When New Hires are Grieving for the Lost Home

It may surprise you to learn that people can grieve for the physical home they have had to leave behind.  There might have been something especially attractive to the individual about the design or features of the house itself, the individual may have built the home him- or herself, the person may have grown up in the house, given birth and/or raised his or her children in the house, or there may be something at the conscious or unconscious levels that make the individual feel particularly safe and at peace with the house or the physical surroundings.

When people are attached to the physicality of the house or surroundings and they must leave, it can have a profound effect on their stress levels, as well as their ability to adjust and adapt to their new home and surroundings.  Our own research and the findings of other social scientists have uncovered a statistically significant relationship between high levels of grieving for the lost home and increased reports of stress and illness during the relocation process.     Unfortunately, pining for the physical location is not the only factor individuals can be affected by.  People can also grieve for the lost home by way of the loss in social and psychological features attached to living in a particular place.  Such losses can be profound…

     Prior to moving to Virginia, we lived just outside Seattle, Washington for more than 18 years.  As the song says, “All our memories were there.”  It has been hard on all of us this past year being away from our friends and neighbors in Washington.  I do not think we will ever completely stop missing our life there.  My wife and both the kids are constantly “home sick” as they call it.  The people in the new community are nice enough.  It’s just that we miss the parties and get-togethers with people from our old circles and church group.  It’s more like we left our entire lifestyle when we moved.  Like we left who we are back in Washington.  ~Keith D.

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     I was taken by surprise to see how affected I was to leave my exercise buddies when I moved.  I guess I did not realize how attached I was.  A group of us, five, counting myself, had been meeting at the health club every week since the mid-1990s.  It started with aerobics class, but later turned into shopping buddies, luncheons, and then our kids’ birthday parties and graduations.       After I moved, I called the girls every week for the first half a year.  I phoned-in just after they would be finishing up at the health club.  It was great to hear their voices and catch up on what had been happening with them all over the previous week, but it was also very sad.  It made me feel very lonesome for their company.  Pretty soon this or that thing would come up and I wouldn’t be able to call in that week, and then two weeks, and pretty soon I stopped calling all together.  It just ended up making me sad rather than happy to hear them and not be a part of our little group.       For at least the first year, I thought of them every week at the time I would normally have met them at the health club.  I joined the gym here, and I have made some casual acquaintances, but nothing like what I had back home before I moved.  At the end of the day, I just cannot ever see myself really fitting in here like I did back home. ~HQ

What is it, exactly, that happens when people grieve for their “lost home”?  It appears that the process is similar to what happens when people grieve for any other thing—or person or pet—that is lost in their lives.  The reports include features such as sadness, depression, frustration, and withdrawal from people and previously enjoyed activities.  As you can imagine, experiencing these emotions on top of an already stressful life event such as all the changes involved during the relocation process, can exacerbate problems and hinder healthy adjustment to the new circumstances and conditions.

Gaining the skills to see the entire situation—both past and present—and understanding the ways in which you have personal control over many of the features in your current surroundings is an important first step in moving beyond the grieving stage and forward to your new life.