The Ten Year Plan House

All of my life, I’ve been a long-range planner. I’ve loved thinking about broad swaths of time. My childhood journals charted out which boy I’d marry, the names of my children, even floor plan drawings of my dream house. When I met Rob, he and I jumped excitedly into planning together. Time seemed infinite, and we built our dreams as though our lives really would last forever, or at least for many decades to come. We developed five year plans and ten year plans and worked toward them faithfully.

In 2018, we moved across the country and bought a house — the home we called “the ten year plan.” It needed work, but we reasoned we had years to complete the job. We looked at the expansive property and imagined hosting our kids’ youth group bonfires and football games. We stood in the third floor attic room and envisioned a home office for the two of us, working side-by-side on careers that brought us joy as our kids headed off to college. We began big home improvement projects and worked on setting down roots. 

But, just a year later, Rob was dead. And all of the time he and I shared together became not the future but the past. Not hopes and dreams anymore. Only memories. The ten year plan vanished into thin air. I was left alone in a new place with a house that needed work.

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All winter long, I worked on home improvement projects; and this spring, I decided to sell the house. It’s a burden of work, but also a burden of memory. Bittersweet memories of all the ways Rob and I tried to carve out a new life in a new place. Painful echoes of the ways we failed. Reminders that life has ended. I’ve walked the property many times in the last year and wondered if I should stay. There are solid arguments for stability after loss, for avoiding change when grief is fresh and raw. But every time, my heart has told me to move on. This house was our ten year plan, but it isn’t mine. If I have to learn to do life without Rob, I don’t want to do it in this place.

Since Rob died, I’ve become acutely aware of the passage of time. Perhaps because my watch is the only one now to keep us on schedule. Perhaps because every moment of our lives now is measured in B.C./A.D. style — before Rob died and after. Every day is precious currency. Long-range planning has lost its allure. I sometimes wonder if the part of me who loved planning died too when my husband died. My perspective is so different now. Rob’s death has reminded me that I don’t know how much time I’ll have. Whatever time I get, I don’t want to waste it. I can only focus on today. Tomorrow will have to take care of itself.

I suspect that onlookers often assume my disinterest in the future reflects a depressive fatalism. A descent into “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” negativism. Seeing my lack of enthusiasm, they encourage me to think about the future, keep planning, raise my eyes toward the horizon. If you’re grieving, you know how hollow these encouragements can feel. Every place you look, every moment of your future, reveals the absence of the one you love. Especially in early grief, looking to the future can feel nearly impossible to do.

I have come to view my heightened awareness of the present moment is a gift. What others see as a casualty of loss, I see as a blessing. I have found that, in the words of the Preacher, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too … is from the hand of God.” Maybe someday I will plan for the future again. For now, I’ll just try to enjoy each day as it comes. In grief, that’s a challenging enough task to tackle.

Soon, a realtor’s sign will swing on its hinges on the street beside my house. I don’t know where I’m going when it sells. I have a couple ideas, but no plans. Honestly, I don’t want to make any right now. Last year at this time, I couldn’t have imagined my life would look like this a year later. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll say the same thing a year from now. Many widows who have gone before me tell me the second year is harder than the first.

When I sign the final papers to sell this house, I’ll get a lump in my throat. Another bittersweet goodbye. Wherever I live next will be a place where Rob will never live with me. I don’t know how to plan for that, so I hope I’ll find what I need when I get wherever I’m going.

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