I've had an odd week. Well, not odd so much as sad and rather bittersweet. Forgive me if I spend some time thinking aloud in this blog.
I live in an "unusual" neighborhood. The neighbors aren't exactly friendly. That's not necessarily a redundancy just because I live in New England. Most neighborhoods aren't like this. There's no real explanation for it, it's just the way it is. People come and go, and for the most part I've found that when the neighbors want or need something they'll get in touch but it doesn't work the other way. Why? Who knows. I have enough tales to tell, enough to fill a book. It's one I won't write. I will, however, talk about one neighbor. I won't use her name. It's not important. I've known her since I was ten years old. She treated everyone the same way. Friendly and warm for awhile and then she'd get mad about something, you never knew what it was, and she'd stop talking to you. Months, weeks, years would pass before she'd speak again. Then she was her old self. And then the cycle would start again. She did this with everyone: neighbors, friends, relatives. It was her way. And what a waste of time. If only she would say what was on her mind it could be discussed and worked out.
When my mother died I received a note in the mail. She and her family had made a donation to her Temple in my mother's memory. I wasn't aware that she knew my mother had died. I wrote a Thank You note, of course. I waved when I drove by which was often since she was right across the street. Either she pretended not to see me or she really didn't see me.
I received an e-mail from another neighbor on another street (we "met" when I admired her dogs in her car at the local strip mall). She had seen an ambulance taking someone out of the house across the street. My house is on a corner, set kitty-corner, so I had to figure out which neighbor in which house. I called across the street. She answered and said it was funny but she thought earlier that I'd call that day and didn't know why she'd had such a thought. We talked and caught-up. Her husband was the one who'd been taken to the hospital. They'd both been in and out of hospitals, rehabs, and she had cancer. She told me about the results of chemo on her body. She got me caught up on her now-grown children and on her grandchildren, all of whom live out of State. We talked for a long time but I could tell she was tired.
I called again a couple of weeks later. She was glad to hear from me and she made sure to get my phone numbers. She told me more about the grandchildren, about how much she appreciated her younger son and everything he'd been doing; contacting doctors, overseeing everything from 3000 miles away. Her older son she said, was "always a coward." He lives a mere 3 hour drive away, he could easily have come more often. Did he? No. Did he help? No. He couldn't face it. What he obviously didn't understand and no doubt still doesn't, is that it wasn't about him. It was about his parents.
A little over a week ago she finally picked up the phone and called me. She wanted to tell me that she and her husband were both in a nursing home in the next town for rehab. She was only expected to be there for a couple of weeks. She asked if I could come visit on Sunday. Well, I had out of town plans on Sunday but I promised I'd come visit as soon as I could. She wanted some Kosher potato chips and a hardcover book to read. She couldn't see the print in a paperback since her glasses had been lost in another nursing home. It took a few days but I finally made time to go, realizing that my schedule would never be really clear. I bought the potato chips and phoned the nursing home Thursday night to find out about visiting hours. She wasn't there. But her husband was. I asked the person who answered to please find out where she was. She reluctantly asked someone. The answer: she'd been taken to the hospital next door. I called the hospital and was connected with the nurse on the 5th floor who told me what room she was in and to come sooner rather than later. Like tomorrow. Visiting hours started at noon.
I was there before 12:30 p.m. I was standing on the 5th floor trying to find the room when a nurse asked if she could help me. I told her the room number and patient's name. She was the same nurse I'd spoken with the night before. She told me, "She passed early this morning...." I stood there in shock. Should I have rushed over the night before? "No. She was holding her own. There was no way to know..." I gave the nurse the potato chips and book, handing over the totebag and telling her to share them with the other nurses. I thanked her for taking such good care of my neighbor since she was obviously caring and there's too little of that. I left the hospital stunned, with most of my life playing out like a movie in my mind. The years, the fun times, the stupid stuff, the wasted time, her kids growing up. Did I mention the wasted time?
The funeral was yesterday. I was there. I visited the family in a traditional "Shiva" call today. My mind won't stop spinning with thoughts, jumbled together, of good times and bad, of all that we'd shared and all that we might have shared.
She had a hard time, afraid of death, knowing it was coming. That bothers me. I wonder if I could accept it any more gracefully or am I, too, afraid of death... And I remember the Dylan Thomas line, "Do not go gentle into that dark night..." She fought the cancer. She didn't go "gentle" but she went, and far too soon.
Causes Darlene Arden Supports
The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the AKC Canine Health Foundation