How to say goodbye to a house
I settle into my aisle seat, 7C, on my flight from Orlando to Denver. Once airborne, I pop open my laptop and open a Word document of my column in progress, a pile of words like a mound of wet clay that needs molding. As I get into my zone, a man’s voice pierces my focus. It’s my neighbor in 7B. “Are you Marni Jameson?” he asks. He’s been screendropping.
“You read my column?” I ask.
“No, but my wife does,” he said. “Then she makes me.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. I like his honesty.
“Did you ever sell your house in Colorado?” he asks.
This is what it is to be a tell-all columnist. You sit down next to a stranger on the plane, and they know your life story.
“As a matter of fact,” I say, happy, for the first time in years, to answer this question, “I’m on my way to Denver to sign the sale documents.” I feel like doing one of those endzone dances.
“Finally,” he says. “Congratulations.”
“No kidding — 557 days on market,” I say.
“Wasn’t the broker your tenant?” he asks.
I make a face.
He tells me he’s been empathizing. His name is Fred. He’s a real estate agent from the Denver area.
He wishes me luck with the closing, and adds. “You’re actually pretty good.”
“Thanks, Fred. Say hello to your wife for me.”
At the closing ceremonies in the title company’s offices, we sit around the table: the escrow officer, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, our tenant/agent (who managed to be both the selling agent and the buyers’ agent), my ex-husband (who is on the title with me) and yours truly. The scene has more awkward dynamics than a middleschool dance.
After we’d drained a dozen pens signing forms, and I’d started to gather my things, I overhear the lender say, “Congratulations on your new house.”
And I froze, internalizing the first moment in 14 years that I was no longer responsible for this house — the instant when a weight lifted, a mortgage fell away, a title changed hands, and a wistfulness rose in my chest.
It is possible to very much want something that makes you sad.
I reached over and shook the new owners’ hands, and told them I was glad my house was going to a good home.
And that was it, the moment I had so long waited for come and gone.
Afterward, I drove by the old house to say goodbye. This time, I looked at big brown stucco and stone house with its pitched eaves — a house that I designed, watched go up and picked every detail for, not as an obligation, but as a life chapter. I saw the builtin barbecue out back and thought of the family cookouts. I could picture the dogs on the deck and the kids coming home from school, their backpacks at the door, and a wave of nostalgia washed over me.
Although I know houses are just buildings, mere structures on land, I can never feel indifferent about a house I’ve lived in. They hold memories. I am etched in their walls.
I sat out front for a few minutes and felt as if I were opening an old favorite book, reliving the story. Before I drove away, I thanked the house for the shelter it provided my family, the celebrations it oversaw and for its embrace.
On the plane back home, I got to my aisle seat, 8C. Already in the window and middle seats next to me were a husband and wife, and their two kids, ages 5 months and not-quite 2. The dad, foreseeing that the passenger in 8C might not be thrilled with this seating arrangement, told me he had purchased seat 9D, an aisle seat one row back, which I could have if I didn’t want to keep his foursome company.
I accepted. But before relocating, I waited for the passengers in row nine to get situated, and chatted with the couple, so much of their family life still ahead of them. They were on their way to Disney World. I told them I had just closed on a home I had been carrying like a stone since I’d moved out of it six years ago.
Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant approached. “The man in 8B wants to buy you a glass of wine,” she said.
I did not refuse. And I raised a glass to the friendly plane strangers, to a cherished home, to the house and husband I was eagerly heading home to, and to a chapter of my life that had softly and slowly closed.
You don’t have to believe in auras and ghosts to understand that homes are more than sticks and bricks. Feelings of grief as you let go of a home are natural, because we leave a piece of ourselves in every home we’ve lived in. To fail to acknowledge that is to fail to understand the meaning of home. House blessings are ancient traditions found in virtually every faith. Regardless of yours, when you move into a house take a moment to bless it. Ask it to protect you and keep you. thank the house for all it provided you. This is not because the house has feelings; it’s so you can express gratitude. When leaving a house, take with something inconspicuous — a piece of stone, an old knob, a piece of trim — as a keepsake. Keep it in a folder with pictures of the house. Don’t do this for the house. Do this for your soul.
When selling a home you’ve lived in and loved, take a moment to express your gratitude.