This was our home. This was where, six years and 22 days after we signed the mortgage papers, he died in my arms.
In the weeks and months after my husband died, countless people asked me if we were going to move: out of the house, out of town, out of state, anywhere else. To be honest, I was a little astounded by the thought; it seemed like the last thing my 3-year-old daughter and I needed was more upheaval, more change, and a more disturbed equilibrium. It was hard enough to wake up in the morning and maintain our bearings, and the thought of shifting any aspect of our life at all felt just shy of cataclysmic.
For one, this was our home. This was the house that my husband and I bought as young 20-somethings in the second year of our marriage, thrilled at the prospect of a place of our own. This was where we returned, dumbfounded and holding hands, after his brain tumor diagnosis a year and a half later. This was where we sat by the wood stove and decided to have a baby anyways, where we brought that baby girl home, and where she learned to roll over, crawl, and walk. This was where I shaved my husband’s head when his hair began to fall out from the radiation, where we made love for the last time, and where I bathed him in his hospital bed when he could no longer leave its confines. This was where, six years and 22 days after we signed the mortgage papers, he died in my arms.
Aside from the house, this was also our land. This was where we planted apple trees our first spring, when we still believed that we would grow old together. This was where we dug a trench for the asparagus and waited patiently for years before harvesting, where rhubarb and blueberries, crocus and daffodils followed. This was where we opened up the path through the woods out to the marsh bordering our property, where we brought the dogs in the winter so that they could run, run, run. And this was where I brushed off my husband’s suggestion to teach me how to run the chainsaw, because in my heart of hearts I believed he would always be by my side.
This was where the seasons came and went: where turtles laid eggs in the yard in the springtime; where we roasted marshmallows over summer-night fires; where our toddling daughter helped dig the potatoes and carrots, and helped carry the pumpkins and squash in after the frosts had come; where we waited in the darkening days of winter for the first few immaculate flakes to fall from the sky.
In the aftermath of my husband’s death, this house and this land provided such grounding and stability, especially in those early days. This place was, and still is, a haven in the darkness of grief. There is shelter in the familiarity, entwined as it is in my existence: feeding the chickens, weeding the garden, stacking the wood—all of these things necessary, and bearing peace.
We are comfortable here, and the luxury of that comfort is something that we are still becoming accustomed to. I had to relearn how to leave the house without being wracked by worry, to the point where for months I physically sensed its absence when I stepped out of the door. I had to relearn how to do things on my own, how to relocate my joy, and how to move forward in my own erratic and stumbling way.
I acknowledge that someday we might leave, might move away. Work, or life, or a new love might eventually necessitate that kind of change. But for now, this is exactly where we need to be.
Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a writer, mother, brain injury outreach coordinator, and homemade-caramel aficionado living in central Maine. Her essays have most recently appeared in the Washington Post, Mamalode, and Brain, Child Magazine and you can find her work at www.sarahkilchgaffney.com.