7 lessons in surviving renovations—a death

If a kitchen renovation strikes at the very heart of a home, then a death of a spouse, a mother, or a father does so even more dramatically. A drastic change to the makeup of a family brings on enforced renovation. A friend of mine who lost her spouse said, “I had to look at my life like a project. What is my life going to be now?” In turn, each family member must take on the task of renewal, deciding what their life will be under the new changed circumstances.

When I wrote my previous post about surviving a kitchen renovation, I got to thinking about how so many other situations in our lives create the same kind of upheaval. Any kind of major life change brings with it the same basic challenges and lessons. In the next few posts I will look at how to survive those challenging life renovations.

Like a death in the family

Lesson 1: Decisions, decisions

When my mother-in-law passed away, we asked her care facility how much time we had to move her furniture. The answer: a cold 24 hours. During a time when stress, sleeplessness and sorrow are the orders of the day, the decisions that must be made—indeed can’t be delayed—come hard and brutally fast. Hearts break when instead of deciding where to vacation with a spouse, you must decide what the casket will be like. Or do you want a casket at all? Cremation or full burial? What kind of flowers? Who will sing? Who will speak? How will I pay for this? The decisions seem endless. And then there’s the matter of getting everyone to agree to the same thing. Compromise and openly talking out all the decisions helps to smooth out the process.

Lesson 2: Be patient

With yourself and others. Not everyone is comfortable with death. Discomfort makes people do and say the darndest things. Without a doubt, you will find yourself scratching your head or even wincing about something someone says to you during visitation. Tell yourself that they mean well, or they wouldn’t be there. After all, grief tests the mental endurance of anyone, and no two people grieve in the same way. I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone. Funerals for me are noisy affairs with everyone coming together to chat, remember, laugh, cry and, importantly, eat. I find it difficult to understand those who need to withdraw as they grieve, but I have learned to allow people to handle grief in the way that they must. Be patient, be understanding and be charitable about the words that come out of people’s mouths.

Lesson 3: Practise acceptance

The months following a death are full of financial, legal and emotional pitfalls. We are in the midst of settling two estates, and everything happens in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way. Hurry up and get the paperwork started, then wait for probate. Hurry up and send information to financial institutions, and then wait for the medical certificate. And then there is the emotional minefield that follows a death, as everyone explodes about different things at different times. The months following a death are full of moments of wishing that things could be any other way.  Strive to make things work as well as possible, but accept what happens.

Lesson 4: Appreciate mayhem

Nothing throws routine out the window quite so effectively as a death. Suddenly nothing—absolutely nothing—in the world is more important. Plans get rearranged, activities get delayed or cancelled altogether, and your home becomes the centre of an activity you never wanted. You will find yourself standing in your kitchen surrounded by friends, family and food, so much food. As you bring up the extra chairs from the basement, wipe a spill off the hardwood and peel the sticky beer glass of your counter top, try to appreciate the mayhem. Mayhem is unavoidable, so the only thing to do is to sit down wherever you can and try to eat some of that food.

Lesson 5: Change involves an emotional roller coaster

Some days you won’t want to get out of bed. Other days you will be so angry that people will duck out of rooms to avoid you. On the good days, you will get through the day without the dull ache in the pit of your stomach. And then, just when you think you are really dealing with things well, you will wake up one morning and not want to get out of bed. It’s okay. Ride the emotional roller coaster.

Lesson 6: Look for the joy

Those little glimpses of joy along the way keep us going. Sometimes it might be a long time coming. Sometimes it might happen the very next day, but there will be little  glimpses of joy. When my father died, the members of his curling club sent a bouquet of flowers in the shape of a curling stone. In the little plastic stick that normally would have held a card, they had placed a perfect euchre hand in clubs. The arrangement encompassed two of my father’s favourite activities. Person after person in the receiving line looked at the arrangement and said, “Oh yes, that’s him. He always made it clubs.” As sad as I was at the loss of my father, receiving people who had known him so well filled me with joy. From a memory that brings a smile, to the first laugh after the pain, look for the joy at the end of the tunnel.

Lesson 7: Friends help you through it all

You could do it alone, but why? Friends are the best resource for arranging the catering, helping with dishes, legal advice, and hugs . Friends make coping with everything just a little bit easier.

Renovation is renewal

Even when the life renovation is unwanted, unexpected and traumatic, there will be renewal. When the current of life stirs up the waters, just hang on and ride those rapids for a while. Just know that after every set of rapids awaits a calm pool.

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