Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

ManyRoomsImage: Many Rooms © Jan Richardson

In the two and a half years since Gary’s death, I have had lots of practice at coming home. It’s one of the most difficult practices I’ve ever had to work at. Because our home was a space that Gary and I created together, there is much comfort still to be found here. But that comfort is shot through with the ache of his physical absence from what we created. Every time I cross back over the threshold into our home, whether from a quick errand or a long trip, both the comfort and the ache are waiting here to greet me.

One of my most recent homecomings was just a couple weeks ago, after a wondrous month in Ireland. I spent two weeks traveling with my sister, then stayed on for a stretch to do some work on a new book of blessings.

This is one of the blessings I worked on in Ireland, and I wanted to share it with you. In all your comings and goings, may grace meet you and welcome you home. Peace to you.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I know
how every time you return,
you call out
in greeting
to the one
who is not there;
how you lift your voice
not in habit
but in honor
of the absence
so fierce
it has become
its own force.

I know
how the hollow
of the house
echoes in your chest,
how the emptiness
you enter
matches the ache
you carry with you

I know
there are days
when the only thing
more brave than leaving
this house
is coming back to it.

So on those days,
may there be a door
in the emptiness
through which a welcome
waits for you.

On those days,
may you be surprised
by the grace
that gathers itself
within this space.

On those days,
may the delight
that made a home here
find its way to you again,
not merely in memory
but in hope,

so that every word
ever spoken in kindness
circles back to meet you;

so that you may hear
what still sings to you
within these walls;

so that you may know
the love
that dreams with you here
when finally
you give yourself
to rest—

the love
that rises with you,
stubborn like the dawn
that never fails
to come.

—Jan Richardson

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Many Rooms,” please visit this page at (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

24 Responses to “Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House”

  1. Anne W. Says:

    I love this poem. Even as a single, never married person, it resonates with me, because we all mourn and carry the possibilites that never came to be, the “what ifs,” or the remnants of friendships that have faded and no longer gather in the kitchen. As ever, our strength remains our mended hearts.

  2. Anne Mills Says:

    Thank you so much for this blessing Jan and I look forward to your new book.

  3. Ruth Atterberry Says:

    Thank you once again, Jan, for speaking to us and for us.

  4. Lynda Says:

    Jan, this is one thing that has never left me since I have been on my own; I always feel an emptiness when I return home even though I’m not living in the home that my former spouse and I shared. You have given me acknowledgment of a shared experience and I thank you for that. I will be going on vacation tomorrow and I know I will feel this when I return but I will think of your blessing! Blessings and prayers for you as you reach so many wounded hearts!

  5. Bob Oberg Says:

    Thank you, Jan. I can relate to what you say. My wife passed four years ago, and I love our house and do not intend to move. But there are many memories… Your poem made me think of this one of mine:

    The House of Grief

    It is a house of many rooms
    I think I have visited them all
    Then another memory
    Or seeing one of your favorite things
    I have discovered another room
    And the tears come flooding back.

    I think of another house
    Our Lord said it has many mansions
    I think the grief connects me to this house
    A strange feeling envelops me
    I listen to the music of Hildegard of Bingen
    And let the quiet tears come
    Like a gentle rain from Heaven.

  6. Lisa Degrenia Says:

    Jan, please consider offering some of your blessings as cards or prints. This one would be especially meaningful to so many. May the Word continue to bless your listening and writing. – Lisa <

  7. Debbie Green Says:

    Jan, a friend from my church forwarded me this post. I lost my sweet husband on May 21, 2016. I can hardly type this through the tears. It seems like all I’ve done today is cry. I will save this blessing and read it often. Thanks for sharing your feelings about coming home to an empty house – it is exactly how I feel.

    Bob, thanks also for sharing your poem.

    May your day be blessed as you have blessed mine!

  8. Peter Notehelfer Says:

    As always, masterful . . .

  9. Rosalie Nelson Says:

    Jan–I related so much to the blessing on coming home to an empty house–altho in my case it’s only an apartment….I remember waliking back one day early in my widowhood and saying–‘none of thise things matter anymore”…perhaps that’s why I have so much difficulty getting the paperwork under control! I’m less raw with pain now, but it’s still there, even after getting another cat when the previous one died….I still feel my life is in such a different place than when my husband was alive….widowhood is HARD, and I knowq God has some answers thru the pain, but I don’t see it yet….thanks for all your lovely blessings.

