Saying Goodbye to the Place She Never Called Home
My daughter, Peyton, has been gone for four and a half years.
It still really hurts.
I mentioned in a past column here that my husband was recently relocated. We’ve picked up and moved some three hours from the place where my daughter is buried, and while I miss the closeness to her grave, I cannot say that I am sad to be leaving our home.
I remember when we first bought our four bedroom yellow colonial on the corner lot. It was Christmas week of 2006. We were in our twenties and newly married, and so very excited to start our life together there. Looking back on that time now, it’s like recalling a scene from a movie. I don’t remember how that feels anymore—to just expect great things.
My husband wanted kids. Lots and lots of them. We settled on having four, back in a time when I still believed we had control over such things. I used to be this very structured person who planned absolutely everything, so once the boxes were unpacked, we decided it was time to start trying.
The next summer, I wrapped my first BFP pregnancy test in a box, and presented it to my husband in our living room. The room with the blue carpet that we’ve since replaced with hardwoods, and the giant bluebird wallpaper that took hours, and half of my fingernails, to remove.
He was shocked. He teared up. The joy of that pregnancy was short lived.
I miscarried before sharing our news.
I looked around our home as Thanksgiving approached, and felt an overwhelming sense of failure. Why couldn’t I do this for him? Why couldn’t I bring him this child? I had imagined showing off my round baby bump in that year’s Christmas photo. Instead I held up our orange tabby in a Santa suit.
Exactly one year after buying our home, on Christmas Eve 2007, I was shocked to see our second BFP. Excited, I went bounding up the stairs past the pink floral wallpaper that I spent countless hours steaming off the walls, and threw myself onto the bed.
“Look!” I screamed with delight, forcing the test in front of my husband’s sleepy face.
“What?” he asked groggily. “It’s blank.”
Running while holding the test had cleared out the screen. I’ve meditated upon that moment many times since. Did the universe already know?
I ran back downstairs, chugged some water, and took another test in the bathroom that we’ve since converted to a laundry room.
That’s the day we found out we were pregnant with Peyton.
We made so many changes to our little yellow colonial in an effort to make it ours. We converted the outdated office into a bright, sunny bumble bee theme nursery in anticipation of Peyton’s arrival.
And a guest room, looking out over our large yard, was turned into an office where I envisioned myself writing.
“Someday,” I told myself. “When I have time.”
Then Peyton was born more sick than we could have ever imagined, and a short 28 days later, she died.
We never really came “home” after that. Sure we lived there, but the hopes and dreams and joy we had once felt for that place, could never be recovered.
The spring after we lost Peyton, a painter came in and repainted several rooms to make the house feel somehow less like the place where our hopes for Peyton had died, but it didn’t work for me.
We added a sunroom. Re-did floors and walls and changed carpets. Updated and renovated and refinished. We decorated and redecorated, even changing the front door from green to red in the hopes it would somehow excite us again, but I never could see it as anything other than the place my heart had been broken.
Peyton never lived in our yellow house, but her memory did. The grief did. Years of depression did. Thoughts of dying did. Anxiety did. Paranoia did. Insomnia did.
These unwelcome houseguests came home with me in her empty car seat.
We’ve been out of our house for a little over a month now, waiting with baited breath for some young family to come along and take it off the market.
I find myself somehow surprised when I see the pictures posted to our real estate listing of just how bright and airy our house is. How beautiful and welcoming it looks. It is only in seeing it in photo form, that I realize that the gloominess that I associate with that house is entirely a product of my own experiences—a testament to the near-loss of my mind experienced in the hours, days, weeks, months and years that I spent spinning in grief’s circle there.
Peyton never came home to that house. She didn’t die in that house. And yet, that’s not enough to keep me from associating it with our loss.
Nor is it enough for my husband. He held his tears in throughout my darkest days, and yet this move has had him breaking down. Tears of guilt and grief from a father who can’t bear the idea that we are somehow leaving Peyton behind.
My prayer is that the next couple or family who finds our home, does so with the same overwhelming sense of joy and excitement that we did, when my husband first awkwardly carried me over the threshold there. That they breathe new life into a place that for so long has lingered under a black cloud. That the yellow house on the corner is filled with love and joy and the sunshine that it deserves.
I saw my father last week and expressed my feelings to him about the house, and he pointed out that I have had two healthy children there. My twins came home in that house. Spent the first two years of their lives there. “Surely,” he said, “that should be enough to negate the negativity.”
I wish that were the case, but the reality is that the sadness there in many ways tainted the memories we were making with our rainbows. At least for me, it did.
In a perfect world, having more children after child loss, getting to do and feel and be all the things you had dreamt parenthood would be, would heal your wounds. In a perfect world we would say, “Yes something sad happened here. But look how happy we are now. We are healed.”
But this world is not perfect.
I am not perfect.
Grief and depression are not tidy little things to be wrapped up and stored away in a box, or pushed to the back of a shelf out of sight.
People have asked if moving away from Peyton’s grave is hard for me, and I think that only time will really tell on that front. Maybe because we are still travelling through the area so often right now it hasn’t fully hit me.
But as far as picking up my family and moving out of the house we once envisioned bringing her home to?
For now, that feels like relief.