When Death Poisons your Space

Processing the emotions around the locations where death occurs.

Experiencing the death of a loved one, especially when it is sudden or unexpected, can cause some reactions that mirror trauma. Death is an experience that consumes the space where it happens; it can poison the air around you like a gas or a mold. A surprisingly large percentage of families who lose a child post their home for sale. Many widows say they immediately replaced their beds when their husbands passed away. When my cousin overdosed in his apartment, his girlfriend, his mother, his sisters, no one could step foot in that space where he died. “It felt tangible, the memory of finding him on the floor, and every time I approached the front door I relived it again. I froze before even turning the doorknob, and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t open that door again.”

When asking my aunt about the experience of finding her adult son after he had overdosed, her reaction even months later was that of someone who had suffered immense emotional trauma. In her case, it was fairly simple to hire people to clear out the apartment and then end the lease. However, for you or someone you are trying to support, death may be “haunting” a space more difficult to get rid of.


woman processing emotions from death of a loved one in a hospital

When someone you love dies in a hospital, it can make medical spaces difficult to enter. For many people, hospitals are uncomfortable places to be anyway. But when someone dies in a hospital bed, especially when you are present for the event, it can make all hospitals feel dangerous and depressing. This may not be a regular problem, but when your sister has a baby and you can’t be there to celebrate because you can’t make yourself get out of the car in the hospital parking lot, death’s influence can consume beautiful moments and turn them into something sinister. If this is the case for you, although we wish we had a magic cure for all that your going through, our best advice is to take it slowly, bit by bit. Practice going to the hospital like it was physical therapy. One day, walk around the parking lot. Another day, enter the front doors and ask the concierge a question. The next time, walk into the gift shop, or take the elevator all the way up and all the way down. Trauma thrives when it’s kept in the dark and ignored. Shed some like on death’s poison and watch it shrivel.

Your Home

Obviously, someone passing in your safe space, your home, can be insidiously harmful to the space and the relationships built there. We suggest trying a few things: leaving the space untouched as a type of shrine or memorial. If that doesn’t work, maybe try changing a few things and adapting the space to your new life. Force yourself to open the door and enter. Maybe the best thing to do is change everything about the space, completely renovate it, make it unrecognizable so it serves a totally different purpose for you. Again, although none of these solutions are instant cure-alls, taking an active role in gaining your space back is the best way to eventually conquer death’s consuming poison.

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