The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief: The Home You Love

I recently read an article which describes the 5 stages of mourning and grief typically experienced when we lose a loved one. I got to thinking about these stages of grief associated with leaving the home you have loved for so many years. I have been fortunate to help seniors and their families make the transition from the home where they raised their families and have loved for an average of 30-50 years, to condominiums, senior apartments and communities. Your home represents so much more than the bricks and mortar. It is about family, memories, neighbors, security, and what you have known for so many years. Leaving that huge part of your being can be similar to losing someone you have loved in your life.

Let’s examine the five stages of normal grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”.

1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction to any circumstance that is traumatic is to deny the reality of the situation as it relates to loss. It is common for family members of an older adult needing to move to observe this reaction.  If you are a child of a parent or parents who know that the home is not meeting their physical and psychological needs, denial of the reason for a move is frustrating and sometimes depressing. It is hard to watch mom or dad resist and ignore what is happening around them. This is difficult to accept for any of us but at some point, change is required if one is to remain fully active and healthy. Denial often leads to a crisis that has to be managed.

2. Anger

Have you ever become angry when others who love you are trying to help but you wish they would stop? My wife always points out that you are most upset with those who are correct in their insights. Moving from the family home is upsetting for everyone causing feelings of loss and bereavement. As children we are losing the home that represented our youth and family gatherings. For the older adult moving it represents a reality that he or she does not want to accept. Feeling angry about it makes sense.

3. Bargaining

A need to control the situation is a normal reaction to a feeling of helplessness. When facing this move to new housing, we get into “shoulding” ourselves! We should have gone to the doctor sooner to fix our current malady. We should have purchased that ranch years ago that did not have the stairs we currently have in our home today, and on and on. We make deals with our higher power to put off the inevitability of the situation.

4. Depression

We can fall into a sad state as we begin to worry about the process. We begin to micromanage our finances. It is in this stage an older adult may feel isolated resulting from depression. This is a time for families to talk about what is happening. It may entail a visit to the doctor as well as a family meeting. The one moving needs to be surrounded by those who truly have their best interests at heart.

5. Acceptance

This is a gift that not all of us will get to. Many may remain in one of the earlier stages and the result may be a health crises that requires immediate action and no time for planning. But for those who do reach this phase relating to a loss of one’s home, a peace and calm may follow. I’ve seen families who were struggling through the process of transition and displaying the anger and frustration that goes with that struggle, become closer as a family. While helping thousands of families through this process I have seen what appears to be a miracle. I have seen an older adult go from angry, bitter, and physically challenged, transform to a state of happiness and contentment in their new surroundings. Going from a situation of isolation to a life of connectivity and activity has been a gift for me to witness.

In the end we tend to avoid what is uncertain. This is built into all of us. We will remain in a familiar, unhealthy situation rather than move to a set of circumstances we know may match our current needs but is new. Know that you are not alone.  Understanding the grieving process as it relates to selling your long- time family home may help shorten this process. Understand we are all made of the same stuff and grief and mourning should be expected.

Acceptance comes sooner for some but for others a bit of time and patience are needed. In the end we all want what is best for ourselves and our loved ones. We may need to cut ourselves and others some slack. Patience, understanding and love will always bring a family closer to the ultimate goal of happiness, peace, prosperity and a safe and secure place we can all call home.

Note: Some information taken from an article by Julie Axelrod, “The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief”.

Bruce Nemovitz is a Senior Real Estate Specialist, as well as Certified Senior Advisor. Bruce has sold residential homes in the four county Milwaukee-Metro areas for 35 years.