I always wanted to live in an old house, one with a century’s worth of stories lived within it’s walls. I loved the romantic idea that a historic house had stood the test of time for families that came before, and that mine would add to that richness and somehow become part of history.
It didn’t work out that way. Jason wanted to build a house, somewhere he could start a fresh story of his own. When it came time to say goodbye to our first house, I said I would only live in a small area, and if we were to build a house it had to have certain elements of character and design incorporated. If he could meet those demands, I would acquiesce and let him build us our dream home.
And so of course, he did.
We were sitting on the front porch of the Earthsong Lodge outside Denali National Park in Alaska when we got the phone call that our financing had been approved and we officially had a lot and a construction loan to build a new house. Then Jason’s work began, as he managed and coordinated all elements of the construction himself. He had the support of family and friends to guide him through, but he did the work. At that point of our lives I didn’t even understand how much work he was really doing, because he just took care of things. I certainly contributed, but he made it all happen.
He would work his midnight shift as a police officer and then head to the lot for a few hours to work or communicate with the subcontractors there that day. We moved into a little apartment and he set up a command center on the kitchen table with all the paper work and blueprints strewn about, a constant state of controlled chaos. Things seemed to move slowly and then sprint ahead, we were constantly picking things out…there was no builder design center to give us standard and premium choices. The options were limitless and at times overwhelming.
I was 29 years old when we started this project. We broke ground in early October, and there was the shell of a house there by Christmas. The building was all moving along, right on schedule, but Jason’s health was starting to be a bigger and bigger problem, particularly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He lost 40 pounds and was consuming Omeprazole like it was candy, and in December he finally went to the doctor. January 2, 2009 we got the final diagnosis. Cancer.
The building haulted, of course. We didn’t even go there, we couldn’t. We were a few miles in the opposite direction, at Mercy Hospital and the Cancer Center, floating through a new existence that included a terminal diagnosis. 6 months, they told us.
Jason’s Uncle Scott took over the building later that month, or maybe in February, I’m not really sure. He started coordinating everything for us and we could start to see some progress again. I don’t even know how he managed it all, but he did it for Jason. I am eternally grateful for his work.
Treatment started and Jason was sick, but more able to go to the house to see the progress or to do some things to help Scott out with the management side of it all. He slowly took over more and more as the chemo shrunk his tumors and made it possible for him to eat and sleep again. He was able to get to the house to do some work himself, which was his dream and his plan for the whole process. At the end of May, 2009 a scan showed the coveted NED diagnosis, or No Evidence of Disease. The doctor was clear, the cancer was still there but it was small enough that the scan couldn’t see it. We decided to celebrate that.
Jason was weak, but so determined to finish our house. We spent the month of June doing finishing aspects ourselves. Jason and his friends laid all the sod on an epic-ally rainy day. We shoveled mulch all day every day for what felt like weeks to finish the landscaping. I cleaned the construction dust for weeks before we got our final occupancy permit in late June.
When we moved in that summer Jason was feeling much stronger and revitalized, and started going to work again, during the day instead of the night. I realize now, looking back, how much I struggled that summer. The previous six months I had held it together, dutifully supporting my husband through the worst news one can receive in life. Together we fought that cancer, and we built our dream house as we did it. So naturally, by July, I fell apart.
I would sleep most of the day. I’d get up, unpack a few boxes, and take a shower so it would look like I had been productive, and be smiling and happy once Jason got home from work. I realize now I was depressed, but at the time I couldn’t admit it to myself, much less to anyone else.
August brought my 30th birthday. I stayed in bed and cried the whole day. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t walk around that house.
The house became a symbol of all we had already lost to cancer. Jason lived past that initial 6 month diagnosis, but we knew we were living on borrowed time. Every time I pulled into the driveway I was reminded that this was where we had planned to start the rest of our lives, and now it would be the place where his would end. We were going to raise children here, and now that was now impossible. We didn’t talk about this with each other. He needed to spend his days living, not thinking about death. I did my best to do that with him, and we enjoyed our time together in our house. He took pride in what he built, as he should have. He was not materialistic or boastful about what he had done, he was simply proud of the goal he was able to accomplish in building that house.
After 2 years he took his last breath in our house.
Now, Jeff and I wonder about what life will be like when 2 little boys are running around the many circles that are possible in our house. I watch Nicholas run screaming with joy down the long center hallway and it is simply a dream fulfilled. This house was meant for a loud, loving family, and now it has it, just not the one I had imagined.
When Jason first died I considered selling the house. The space was too much, like a concrete example of the huge void his death created in my life. So much empty space, so many unused rooms behind closed doors. I just couldn’t do it though, I couldn’t part with the house Jason built for me, with the life he created for us. I like the fact that I still have that connection to him and I am eternally grateful to Jeff for understanding my need to start our life together in the place where that life ended.
I think back to my desire to have a old house, to have one that had stories to tell and history my family could add another layer to. Gosh was I wrong. 9 years of stories fill my house. Stories of love, loss, death, and now, birth. My boys will grow up and we will be a family in that house. Our house.