Saturday evening. He had been sluggish all day and looking back, I should have taken him to the ER but my wife and I listened to the Dr. that performed his surgery and believed it was the pain medication. It was the toughest day of my life, trying to keep him alert, trying to keep him from swallowing his tongue, watching the paramedics try to revive him, waiting in the ambulance and watching the ER team try to revive him. Coming back into our house was difficult that night, we were numb. We could only think we could have done something to save him. Since Matt died at home and was under 30 years of age, the medical examiner had to perform an autopsy as required by law in our state. Our medical examiner’s office was in chaos and we had to use an attorney to get his body released to the funeral home the following Tuesday. We buried Matt not knowing why he died. We did not get the autopsy report until six months later, which delayed the life insurance benefits on his life. Matt died from streptococcal pneumonia, a very agressive and almost always fatal form of pneumonia.

    We still live in the same home. There are so many good memories of Matt in our home. We have replaced the sofa he died on but still have not been able to go through his things, just too emotional for my wife. Matt died seven years ago and there are days it was as if it were yesterday. We miss him so much.

    Please keep your blog going. It truly helps me.

  16. Me too. My husband died here at home, in the house we’d moved to less than nine months earlier. He had come home less than 36 hours earlier, after three weeks of palliative care in the hospital only 300 yards from our door. Friends had been with us constantly in that time and there was a house full (or so it felt) for his final hours, with friends holding his hand, touching him, stroking him, talking quietly to him though he was not conscious.

    As soon as the initial outpourings of grief and tears were abating, one of us called in the nursing service who came to “tidy him up” and they took on the responsibility of contacting the duty doctor. . . Something went wrong with that system, and he didn’t arrive for six hours. So we sat quietly in the next room, talking and not talking, thinking we would eat something but not being hungry, for all that time. I set candles around him in the shadowed room, and we would go in occasionally to talk to him . . .

    Because of the arrangement of rooms in this house, Stuart’s last minute bedroom was the living room. It’s now reverted to its initial function, with furniture as we initially had it set up. I don’t still see the hospital bed, there, in my imagination, which is good: I’ve moved his favourite chair that he chose to sit in, before he was bedridden – it’s in another room now. I don’t use it.

    We didn’t have long together here in this house and for a lot of the time after we moved in, Stuart was in and out of hospital so in a way there’s not a host of memories in the corners. I have no idea whether this is helping me or not.

  17. My husband died in our home. He was in hospice, he had dementia, he collapsed on the floor next to bed in the bedroom. That has been 6 months ago and I just can’t get that image out of my head. He died 4 days later after collapsing on the floor.

  18. My 18 year old granddaughter took her own life in my living room. Shot herself by my Christmas tree….Hazmat took my entire tree…I had to redo floors and furniture…At first I did not know if I could even ever live in the house again or anywhere for that matter…..but I did..and now I do cherish the prior memories at my home with her…I try really hard not to think of the ending….I did redo with bright colors ….birds….went from carpet to hardwood..etc….I was not able to put up a Christmas tree last year as it was the first Christmas since..I lost even my sentimental decorations…I do have peace of mind over it for the most part and I try to concentrate on her life and her in Heaven…as to not lose what we had between us as it was so special!! She was a victim of bullying from 14-15 and never healed from it….your suggestions are excellent. LOVE EVERYBODY!…. IS ON MY FRONT DOOR…SHE LEFT IN HER NOTE SPREAD THE MESSAGE LOVE EVERYBODY!

  19. Thank you for this article. Whilst my Mum died in Hospital the topic touched me and resonated. The fact is that watching my Mum die was traumatic, that I relived the last days / hours / minutes /seconds many times, and continue to do so. A commenter mentions terminal agitation and I agree, it is an important subject that needs to be discussed. I was lucky that I had read about it so I understood what it was when it happened, but it was traumatic to witness. Her death would be considered peaceful but waiting for it and watching it, wishing it to be over with yet being terrified for it to come …. those moments will be etched in my mind’s eye for ever. Leaving her at the Hospital was also traumatic, wondering how long her body was left in the side room, was she cared for in death …. I found myself in tears driving past the building recently, over a year on after her death. Visiting her flat in the weeks and months afterwards was also traumatic. At times it was comforting but mostly it was painful to be in the space that she no longer filled. I also had the picture in my mind of her being taken out of the flat for the first time by paramedics and I think she knew, and I knew, that she would never return.
    I am grateful that I did not find her dead in her flat, I often had thoughts that it might be the case when I visited. I think I would have always had unanswered questions about her last moments if that had been so, and as awful as it was, I am glad I know what happened at the end.
    Thank you for this article.

