Dealing with Loss

Moving When You’re Mourning: Relocation After a Loved One’s Death

This article previously appeared on the Moving Blog

When someone you share a home with dies, your grieving process can become even more complicated if you’re dealing with a potential move.

Motivational speaker Carole Brody Fleet, author of “Happily Even After: A Guide to Getting Through (and Beyond) the Grief of Widowhood,” faced this decision after the death of her husband, Mike Fleet, in 2000. Mike had suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Not only was she living in an area that was in decline, but Fleet had emotional reasons for finding a new home.

“Living with all of the wonderful memories combined with the memory of him dying at home proved to be overwhelming,” she said.

If you’re thinking of making this type of move, consider these four pieces of advice for overcoming the logistical and emotional challenges.

In conjunction with National Moving Day, which in 2015 falls on May 26, SpareFoot is sharing various stories about people who’ve moved amid life-changing events. This story focuses on relocating after the death of a loved one.

To View or Not to View the Deceased

I remember the first time I ever saw a dead person. I was a 14-year-old girl, and it was at the funeral of my maternal grandmother.

Now, the maturity of a 14-year-old girl then and the maturity of a 14-year-old girl today are quite different, after all, my knowledge came from a hard-covered Encyclopedia Britannica book that had pasted labels on the pages that were sent to you each year to stick on the pages of the original set, so the reader could be referred to an annually-dated book that was sent to a person's home with current information. Certainly, a much different way of gaining knowledge compared to the Google world today where within seconds a person can look up any topic and retrieve data.

So, to say the least, I didn't know anything about death except that one day my dad took our German Sheppard to the vet, and she never came back. She had died.

Confusion and Fear Over Death

Now, here I was and grandma was dead. Everybody was in tears, so I innately knew, somehow, perhaps through the death of our dog, that grandma wasn't coming back. I don't recall seeing the dead body of our dog, so, even though I was 14 now, I didn't comprehend why all the relatives wanted me to see her in this thing that I now know is called a casket.

I was perfectly fine at the back of the funeral parlor in a chair by myself watching everyone else move to the front of the room, look at was apparently my grandma laying up there and then leave in tears. Why would I want to go up there? Everybody was so sad.

At one point my mother along with her siblings, their spouses and a couple of my cousins began settling to the front of the parlor to sit for the ceremony, which, again, I had no knowledge of the purpose or meaning. My mother asked me to move to the front of the parlor with the rest of the family, but despite my strict upbringing of never disobeying a parent's request, I rejected the notion with an immediate funnel of tears and sobs. I didn't want to go.

In order to avoid a further scene in front of the mourners, my mother immediately hustled me out of the room and directed me down a lighted hallway, which was much different than the dimly lit room we had just left, to a small lighted room situated with books, a couch and a couple chairs. It was there she advised me to sit until she came back to get me.

I remember being perfectly fine in that room by myself. There was a box of tissues that I used to wipe my eyes and managed to twist into a winded, snotty rope that I was playing with in my lap.

It wasn't but a short time after my mother left that my uncle arrived at my side and told me I needed to go into the parlor with the rest of the family. The tears began to flow again as he lifted my arm and guided me into the room with the rest of the family where I could now see from my chair the face of my grandmother laying motionless in a casket.

I don't know what words were spoken or who spoke for that matter. I only remember my entire family in tears and my dad comforting my mother.

After the "service," which I bawled through, was over the entire family made their rounds to the front of the casket where I could clearly see my grandmother dressed in a beautiful, pale pink, chiffon dress. Her hair was nicely curled and there was a bit of color to her normally plain, non-cosmetized face. She didn't speak and afterwards we all moved along and on with our lives we went. I never did, however, forget the feeling I had when I was forced by my uncle to see what I clearly didn't want to see.

Fast-forward a series of life experiences, along with the death of two more grandparents, two great-aunts, and a mother, I was now faced with the death of my husband.

