It’s well known that moving house can be a very stressful time, whatever the circumstances. Moving house when you’re grieving or have been bereaved, however, can come with particular challenges.

For some, having to move to a new home when you’re bereaved can feel like another loss; it may be that you are leaving somewhere that you lived with your special person, where they may have died or where you saw them last, where you may have been pregnant with a baby who died, or where you have memories associated with them.

While some may struggle with leaving their home, others may be desperate to move and may feel that living in the house where their special person died forces them to relive memories and that they need a fresh start. It may be particularly difficult if the home is associated with traumatic memories.

There may also be financial pressures and if, for instance, you live in council or housing association accommodation, or armed forces accommodation, you may be under pressure to move to a different home or location before you feel ready. This may come with other losses or changes which impact you, such as moving away from your familiar community, neighbours, local friends, school or work.

I’m worried about moving house as I have so many memories of my special person here

If you are bereaved, many of your memories of your special person who has died may be associated with your home and surroundings. Whether you were bereaved recently or many years ago, the idea of moving away may feel upsetting and you may worry that you will lose those memories or your sense of connection to the person.

It can help to recognise that your memories will go with you wherever you are headed; your special person and your relationship with them is part of you and not the house in which you live. However, it can be helpful to have prompts that help you to remember.

It may help to take something from your home that reminds you of them, if this is permitted, such as if you planted something in their memory. You could make a memory box for your home and include items such as photographs, or you could film your home to look at later.

I’m finding packing all our possessions very emotional

Packing to move can be challenging as you may come across items that remind you of difficult moments. Equally you may find that you recall happy memories as you pack. If you are finding packing particularly emotional, it can help to ask someone you trust but who is less emotionally attached to the things to help you with this task. 

It was hard to tackle things I had stored in the loft, but with the help of my sister-in-law, I found I could be more objective about what to keep and what to let go of, and I felt less overwhelmed.

Widowed parent

My baby son died many years ago and I was dreading revisiting difficult feelings by sorting through items relating to this painful time in my life, such as cards and photographs. It was emotional, but it was also positive; I made a lovely memory box to take with me to my next home - something I’d felt unable to do at the time.

Bereaved parent

Don’t put yourself under pressure to dispose of things that are difficult for you – if you can’t decide, it can help to put them to one side for a few days and make the decision as to whether to keep them later. If you are short of space, then another approach that some families find helpful is to designate one box with a small selection of very special things that were important to or remind you of the person which you can seal and only reopen if and when you feel ready in future. 

I find sorting through my special person’s belongings difficult

You may have to deal with your special person’s belongings which can be particularly challenging. Although it can be very hard to do, it’s important to understand that while belongings may help you remember your special person, they don’t fully encapsulate what the person meant to you. Bearing this in mind may help you to think about what items help you to remember them most and which items you might be able to let go of or donate.

It helped me to think about how his possessions might be appreciated by others who don’t have much. I could then donate his things to charity and it made a difficult experience feel much more positive.

Widowed parent

Items that help you to remember could be anything from an item of clothing to a game they loved to play with – what you choose and how much is absolutely your choice. Some people find it helpful to choose some items and put them to one side and revisit them later to see if they continue to have meaning for them.

I tried to think about what my son might like in future that belonged to his dad, and kept a box aside with a few things, such as choice items of clothing, his watch, his old passport and some cricket memorabilia.

Widowed parent

Once you have chosen the items that mean the most to you, you might decide to put them in a memory box or perhaps display them in your new home in a way that pleases you and helps you feel connected to your special person. Alternatively you can pack things away in a box until you are ready to revisit them at some point in the future. 

I am worried that moving house will unsettle my grieving child

For a bereaved child, moving may be unsettling at a time when life already feels uncertain. They may be concerned about moving from familiar surroundings or changing schools, if this is necessary, or being further away from their friends and clubs.

While it may not be possible to completely protect your child from the stresses of moving, you can help to make things easier by keeping them informed as to what is happening at each stage and perhaps involving them in making choices, for instance deciding what they’d like in their new bedroom and helping them feel connected to their special person by putting together a memory boxYou could also get them to help choose a special item they want to keep, and choose toys they might want to donate to charity so that other children can benefit from them. Liaising with both your child’s current school and their new school can also be helpful, ensuring teachers and staff are aware of any anxieties your child may have and, in terms of the new school, that they are aware your child is bereaved. You may wish to make the school aware of our resources for education professionals on supporting bereaved pupils.

How can I help my children cope with us moving in with my new partner?

If you are a widowed parent and are in a new relationship, even if the relationship has been accepted by your children, moving to a new home and becoming part of a new family unit can be unsettling. Your children may be anxious about living somewhere different and leaving your home that reminds them of their parent who has died. If your new partner also has children, becoming part of a new, blended family can also bring uncertainty for everyone. You might also be feeling a range of conflicting emotions including a mixture of sadness, nervousness, excitement or even a sense of guilt about leaving your current family home that you might have set up together. The intensity of these emotions might take you by surprise but conflicting feelings that feel confusing are normal during significant milestones including making a fresh start. It’s important to remember that just because you are moving house, it doesn’t mean you miss your partner who has died and the time you spent together any less.

Our resource on stepparenting when a biological parent has died offers some guidance on  creating a family structure that supports, includes and welcomes everyone.

Other members of the family don’t want us to move house

Members of a family may have opposing views on the move - some may not feel ready, while others may welcome a fresh start. Where a couple is grieving, it is not unusual for partners to grieve differently and to be impacted by grief in different ways and at different times. If you have children, they may be feeling anxious about how moving house will impact their life, education and social networks. If you can, set time aside to talk about how you feel about moving and to take into account each other's feelings. It can help to share how you feel about it too and acknowledge the different ways in which moving is hard for everyone. If the move is unavoidable, it may be that you need to speak about each aspect of the move and how it can be managed in a way that takes into account each other’s feelings as much as possible.

I feel guilty moving away from the home I shared with my special person who has died

Leaving a house that you have set up with someone or where you have lived together as a family can feel like you are having to say goodbye to them all over again. Other family members may also feel unsettled, have views or be upset. However it is important to remember that being bereaved is not a choice you made, so you don’t need to feel guilty when circumstances in your life change. Looking out for your future and that of your family has to be your priority now and is all part of the process of grieving and moving forward with your life in a way that is beneficial in the long term.

My mother-in-law was tearful when the removal men came but to be honest I’d been so stressed with the process of selling the house that by the time it came, I felt relieved and nothing like as upset as I thought I would.

Widowed parent

I am under pressure to move more quickly than I want to

It may be that financial pressures, or the terms of your tenancy if you live in a council or housing association property, or accommodation linking to a partner’s job, mean you have to move home sooner than you would wish. This can be extremely stressful, and you may feel you have not been given sufficient time to come to terms with your loss. The Citizens Advice Service can provide helpful advice and information.

Looking after yourself

I think it’s really important to recognise when it’s all getting on top of you and give yourself permission to do something that’s fun or relaxing. I found exercise really helpful or taking myself out of the situation for a bit by reading a book.

Bereaved parent

Moving house is emotionally draining, but can also be physically exhausting too. Finding ways to look after your health and wellbeing when you’re moving house will help you to cope. Eating well such as by having healthy snacks available, keeping hydrated and making time to rest are all helpful. Try to recognise when you’re overtired or you’re experiencing difficult emotions and be conscious of not pushing yourself beyond your limits. Don’t be reluctant to ask others to help you; reliable, supportive friends and family can be a great help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. See our resource for more on looking after yourself when someone has died.

Visit our page: How we can support you for more on our services.

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