This question has been burning in my mind since August of 2015 when Mike died. Do I stay in our home, or do I move? The answer is different for all widows and much needs to be considered. Here is what I know.
While widows and widowers all have one thing in common, everyone has a different story and a different situation. The one bit of advice that I found helpful after the sudden tragic loss of my husband was to wait a year before making any major life changes.
For most widows, finances will play a pivotal part in any decisions made after the death of a spouse. If a large life insurance policy is available, it may take a few months to have access to the money. Using that money to pay off a home mortgage and other medical or credit card debts will be most helpful.
If the spouse was over 60, social security monthly payments may be available which will help secure money to be paid for monthly bills.
In my situation, we were both only 51 years old, so I was facing a loss of half our monthly take home pay. We still had a very large mortgage, a son just starting college and plenty of monthly bills as well. I used the small life insurance policy to help make the monthly payments, anticipating that it would only be enough for a year or two.
Each widow feels differently about her home after the death of a spouse. Some refuse to sleep in the same bedroom and may leave his things exactly as they were. Others clear it all out soon and try their best to put it in the past and not dwell on the loss.
Memories of the home and raising a family together can be comforting or painful. The photos and reminders are always there.
More difficult for me was the fact that everyone knew that my husband had died tragically across the street from my house. I was pursuing an wrongful death lawsuit and was reminded of that terrible night over and over. I refused to move in part because I did not want to be traumatized away from the home we had loved. I was determined not to let these circumstances scare me away from the home of our dreams.
Mike and I had often sat on our front deck, looking out at the water view, pinching ourselves how lucky we were to live here. I would not let this awful event change that feeling. In addition to loving my home, the support of the best neighbors and my job as a kindergarten teacher with understanding and cooperative colleagues a mile up the road, made life manageable for me after the loss.
For the first 6 months, I kept the photo poster boards from the funeral in a chair by a sunny window and spent time remembering our life together. I slowly emptied his closet and drawers during that first year; donating some items, giving some to family and stashing away a few items. Eventually the photos went into an album.
Once I realized that I could stay in my house a little longer, I made some renovations. Our dream house that we had bought together, became my dreamhouse; designed the way I had always wanted it to look. I love my new open concept kitchen and a laundry area on the 3rd floor next to my bedroom. After 15 years, the house is finally the way I want it – and with kids moved out and a super helpful new husband, it even stays clean!
Well, after a year of social distancing with COVID and an early retirement, I must say my social life has changed. I always enjoyed working and having lunch and collaborating with colleagues. We planned after school happy hours and some parties during the year which I readily attended. While I still “see” many friends on Facebook, this type of social life from home sure has been different.
I have always been in one or two book clubs and even those we have done on Zoom this year. The holidays came and went and we celebrated with my kids, no extended family. Things are changing slowly but I’m not sure it will ever be the same.
My social life is changing now too. I’m retired and I am married to a fabulously wonderful man who is retired as well. We spent 5 weeks in Florida this winter and decided that maybe we didn’t need to live in cold New York in a 3 story house anymore. Ideas of snowbirding and maintaining two homes which was our original plan, now seemed unnecessary.
We did some house hunting and found a beautiful one story home in an active Florida community. This gated neighborhood includes a golf course, pools, gyms, exercise classes, clubs, walking trails, outdoor dining and events, and white sandy beaches nearby. I had thought we would hold onto two houses, but with my sister living 5 miles from our new home, I decided it is finally time to say goodbye to New York.
I’ve been fortunate and got to do things on my time line as far as grieving goes. It has been difficult at times and there are times when I still have waves of sadness over the loss of Mike and most recently the loss of my mom. I’ve learned that when those moments come, I let them wash over me. I appreciate the love and loss. And then I move forward, again.
At this point I am excited for a new path. Pete and I will be starting our life in this home together. I’m looking forward to decorating “our” dream house and we will create our social life conducive for our lifestyle. I’m not sure what that will look like. We already met some friendly neighbors on our new street. I am drawn to the possibility of volunteering with animals. Not sure if my 20 years of teaching kindergarten will be helpful for that, but maybe it will.
In conclusion, my words of wisdom on whether widows should move are as follows:
- If financially able, wait one year before making any major life changes.
- Hire an accountant to help you understand your finances and do be slow to give away assets to family.
- It is your timeline, don’t let others persuade you one way or the other.
- Consider your emotional well being, will leaving this home be too upsetting now or will a fresh start be just what you need.
- Consider your social life, can you easily interact with friends and family?
- Do you have a job or do you need to get one? Proximity to work is important.
- Would an over 55 community help you adjust to changes in your social life? You may feel uncomfortable with your old “couples” friends now and need support with new groups and activities.
- Be wary of moving immediately in with a child. It may be a great idea but guard your own individuality. You don’t want to be the on call babysitter and you may also feel uncomfortable if you…start to date!
I’d love to hear your story about moving or staying put after the death of your spouse. What has worked or not worked out for you?