  10. Leslie Bingham Says:

    Jan, your wisdom continues to bless me through every phrase you compose. Thank you for sharing your gifts. I’m working through The Artist’s Rule with Christine Valters Paintner. I know you endorsed her book, I do hope you were able to spend time with her in Ireland. You know that conversation starter question along the lines of “What 5 people would you invite to dinner if you could?” The two of y’all are on my list. Continued prayers for your journey.
    Peace from the river,

  11. Grace Hillers Says:

    This is so beautiful and so true ! Even though I live in an apartment now, the pain is still there when I see all the things that I moved and the memories those things hold. Thank you again for putting these thoughts in to words. I will share with other friends !

  12. kathy bley Says:

    I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer 2 1/2 years ago. 5 months after he passed away, my daughter, her husband and their baby moved in with me. In the 2 years they stayed with me they had 2 more babies! Needless to say, my house was neither quiet nor empty :)! They recently moved out and I am just now dealing with wyou blessing get so beautifully describes. It was so timely that a friend forwarded this to me today.

  13. Christine Stander Says:

    Absolutely stunning and beautiful words and feelings…elegant simplicity reflecting hours, days, months and years of work and prayer. Thank you for sharing with us.

  14. Sally Griffith Says:

    Jan, the words you write know just where to go and who needs them. I’ve always loved reading your writings, but I’ve never said so. But I want you to know that you speak to me like you do to so many others, and It warms me. Thank you.

  15. Fran Lombard Says:

    Your writing and poem moved me deeply. We are all going through ‘returning to an empty house’ whether we loose a partner or never had one or even sometimes (I think) when there is a partner in the house. I made a decision very early in my life not to share my space with a partner. I have always been contented with this choice (well most of the times) but since my 70th birthday serious doubt filtered through through this choice and for the first time an existential crises crept into my life. Two years later down the 70th-lane and for the first time I can relate so deeply with your poem. But what you have shared with us will not only helping us with the healing process but for us to keep on moving in The Beloved’s Circle of Grace. Thank you.

  16. Stephen Whalen Says:


  17. Emily Says:

    Oh Jan!
    How beautiful – I’ve kust forwarded this to a friend whose husband died 3 weeks ago; she has left her home to visit her son and daughter – and has dreaded her rentry. She loved this – your many blessings reach farther and wider than you could possibly know! May they circle back to you and envelop you in turn!

  18. Bernadette Cronin-Geller Says:

    It has been such a long time since I have tried to find you and I am happy to read that you traveled to my ancestral land and also have more blessings to share…and many blessings on you

  19. Susan Fontaine Godwin Says:

    Jan, I thought of you this morning during my quiet time, and wondered if you had written anything recently, so I went to your site and found this wonderful and timely blessing. God is so good to lead me to these words of yours today. Coming home at night to our empty home is always the toughest for me, but it is the memories and expressions of love within each room that envelope and comfort me. I am in the Northwest visiting my sister and family for a month…my first trip away from home since my husband, Gary, passed away in December, 2015. I will treasure this blessing when I re-enter later and come home to the empty spaces. With love and gratitude for your ministry and sharing.

  20. Maureen Hilliard Says:

    I will use this new blessing with the Hospice Grief Support I facilitate. So many times the bereaved will say how hard it is to go home to the empty house. But you have filled it with an alternative perspective, that of the beloved dead. Thank you for offering this part of your grief journey.,

  21. Steve Guilfoos Says:

    a friend sent me this and I plan on using it as an opening prayer when we facilitate a Healing Circle on the Loss of a Loved One. I am a member of graying church community. Queen of Apostles Community, Ministry of Consoling

  22. Jill Kemshed Says:

    : I have such empathy with this as I do with so much of your writing,thank you.

  23. Jill Kemshed Says:

    Truly inspirational thank you.

  24. Lucille Thares Says:

    It is tender to read your work and that the angels are always waiting for me when I enter my empty house and those l are my loved 0nes and that God has a plan for me to love again just as surely as the sun rises every morning.

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