where the writers are
Our Neighbors: The Nextdoors


Our next door neighboors always identify themselves like - this is Sue Nextdoor, this is Bill Nextdoor when they call, so we've taken to calling them the Nextdoors.

We've lived next door to Sue and her husband, Bill, for about 20 years, and she was always a person I avoided like the plague. My husband Bob sometimes plays racket ball with Bill, but I have never wanted to get socially involved with her. Even at Bob's hint that they are winos like us, I wasn't interested.

I had always found her too loud - I could hear her yelling at Steve, her stepson, or their son, John through both our exterior walls; too nosey - she always seemed to poke her nose outside whenever I was out in the garden; too domineering - she made her husband throw his son out of their house, and much too pushy. I couldn't believe her chutzpah when she appeared at our door with her oldest daughter and a six-pack of beer as soon as she found out we had two young, handsome male houseguests - my nephew and his friend - staying with us for a few weeks. That was the end of my patience.

But it all changed the day our son Paul died. She offered to put up out-of-town relatives, she brought over bagels and cream cheese in the morning, and she supplied the coffee for the open house after the funeral. She was just there with calls and flowers and kinds words, and then the basket.

One night right before the first Thanksgiving after Paul's death Sue left a basket on my doorstep. She said in her note that she dreaded the holidays after her mother died, so she gathered - "harvested" was the word she used - a few things to ease the holiday season for me. As I read her note and looked through the basket I cried, not only out of the dread of being without Paul on Thanksgiving, Hanukah and his New Year's Eve birthday, but for the generosity and caring of a person I hardly knew. In such a quiet and unassuming way, she showed me real human compassion and understanding. She never needed to ask me a lot of questions, and she didn't intrude on my privacy. She just let me know she was there for me if I needed her.

Among the items inside - each one separately wrapped - was a book about coping with the loss of a love - unlike most others. This one was in poetry - she knew I write poetry - and the first book I was able to concentrate on enough to read through after Paul died. She also included a journal, a sweet smelling candle, a box of absolutely delicious chocolate covered graham crackers, and a smooth gray stone. Early on this stone became my biggest comfort. Just large enough to fit in the palm of my hand, it feels the perfect size when I close my hand around it. One edge is round and the other is triangular. One side is plain; the other has the word "son" carved into it. Those first couple of months after his death, my little stone became my nighttime friend.

I soon got into the habit of going to bed with it. Once settled I held it on my chest just between my breasts. I liked its coldness on my aching heart. It helped me relax. Holding it in my hand and reading the word with my thumb also helped. I carried it around with me in my pocket for a while. I wanted to feel that something was there for me. Then, I began to wonder about my own sanity. Was I trying to exchange my son for a stone?

When I got a little more together I could let go of it during the day and let it rest on another item from that basket. A little silk-covered sachet pillow that smells like lavender. It has hand painted butterflies and the word "heal" printed on the silk.

Now the tables have turned.

Sue found out late in 2008 that she has Stage 3 cancer of the pancreas. She has an inoperable tumor the size of an egg in the center of her pancreas that the doctors say had been growing for a year and a half before her diagnosis.

She had none of the risk triggers for pancreatic cancer - no family history of cancer of the pancreas, she doesn't eat fatty food, she is not overweight, she has no diabetes, she's not an Ashkenazy Jew, and she was/is an avid exerciser. But, there was one thing that links her to this malady - she has a history of ovarian cancer in her family that is linked to breast cancer, which is one of the risks for getting cancer of the pancreas. Now that seems a little farfetched and circular to me, but how can I argue with the results? Here is a woman less than 60 years old who has it.

Fortunately she hasn't lost her talkativeness or her sense of humor -- even though she's lost some weight and her hair. Keeping a sense of humor is a big plus in recovering from any illness. Also she has a good positive attitude -- one of the things that kept my brother going for 20 years after his cancer diagnosis.

I just feel so sad for her. Besides having the Nextdoors over for dinner, taking her to a journal writing workshop geared especially for cancer patients at our local Wellness Community, and giving her a few cheerful gifts, I find myself praying for her recovery, at least pray the best I can since I've never been known to be good at praying to anyone or anything. And, even though I know all too well that hoping is not a plan, I hope (and pray) that all of the things she's going through to get well will work.

Imagine getting chemotherapy doses dripping directly into your body 24/7 for 7 days in a row over and over again month after month after month! Imagine being told she's finally ready to have the tumor removed surgically because it's now small enough and finding out after the surgery that her cancer has now spread to her liver!

No one, absolutely no one, deserves to get so sick. She is still young. Besides her husband, Bill, she has a son, two daughters and two beautiful granddaughters. She should have a lot of years to go.

Please everyone pray for my neighbor, Sue Nextdoor.