  20. My husband of 34 years died in our bed, after a three year battle with lymphoma. Rather than a gentle fading away, his death was sudden and dramatic. Although he was in hospice, he was remarkably functional. In the end, his heart gave out. It had been damaged by one of his chemo drugs. His heart stopped, and he died gasping for breath. It was so hard for me to accept that there was nothing to do for him but be there. While waiting for the undertakers, a small group of family, friends and our pastor gathered. We said our good-byes and a prayer. After the funeral home took his body, my dear friends flipped the mattress and changed the sheets for me. This was my bedroom. I would have to sleep in it again eventually, so why not now. My closest friends vowed to take turns sleeping with me until I was comfortable enough to tell them to go away. That lasted about a month, but it was much longer than that before I could look at my bed and not relive those awful final moments. I rearranged the furniture and bought new, more feminine bedding. It’s been almost 6 years since his passing and he still fills this house that we built together. I’ve made some changes to the house and landscaping. I like to think he would approve. The painful memories fade slowly as I create new, loving memories here.

  21. My Husband died of stage four cancer and did not die at home but at a hospice facility. but even after almost two years I still feel close to him and also talk to him with in my writings I have become very comfortable with the memories I have of him. He pass away April 14 2016 but no mater how far the distance apart we are we are still connected and I hear him call out to me in the middle of the night. We had a very strong love for each other, his last words to me was I Love You.

  22. My husband died of colon cancer in our living room with with close family after a 19 month illness. He died Oct 5 2011. My 38 year old son died last Oct 3 2016 of pancreatic cancer. He lived in the downstairs separate unit from the top floor of the house. I took care of both of them, along with my family, my sister and her daughter were present at both of their deaths. Hospice was in and out. My son suffered with terminal agitation in the last weeks of his life. It is very difficult watching what you perceive is a healthy person lose their ability to stand, sit, walk, talk in a two month period of illness. (What’s Your Grief could write about ‘terminal agitation’ – it is very common in the dying.)
    I’m selling my house now and should be moving that first week of October 2017.

    My sister always would say at the beginning of October after my husband died, “Greg (my husband) is trying to ruin October.” She said it sort of tongue in cheek. After my son was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I said to her “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” But I refuse to let their deaths ruin the fall for me. I am trying like hell to ‘celebrate’ and honor my family. I’m moving to the sierra foothills near my mom and my family to begin a new chapter. I want to be closer to my family of birth and I need to be out of this house. I love my house and home and it’s difficult to leave it after 27 years. But I put a fork in it. I’m done.

    I am still in tremendous grief over my son. I cry daily. I sobbed earlier today while washing dishes. He was one of my best friends and it was absolutely heart-breaking to witness his death. Reading all these other stories is very powerful as far as this stuff happens and we need to figure out how to cope or we are as good as dead dwelling in sadness and the horrible loss of our family members.

    I tell myself (to ease some of my sadness) that my son and my husband would be pleased and proud of my decisions to move. They would not want me to suffer and using that idea helps to put things in perspective. I also use pinterest (grief category) and that helps with the grief process. I’ve used it also to help me focus on a “dream home” and a “leaving home” category for inspiration. There are a lot of grievers out in the world. I am so grateful we can share and learn from other people’s experiences even if those experiences are sad. Loss, grief and joy are all part of life. We have to learn to share, listen and cope so we can keep living and help others in their suffering.

