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growing up

The Jewish Way We Said Goodbye to Our Home

When we first bought our home, our children were ages 5, 3, and 1.

At the time, my husband and I really thought we had landed in our “forever home.” Incredibly, despite the seemingly endless days of nursing and diapering — followed by carpooling and schooling, plus all the cooking and cleaning — the years simply flew by. Despite the repeated warnings I had received about “long days, short years,” I wasn’t adequately prepared to become what we are now: empty nesters. 

Now that our kids have flown the coop, in April we decided to downsize, moving to a smaller property nearby that requires significantly less maintenance.

Of course, we are not alone in our desire to move. According to The Pew Research Center, about one-fifth of American adults moved during the pandemic or know someone who did. These days, Americans are selling and buying homes at an unprecedented rate — the housing market has been described as “wild” with prices at a record high and inventory at a record low. Many are moving for financial reasons; others want more space, to be closer to family, or a lifestyle change. 

Whatever the motivation, even under the best of circumstances, moving is one of life’s top five stressors. In addition to all of the physical details involved in coordinating a move, there is also the emotional toll this process takes. 

I know this first-hand because we just sold our home of 17 years. It’s the home in which we raised our kids and experienced our life’s greatest joys and the deepest sorrows. It’s where we ate and slept and played. Where we fought and cried and laughed and loved. So many memories permeated the walls — not just our kids’ artwork, which adorned them, but it felt like the very essence of our family’s energy had seeped into them.

Despite the months lead-up, during which I was theoretically preparing us for the move, I still felt too unsettled to say goodbye. Daily, I pondered: “How do we move from this space, this sanctuary that has protected us and kept us for close to two decades?” Once our house went into contract, I finally realized I needed a plan that would help me, and my family, navigate this uncharted territory. I knew that I needed Jewish ritual to move me into my new reality — both literally and metaphorically. 

Over my lifetime, I have become a proponent of rituals, especially at moments of transition (and even amidst my kids’ eye-rolling). I believe that ritual has the power to transform the ordinary into the sacred and to help us create meaning in our lives. Pausing to offer thanks and gratitude when my kids reached a developmental milestone; reciting the Shehechiyanu blessing when they rode their bikes for the first time; leaving notes, along with a dollar bill, from the Tooth Fairy (affectionately known as T.F. around here) upon the loss of a tooth; each of these everyday moments took on greater significance through ritual.

So, in our final days before we moved out, I scheduled three rituals to help me survive this emotional rollercoaster: a girlfriends gathering, a friends gathering, and a family gathering. 

My girlfriends gathering met in my favorite room in our house: a room off our bedroom that served as my study. Filled with books and family photos, it was the room I meditated in and where I went when I needed a time-out. (Ironically, it was also the room my kids remember as the “we’re in trouble room,” because when we needed to talk with them, that was where we met.) Over our nearly two decades here, several times each year, a few of my girlfriends and I would gather in this space. We’d spend the evening talking, dreaming, relaxing and supporting one another. So, nine days before we moved out, at my girlfriends’ suggestion, I convened one last hurrah to celebrate the role this space played in all of our lives. We reflected on the time we had spent here together; what we learned and what we’ll each take with us into the future. 

My second gathering was our “framily” — our friends who have become our chosen family. A week before our move-out date, we planned a small get together with our closest friends whose kids had also grown up in our home. It was a low-key evening filled with drinks and desserts, laughter and reminiscing. My daughter created a Shutterfly sign-in book with pictures of our home and asked each guest to pick a page and on it write a memory related to that specific room. To wrap up the evening, we played Bingo, in which each square contained an event that happened in our home, such as “ate Shabbat dinner,” “stayed over past midnight,” “witnessed a family argument,” and “watched a World Cup game.” It was a great time and a wonderful way to ritualize so many of the events that had occurred in our home over the years.

Finally, inspired by the writer Rabbi Laura Geller, I convened a family gathering. After the movers had left and our house was completely empty, the four of us walked through, stopping in each room and sharing memories of that space — some happy, some sad, some funny, and some… well, let’s just say that I learned some new information from my now young adults that I didn’t know when they were kids, like their stealth missions to the local drugstore to buy candy and secretly stash it away. Room by room, we each offered our thanks to the space, and then removed the mezuzah that hung on the doorway. Together, we reminded each other about times forgotten, and we retold meaningful stories — stories that will sustain us into the future and into our new home.

By the time we completed this last ritual, I finally felt ready to leave. I was emotional, for sure, yet I was able to confidently walk out the door for the last time. Placing the keys on the kitchen counter, I took in one last deep breath, feeling complete, having said goodbye in multiple ways. The power of these three rituals helped me place space in between the harried, hectic days of what seemed like the never-ending packing. They were able to transform my sadness into acceptance and, yes, even into some excitement about our new home and what lies ahead.

And that is the Jewish way my family and I said goodbye to our home. And if you are one of the 14 to 23 million (!) Americans who plan to relocate sometime soon, I invite you to consider how you will say goodbye to yours.

Header image via CSA Images

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