Changing the Walls

image1_(1).PNGYesterday, we painted a wall. To me, this was no ordinary wall, this was the last major wall in the downstairs of Mike’s house to change since Megan died. Now, when you look through the living room, dining and kitchen, all of it has a totally new color scheme from when she was living. Which leads me to talk about a very touchy aspect of widowhood, and of me being on the other side sometimes… dating a widower: The process of merging your life into a widowed person's home.

I’ll confess, Megan and my styles are very different. She was all about Americana, and I am certainly not. I mean to say, bluntly so, I don’t like her style. I cringe to type this. Why is it so hard to say we don’t like a dead person’s preferences? Why would it even be expected for me to like or leave things the way she had it? I’m not sure, but it seems like a lot of those outdated societal expectations are at play here...

I knew from the first weeks I moved here, that if I eventually do move in with Mike, it would mean changing A LOT about how this home looks and feels, which is a whole new experience I have never encountered in my life. Despite how supportive Mike has been about this, and his expressing a need to change it for himself too, it is still so uncomfortable to be changing what you still see as “another woman’s home”... the place they were a family without me, for many years. I feel this way because I imagine someone coming in and changing everything about my OWN home, and how pissed off I’d be. But, then again, I’d also be dead I suppose. And since it will be at least a few years before Mike and I can move into a “neutral” home of our own, this is definitely something that must be worked through.

I sometimes fear erasing Megan. No, I fear everyone ELSE will think we are erasing Megan. I know that I am not, nor is Mike. But I get caught up in what everyone else will think - like her mother, and father, who are here at least a few times a week with Shelby. I worry that my opinion about what “home” looks like will offend someone. But, Megan aside… red and blue are probably my least favorite colors ever to have on walls. They feel heavy and jarring to me. I don’t like kitschy Americana stuff, never have, never will. And equally important, none of this was really Mike’s style either. He prefers more earthy tones and textures like I do, but he let her take the lead on all that and happily supported her choices. Now we are trying to move forward with what we both like, but it’s still hard for me to not see this as another woman’s home I am encroaching on. Inevitably though, I have to start choosing to be true to myself, while being sensitive to Shelby and Mike, and other than that, not really worry about what the hell anyone else thinks of it.

The ways I’m leaning into all this are by making slow changes, for Shelby’s sake, and allowing her to be active in making the change. We brought her along to pick out paint colors when we did the living room and kitchen months ago. She ended up picking out some beautiful colors, which now fill those walls. She helped to paint, which so excited her because it was the first time she was old enough to help with painting the walls. We didn’t do this all at once mind you, just one wall at a time, here and there, every few months. With each wall, we took down the Americana decor, and simply did not put up back up after, because it no longer matched to walls. We kept family photos on the walls, but even changed where some of those are. And the rest, room by room, has started to slowly become a clean slate for the three of us to create together.

Last night was no different, she excitedly helped with painting, then, after we were nearly done, she stepped back and exclaimed how pretty the new color was. Her excitement helped me to know, that we are doing a good thing, and doing it in a good way. When I walked back to stand next to her, I truly felt my heart swoon. How completely different the entire space feels with this soft, velvety, brown… how much more soothing it feels to my heart from the bold, heavy red that was there before. I felt instantly, like I could breathe better. And that really wasn’t about Megan or her decor at all… it was just about a color.

I suppose I overworry about this, because I was little, my dad never changed a thing in our house after my mom died. It became a museum to her. I think it sent a message to me about change… not a good one. It made me cling to things and become overly sentimental about things that need not be.

I want to give a different example to Mike’s daughter. I want her to see that change can happen all around you, and it will not take away the memory - or the love - of someone you have lost. Her mom is not in a paint color on the walls, or in the little “home sweet home” signs we took down. Her mom is in her heart always, just as all our loved ones are. I want her to know that changing decor doesn’t mean taking her mom away, and neither does making new memories decorating with new people. We will still always talk about Megan, remember her, and honor her. We will still have pictures up, and still keep some of her trinkets and figurines out, but we will also make room for the new.

Painting that wall felt a little bit like conquering one of my own walls, surprisingly. A wall that says to fear leaning into this new life, because I don’t have any guarantee that this person will not die on me. (A fear made even bigger by the fact that he has a daughter). To fear letting love in because people will die and leave you hurting.

There’s probably a few thousand more walls past this one that have that same fear written on them, but, at least today there is one less. And it has reminded me that every day, I can choose to keep on conquering them, one at a time, with one small action at a time in my new life. I also know, I will never conquer them all. But I can, by the time my life is done, look back and realize that I didn’t stand still because of the first wall. I chose to climb it, walk around it, tear it down, paint it, make it something new… I chose to change it so it lost it’s power over me. And then I did it again and again with each new wall. When I’m done, I will have at least gotten somewhere, and left changed walls in my wake. Maybe it’s a good metaphor for how we move forward after loss, changing our lives.. one wall at a time, and bringing them with us as we go. 

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  • Linda Tevebaugh Keeling
    commented 2016-06-10 20:30:27 -0700
    Sarah…. I love reading yours and Mike’s posts… Though I am older than you both our stories are similar.
    Anyways, after 4 years widowed I remarried 7 weeks ago. I have moved into his home he and deceased wife lived in….I am emptying my house to rent….which is 35 mins away…..

    His dear Judi’s tastes are polar opposites of mine….we talked about this at length before getting married and he has been agreeable to changing things….yet all these thoughts etc as you have so wonderfully written about come into play and things are not just about her tastes vs mine…etc…it is hard not to get bogged down into it all.

    By the way we live close to Akron… In Wadsworth…. My new husband and I feel like our story is so similar to yours and Mike’s….
    I don’t know if we could ever meet in person over lunch or something but that would be great …
    Thanks for sharing and your talent in writing… both you and Mike…

    Linda (Tevebaugh) and Warner Keeling