  23. My husband died on our kitchen floor of an aneurysm on St Patricks Day 2003.. My 16yr old daughter came home for lunch and found him. She called 911 and was told to perform CPR. I did not know this. When I came home the ambulance and Police were there. I went in and saw him there and knew he was gone. It was only 3 days later that my daughter cried in my arms because she could not save him. I didn’t know until she told me about the dark color of the skin under his back that he had been gone for at least 2hrs – she could not have saved him. For a few weeks every time I walked into the house I could see his lifeless body laying there. It was not possible to change the area because it was right in the doorway of the kitchen in front of the stove. My daughter did so well. We talked about his death often to give all of my kids a chance to process. This was 15yrs ago. Recently when on a drive with my daughter I asked if she ever sees him lying there when she goes into the house. She replied “every single time”. We still own the home and my youngest daughter, who was 8 at the time of her dad’s death, lives there. When we go for family gatherings I sometimes have a fleeting picture of him in my mind but it is not a painful one. I think the one thing that saved me was the fact that I had been an EMT for 10yrs so had witnessed death on numerous occasions. I knew “death happens” and accepted the fact that my husband had died. I’m just amazed that my daughter has not shown or expressed any long lasting effects. I think too that because we talked about it and (even though this sounds weird) we had her lay down in the position she found him – this helped us process what had happened. On the 1st anniversary of his death we sat and went through the events of the day again. I think it helped her sisters understand what she had went through and helped everyone keep his memory alive. We also remember to speak of him often. My middle daughter once said “mom, its like dad was never here, nobody talks about him but us”. It is so important to not bury the death of a loved one. Talk about the good times and honor them.

  24. My mother-in-law of blessed memory died in our hallway. We couldn’t move. There was nothing we could change. It was a trauma for my 18 yr old daughter, and then for my husband to arrive at home to find his mother gone, although she had AFib back in the days when there was nothing one could do for it. Time healed the wound as much as time can.

    Though my late husband didn’t die in our apartment, he had Alzheimers and to this day I can still “see” him pacing like a caged lion in the weeks before he entered Assisted Living. From there he went to a “Behavioral Unit” (euphemism for a gruesome mental hospital where they could not help him) and then into a hospice bed. I am moving from that apartment next week. In the meantime, I am living in my new apartment, having moved what I need most to the new place. Even my little dog feels better in this new place. He has brightened considerably since moving here. It was only then that I realized how much this little dog was grieving.

    Do what your heart tells you to do. If you must stay in your apartment for awhile (I stayed almost 18 months.) or your house, perhaps you can move furniture around, get slip covers for furniture, get a new rug and pillows, do so. Go to the beach or to some place where you and your significant other DIDN”T go on vacation together. If you feel the heaviness return when you return home, that’s a clue that perhaps a move out of the environment is a good idea.

    G-d bless you. It’s a tough decision on this journey.

  25. My husband died unexpectedly while sitting on his couch-recliner, a glass of wine at his side, the 5 o’clock news on the tv and one of his favorite baseball hats on his head (well, that had fallen off as his head lolled to the side after death). I have lived in a sort of disassociated state since then, seeing the couch where he died, the floor where I pulled his ever-so-heavy dead weight to the floor to perform CPR, the fire department working loudly to break down my front door and screen, them dragging his body from the den into the middle of the kitchen/dining area where they worked on him for at least 1/2 hour-45 minutes-a life time. I chose not to change anything at first. His pants still hang on the back of the bathroom door, the towel he used in the bath still hangs on the hook behind the other bathroom’s door, his jacket still hangs on the hook in the closet. Other things of his I’ve gone through and given away. Some things went to his children and grandchildren. Everything else remains as I work through sorting and cleaning and clearing 33 years of our relationship together and 30 years in this home. I seem to clean and sort and shuffle and then simply rearrange things. It’s so hard to let go when I’m alone…my family no longer includes me in their lives, less my brother who is 1500 miles away but has been my best supporter in the family, even at a distance. This grieving alone sucks.

  26. My husband died in his sleep from low blood sugar the night of our daughter’s wedding. Our alarm clock went off in the morning and he didn’t respond so I got up and turned it off. I got back in bed and suddenly “knew” he was not alive. I placed my hand on his back to see if he was breathing. He was cold. I was in shock. I hugged him and rubbed his back and told him I love him. Luckily his best friend had spent the night so I was not alone. I called our daughter and told her she needed to come by the house before they set off for the day. While I waited I lay in bed with my husband. Fast forward a couple of months and I repainted my bedroom and bought a new bed. I made the room a bit girly and I was happy I did. I get through life after Dave by focusing on the good life and fun times we had together rather than bemoaning what is gone and will never be. I consider myself very blessed to have had 20 years with my friend and biggest supporter.

