The Mourning House

I currently sleep in the guest room of my house. The other room I used to sleep in—which I have been calling the “hospice room”—is now a more hallowed space. That room was redesigned just prior to death of the woman who had accompanied me through life and parenting for 27 years. We’d only been married for just over six months, due to a five-hour period during which same-sex couples were allowed to marry in Michigan. The death was unanticipated; diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, just one year earlier, had led us to believe we had “years” instead of a year to share our lives together. Once a partner, spouse, and co-parent of two daughters, I must now try on the identity of widow, while existing inside of a house that no longer feels like home.

In the hospice room, the hospital bed is gone, but there are many artifacts put in place for healing purposes. A Buddha statue from Sri Lanka donated by sister for good luck; framed photos of orchids taken by our daughter when we went to the orchid show last year; a print of the magnificent sand hill cranes whose visits to the wetlands of Michigan we witnessed every October.

When I walk through that room I see not the space where my partner and I once slept together, did our nightly roundup of the days events, and watched our favorite television shows. Once I had listened to Nancy whisper “sleep with angels, darlin’” each night before we switched off the lights. Now, I see a kind of vacuous shrine that I don’t wish to disturb.

The hospice room is artful. Our antique mahogany bed is spread with a treasured cover from Nepal, and its geometric purple and green hues are echoed in the pillows and in the lilac paint on the walls. Nancy has left many objects containing memorabilia—cigar boxes, a pewter bowl, an old candy tin. When I am brave enough to look through them, I find weathered photos of her father and grandparents in sepia, small jewelry boxes containing antique rings and pearls, the invitation to her parents’ wedding in 1950, the baby shoes of our daughters. It contains remnants of a life I once was part of.

In the guest room where I sleep, I still feel like a visitor. The room remains the same as when it housed guests, not particularly inviting and disturbingly impersonal. The colors clash: pink curtains, a blue patterned quilt, walls painted a jolting lime green. A large unadorned bed dominates the smallish room. It’s not designed for comfort or charm. But in my current uncomfortable frame of mind, it seems to fit my requirements.

A perennial basket of unfolded laundry resides in the corner of the anonymous space where I now reside. My computer, my refuge, stands ready for my use, although I still can’t find a show I want to watch or a book I want to read. Scanning Facebook, reading through emails, I seek connections to fill the stillness that stretches before me.

The rest of the house is also still alien territory, transformed by the permanent vacancy of one of its occupants. My sprightly teenaged daughter, whose easy laughter hasn’t changed much since toddlerhood, begs me to go upstairs with her at night. She will not go back downstairs again without me, spooked by a house that is devoid of her other mother. She asks me to accompany her to the bathroom at night and in the early dark mornings. She fears that Nancy is somehow here in the house as a ghost, but perhaps not as much as she fears living in a house where Nancy no longer exists.

Nancy’s mother says she cannot bear to visit us in this place, not while the painful memories of her daughter seem to bounce off every surface of the house. But my daughter and I must live in this mourning house, trying to find our way to another kind of home where we can co-exist with what is here and what is not.

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JuliaGrant“The Mourning House” was written by Julia Grant. Julia lives, writes, and works in higher education in East Lansing, Michigan. She and her partner, Nancy, were one of the 300+ same-sex couples who were married on March 23, 2014, in Michigan.

11 Thoughts.

  1. Julia, Thanks so much for sharing such intimate and raw feelings. I can’t imagine how it would feel to lose my partner in life. Such a shock to the body and soul. I am so sorry that you are going through this, but I appreciate being able to share in your life, both the high times and the low times. One thing that I did notice while I was visiting. Both you and Nancy put so much love and care into parenting Maia and Gina; I am sure this makes the parting so much more painful, but I know that the girls will remember this forever and ever.

  2. Julia,
    I love the honesty, vulnerability, and strength that you reveal in this short article. I did not know Nancy, but I do know that you are an amazing mother and one of my personal heros, and I wish you the best in your mourning. I, much like Elizabeth, hope that you continue this process of writing if you find it cathartic.

  3. Dear Julia,
    Thank you for sharing this beautifully written and deeply personal blog. Death is so final and grief so absolute. I am so sorry Julia. I have been thinking of you a lot and feel for you this Christmas. Where will you and the girls be? Please come visit us in San Diego any time. Diversion and a change of loaction is sometimes good therapy for a time. Call anytime if you want to talk. You and Mia and Regina are in my prayers and heart always. Nancy’s photo remains on my altar. I am so glad I knew her……………..and your wonderful family
    Love always, Bonnie

  4. Thank you dear ones for your responses to this blog post. It is very healing to share some of my experience and feel your support for me and my process. And thanks very much to the folks at youareherestories, who gave me a prompt that allowed me to reflect on my grief through the lens of place.

    • Julia, it is so gratifying to hear that our “Out of Place” prompt provided the mental, emotional, and electronic (shall we say) spaces for you to reflect on and share your very poignant story. We are honored to be a part of that process. Blessings to you as you continue to experience—and hopefully write about—the beauty and pain.

  5. Julia, I share these feelings and emotions. I still live them daily after close to seven years now. I am tempted to share my solutions, I want to try and “fix” what I can for my once lost newly reestablished and precious friend. But you and I always were always realists first. We both know this grief now resides with us until we cross. We now internalize that it is the price of the love known and lived. Your sojourn now is precious and will be unique. My solutions will never fit, if even they are solutions. It just don’t end as much as you grow into it. It becomes a friend in its own right, this grief – this mirror of love. I salute the courage of confronting and not hiding from it. This alone is victory. I am yours as you grow into this. Thank you for establishing these sign posts all will have to read someday. Strike your path bravery.

  6. WOW! Thank you letting us in and sharing your interior view of your home as you move through the profound loss of Nancy. I feel like I am reading the beginning of a book for which more chapters will emerge. I hope you will continue to share your rich journey(for better for worse) and share your ability to love, to see and to feel. Love, Elizabeth

  7. This was both beautiful and heartbreaking. Thank you so much for sharing your words that so vividly convey what your experience of home is without your beloved wife, partner and mother of your children. I cannot fully comprehend what you are going through but your courageous words bring me closer to an understanding .

  8. What beautiful, spare, artful and ardent prose! This ability to pay homage to this time in your lives attests to the soundness of your mind, the deep meaning of your love for your family and the power of remembrance. Please share this and develop this for all of us to savor.

  9. Oh Julia, this is a powerful essay! We enjoyed our visit with you in the “mourning house.” We observed the light that emanates from YOU, as you move from room to room. Looking forward to spending time with you again, soon. Love you, Diana and Charlie.

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