How Home Improvement Helped Me Work Through Grief

I am not one of those people who constantly updates her home’s décor. I keep it clean and child-friendly for our seven grandchildren, and cozy, I hope, for everyone who walks through our door. I have never dreamed about gut renovations or even rotated furniture. I have seldom fretted over paint colors. Our downstairs has an open floor plan, and for six years all of the walls were a shade that my friend Jackie once described as “meconium stain.” I didn’t like the color, but I couldn’t seem to find time to do something about it.

Someday, I told myself. Someday I’ll get around to seeing my favorite colors on these walls.

But after my brother’s death, something shifted. I felt so depleted, and I worried that I was losing the sense of optimism that had always kept me afloat, even in the toughest times. I stood in the middle of my dining room, suddenly aware of the warning in those dingy walls. They reflected how I felt, and that was not a good thing.

I glanced down at our dog, Franklin, who was sitting on the floor at my feet, and raised my arms in the air. “What am I waiting for?” On cue, he stood up and turned to face the living room windows, his tail thumping against my calves.

For the first time since my brother’s death, I felt a stirring of something other than sadness. Over the next few weeks, I recognized this flutter as a call to action. What, indeed, was I waiting for?

Two months later, our first floor is now a palette of cream, blue, yellow and, on one wall, a daring shade of burnt orange. “I wish I’d done this sooner,” I told Jackie’s wife, Kate.

“You’ve changed it now,” she said. “It was time.” The look on her face told me she was talking about more than a fresh coat of paint. People who love me had been worried about me. I have always been the strong one—by upbringing and by choice. But this time my stoicism was fake and useless. I needed to invite my friends back into my life.

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