How to Choose the Right Funeral Music

A funeral or memorial service serves a variety of purposes. It is a way for family and friends to say goodbye to a loved one. It is a ritual that provides structure and comfort during a very difficult time. It is also a way to honor the life and legacy of the person who died.

Music can support all of these purposes as part of a funeral or memorial service. What makes music so powerful is that it can serve multiple roles at once:

  • Music taps into our emotions
    Music arouses our feelings in powerful ways. It has been an important part of all known cultures throughout history, and serves an important role in our humanity. Listening to music releases chemicals and hormones and stimulates our brains. Practically, this means that music evokes emotions and can set the tone for a funeral service. It can convey feelings that words may not be able to express. Music can connect people with their grief, bring a moment of levity, uplift the spirit, or unblock feelings of sadness.

  • Music provides structure and ritual
    Familiar music connects us with the rituals we grew up with. In many religious traditions, particular songs sung at certain times provide a sense of security and comfort. Lyrics or melodies that we’ve heard over and over remind us of something that we know. The familiarity and structure provided by a song can be comforting during a time of grief.

  • Music conveys a message 
    The lyrics, melody, and harmonies of a song communicate a message to the attendees at a funeral. This might be a message of hope, faith, sadness, humor, or grief. Yet, even though every person at the service is hearing the same song, each person will interpret the message a little differently. In this way, music allows for both a communal experience and an individual experience to coexist at the same time.
  • Music brings back memories
    Music has a unique way of accessing memories. Not only do we remember the lyrics to songs we learned long ago, we often remember associated events and feelings. Hearing a song that the deceased loved may bring people back to a specific moment in time. Bringing up and sharing memories is an important part of the funeral service.

How to Express Sympathy and Offer Condolences to a Grieving Friend

You just found out that your best friend’s spouse died. Or a coworker lost her mother. When you hear that a friend is grieving, you may experience a range of emotions; concern for your friend, memories of your own losses resurfacing, or anxiety about what to say or how to help.

Many people don’t know what to say to a grieving friend. Some might not reach out for fear of saying the wrong thing. Others offer platitudes that can do more harm than good.

If you are not sure what to say, don’t let that stop you from being there for your friend. In reality, there is nothing you can say that will take the pain away. Instead of worrying about what to say, focus on how to communicate your support.

grieving friends

How to Help Someone Who is Grieving

  • Be There. Let your friend know that you are there for him or her. More important than what you say is the fact that you called, wrote, or showed up.
  • Be specific. It’s okay to ask, “Is there anything I can do?” but it is even better to offer something specific. “I’ll drop off dinner next Wednesday. Is lasagna okay?” Practical help is often appreciated, as people who are grieving can be overwhelmed with daily tasks. Offer to go food shopping, bring the kids to sports practice, help with funeral arrangements, or write thank you cards. If your friend needs help planning a funeral, check out our information about planning a funeral.
  • Be honest. It is okay to tell your friend, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I love you.” It is also okay to refer to the loss as a “death” and to the person as “dead.” This helps your friend know that you are willing to talk openly and honestly about what happened.
  • Be a good listener. Avoid offering advice. Instead, listen to what your friend needs. “What is this like for you?”, “How are you doing today?”, “What do you want me to know about what you are going through?” are some ways to start listening.
  • Be accepting. Many complicated feelings arise when someone dies. Not all of them are sadness. Anger, relief, levity, frustration, and fear are also common reactions. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Accept the full range of emotions that your friend expresses.
  • Be okay with silence. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. It is okay to sit quietly. To hold hands while they cry. Just being present while your friend grieves is incredibly powerful. Our culture teaches us to “fix” things, but grief isn’t something that needs to be fixed. Grief needs to be experienced, and being a quiet witness to that process is often the most supportive thing you can do.
  • Be there for the long haul. Newly bereaved people are sometimes overwhelmed with support and visiting family immediately following the death. But a few weeks or months later, isolation can become a reality. This may be when your most important role begins. Be the friend who is still calling and checking in three months after the death. An extra call or visit on holidays or anniversaries is also an important sign that you care.

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