When Your New Home Has a Sad History

My mother purchased a lovely three-bedroom ranch house from a young widower. I was drawn to the story of his late wife, whose life didn’t seem all that much different from my own.

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My wonderful mother retired in May 2014, sold her condo, and left her 40-year legacy in Stamford, Conn., to move 70 miles north to West Hartford, where I live with my husband and two young daughters. My mom’s intention was to rent an apartment for a year, get the “lay of the land,” and then to buy a home to settle into at the end of her lease.

Early the following spring, as she began her housing search, my mother found that seemingly all of the prospective homes were being snatched up at a rapid pace. She realized quickly she had to act fast. 

Then her realtor took her to see a very promising house that had just gone on sale. It was love at first sight, and the lovely three-bedroom home met all her criteria, and falling within her price range.

The realtor explained that a young couple had purchased the home in 2012, and beautifully renovated it with the intention of living in it. Unfortunately, the wife had died and her husband decided he no longer wanted to live there.

My mom made an offer on the house, and it was accepted! I told my husband, a West Hartford native, about the property and the seller.

The very next day, my husband sent me an email. He had dug around the Internet, found out the seller’s name, and with that the obituary of his wife. His email contained a link to the obituary and said, “This is about the people selling the house your mom is buying. Sad.”

I clicked on the link and my eyes were drawn first to the picture of a beautiful, young woman. We’ll call her Jenny for the sake of this story. Jenny’s obituary described her as “a beloved wife, aged 40, who passed away … at her home surrounded by her loving family.”

I studied the page, reading the comments in hopes of finding out the cause of her death. At the bottom of the page was an 11-minute video photo collage that told the story of Jenny’s life. I watched the tribute, and with each image of this vibrant young woman, my sadness grew deeper, and my connection to her life closer. I’m 36 years old, and Jenny’s existence didn’t seem too much different from mine.

My husband and I emailed back and forth a few times:

Me: Ugh… that is really sad. I kinda wish I didn’t know what she looked like… I wonder how she died…

Husband: I would guess probably cancer of some sort.

Me: What makes you think that? The pictures in that slideshow don’t really show her being sick, right?

Husband: I don’t know, just what comes to mind when I read “at home surrounded by family.”

As demonstrated by my husband’s unearthing of the seller’s name and his wife’s obituary, so much personal information is available to us today, and right at our fingertips. In the digital age, I was able to log into Facebook and search for the seller. Within seconds I knew I had found the seller’s profile.

His profile picture was of Jenny, and his feed was sprinkled with pictures I had seen in the video tribute. One of his most recent posts showed her obituary. An earlier post showed a meme of a fortune cookie message that read: HEY CANCER, YOU PICKED THE WRONG CHICK! Another post featured an image from the couple’s wedding — a close-up of Jenny’s face during what I imagined was the newlywed couple’s first dance.

I emailed my husband again:

Me: Yep – the seller has a facebook page, and I gleaned from images and comments that it was cancer. Ugh.

Husband: It’s sad, but I’m sure they loved the house and want it to be lived in and enjoyed.

I scrolled down this poor man’s Facebook feed and was able to put a timeline together based on his reporting of events. Jenny was diagnosed less than two years before her death. There were surgeries, pathology reports, optimism that she’d make a complete recovery and then the news the husband hoped he’d never have to share: She was gone.

Unearthing this information had such profound impact on me. The experience took away a lot of the anonymity one usually wishes to preserve when involved in the purchase of a home. You want to see yourself living in the home. You don’t want to see the former owners living — or dying — there.

Although I am an only an indirect party to this home sale, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pain and loss when I think about the house. This woman died in the home my mom is about to move into. I realize that most of the time Jenny spent in that home was likely filled with hope and hope destroyed, suffering, and ultimately facing death.

I have made the conscious decision not to tell my mother about any of our findings, or any of my related feelings. It’s a delightful home, and my mother is going to fill it with the best of life: with children and grandchildren, with holidays and sleepovers, with love.

Beth Taylor is a marketing professional in Hartford, Conn., and a mother of two young girls. She and her husband hope to conduct their own real estate search in the near future, as their family is quickly outgrowing their first home.

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