  27. I’m currently going through this, but it’s a little different, as I’m not living there… but was the house my parents built together and the only home I ever knew. My mother died in the kitchen, and was there for a while before the police found her. (and only a year and a half later after my Dad passed away) While I’m not the one that found her, it’s still traumatic for me to visualize her laying on the kitchen floor, and took me years to get that image out of my head every time I went to bed. I’m also an only child. To make matters worse, she was a “clean” hoarder, and there were so many things in the house to clean up. It’s been four years, and twenty, 20 yard dumpsters later and we’ve renovated many things in the house – new floors, new appliances, newly painted walls, cabinet refacing, etc. I felt like I HAD to do it, because I owed it to my mom (and dad) to make it right. It addition, there was much childhood trauma for me in that house, again a PTSD situation for me involving my mom and dad…Over time, the voices have disappeared, and now we have put up the house for sale, but it’s still SO hard imagining people in OUR house. After all the work, we’ve had to still reduce the price in order to get interest as there are still many issues with the house. When I got our first offer which was yesterday, I had a huge panic attack. I feel like I’m doing something wrong by letting go, even though we have to move on. But letting go feels like I’m letting them go. Each room, each doorway, each area of the house brings it’s own memory. I can visualize them still sitting in the bedroom on the bed, or standing at the mirror in the bathroom…. so at the same time, I’m doing something right, while I feel like I’m doing something wrong… it’s a very hard situation…

  28. This article hits so close to home. I wish you would talk about this topic more often. I found my 25 yr. old son dead laying halfway in his room and half of his body out in the hall. This image is seared in my brain. He died of an overdose of heroin. Had graduated from an university in biology only a year earlier. I have gotten a lot of therapy just over this topic. After two years we finally sold the home and moved. What I didn’t realize just two years after my loss, I had just increased my stress levels (moving to a new town) and lost close connection to my friends who had been there for me through the toughest days. But after about a year, I settled in and made new friends. The friendships were different from my past ones, because many of my old friends knew my son and this was comforting. My new friends shy away from the topic as if death of a child is contagious. I was diagnosed with PTSD many years ago in my early 30s due to childhood trauma. The trauma of finding my dead son made my PTSD much worse. It has taken a lot of work to get where I am now, fewer flashbacks and better memories coming now. Please don’t treat finding a dead loved one in your home as something you just have to live with, get some help! Of course, this situation is going to affect people differently in all directions, but please don’t suffer for years. EMDS therapy and counselor therapy helped me tremendously. When I found my son, rigor mortise had already set in, I knew then rationally that he was gone but my heart wouldn’t let me give up. My husband and I did CPR and then the paramedics took over. I was surprised that they even tried but pronounced him dead not long after trying. It seems like they tried for an hour but I know that is just in my mind, it just seemed to go on forever. So many parents find their dead children in the home due to accidents, overdoses, etc. Society needs to support these people, but again society has a lot of strides to make in the grief area too.

  29. My Mom died by suicide in our home, in our garage, in 1984, and my then young kids found her. My husband and I could not afford to sell our house and move, so we stayed. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision for my children, but at the time, there was nothing we could do. My husband and I lived in that house for an additional 14 years. My children went from feeling safe in our home to being afraid of the dark. They moved out, as soon as they were old enough. Even though, when we would enter the garage, we would always hesitate, the fact that my Mom died in the garage, and not the main house, made it ‘easier’ to live there. But I think that the real reason I was so hesitant about moving was that I didn’t want to leave my Mom, if that makes sense. When we moved to our new home, the feeling of peace was so overwhelming and so calming, that I actually felt guilty. Then two years into living here, my father-in-law had a heart attack in our upstairs hallway and died in my daughter’s arms. That feeling of calm disappeared in that moment. It wasn’t fair. Why us? We are still living here, because we love our home. That calm feeling never completely returned. It has been 17 years. Having our parents’ pictures up in our living room helps.

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