When Saying Goodbye is a Gift

by Andrea Kolber


Recently, while visiting my hometown, I became like the people in movies and books who go back to the place they’re raised. I felt silly as we drove by my old house and my husband insisted we at least say hello to the newest owners working in the yard. I felt the familiar anxiety creep into my shoulders as the window rolled down. A kind guy pulling weeds on a typical rainy morning in the Northwest looked up slowly and greeted me with a smile.

“Nice house you have,” my husband said, rolling down the window.

“It is, but the yard sure is a lot of work.”

“I hear ‘ya, I grew up in this house,” I chimed in, leaning out the window.

“Wow, you did? Would you like to look around?” he offered.

It had been nearly 9 years since I walked through the house where most of my childhood was formed and my parents’ marriage ended in splinters. It had been purchased because I was growing and stretching in my mama’s belly and they didn’t have enough room in the house on Grand, what with 3 other siblings already.

Before the moment I was invited in, I hadn’t known if I wanted to return to the house, as I’d heard of lots of changes had been made. But this time felt different, and so we took him up on his offer.

Houses are interesting, because so much happens there and yet when we leave we can’t pack up the memories with us. Those moments are forever entwined with the place. I felt it as we walked through the house on Jerome. It had been built in 1920 for a wealthy chocolatier in our small town, and later was known for it's connection to a wealthy cannery family, but somehow the soul of that house is now also mixed with my family.

For 24 years we shared meals, built tree houses, fought loudly, sang karaoke, endured pain, laughed heartily and lived life within the boundaries of our property. I have some of my best and hardest memories tucked into the high ceilings and sloped bannister of the house of my youth.

As I held my four year old girl’s hand and we walked through the halls of the house, I fought emotion seeing all the places I knew so well; now dressed with someone else’s personality. Nine years ago when the house was sold, we knew it had to be done. There was no choice really, because when everything is broken not even a physical space will keep it together. I still grieve though, over what was lost. Not the actual house; but the representation of the connection it once represented.

The new family in my old house was so kind and it felt good to see them in our space, even while it felt tremendously sad. I wasn’t sure exactly what I would feel and maybe I still don’t, but I know this: even if we moved into the house now, we can't re-write what's happened since we left. 

In the last nine years, marriages have happened, babies have been born, and deaths have been grieved. All of it represents the life we keep living even after something hard takes place. Life doesn’t stop when we feel big feelings, even though sometimes I wish it did.

After we arrived back in Colorado, I spent some time chewing on the visit. I realized the time in the house was needed; it was a truer, fuller goodbye. I can’t put back the pieces of what happened—but I don’t need to; it’s not my job. My role has been to grieve the tremendous loss of what our home symbolized. And with the grief, use it to move toward acceptance, to move toward creating something new and beautiful with this reality.

And so we do, don’t we?

We are moved forward by the tide of life that causes us to know, even when we want to stay stuck, we can’t. Life pulls us forward, toward healing and hope, and maybe a new way to be.