When the walls keep love out

Making space for a blended family

Heather McLeod


(Photo by Herry Sutanto on Unsplash.)

At the time, five months after my husband’s death, it made sense: I’d use his life insurance money to build a house for me and our young son.

My dad is a retired carpenter and he led the way, designing a simple, cost-effective two-storey home. We called it my “transformer house,” because it could adapt to our little family of two’s changing dynamics over the next few decades: the downstairs guest room had its own washroom for when my kid became a teenager and outgrew the double-sink intimacy of our upstairs living space. The self-contained rental suite could be his if he went to college locally, or I could downsize and rent out the upstairs to vacationing families.

Still in the brain fog stage of grief, every small decision felt monumental: which brand of appliances? Which countertops?

Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I pictured the life we could create in our new house. It would be our oasis-for-two, after all we’d experienced. I’d been inside a widow’s house before, and her hobbies had sprawled throughout: there was freedom in being the only adult to consider.

We painted the walls yellow and, with my dad’s expertise, created our dream house. There was plenty of light, vinyl floors that hid a reasonable amount of dust, and blackout blinds, so my kid would sleep past sunrise.

We moved in. We survived the trauma of unpacking the mementos of our previous life as a family of three, and began moving forward, day by day.

And then, a year after my husband died, I met Ryan.

What happens to a dream house when the dream changes?

Fast forward a few years, and my boyfriend and I have matching tattoos.

We’ve just returned from a wedding. Ryan and his two teenage sons, me and my kiddo: we dressed up and smiled for the extended family photos, our arms around the bride and groom.

Then, after the three hour drive home, we dropped Ryan and his sons off at their house and drove the five minutes south for our own homecoming.

Because my son and I live in a “transformer house” that foresaw every possible future, except for a…