Friday, October 2, 2015

Telling the Neighbors

We have lived in this house since 1987, which is a very long time. We know our neighbors, some better than others,  and have either nice conversations or pleasant encounters depending on the relationship. I can honestly say we don't have any bad blood with anyone.

Many of these people I've know for many many years, other I've seen but don't know very well at all. It's so weird to have to tell them about Maggie. It goes without saying that Maggie was pretty well known, or at least well recognized,  in the neighborhood. If the wheelchair wasn't enough, Maggie was outside for several minutes each morning as we waited for the school bus and every afternoon when she arrived home. This day in age, that's rather unusual. You barely see most kids. Folks would wave at her and she would wave back when I prompted her.

It's a strange responsibility to tell neighbors you see but don't really know. One neighbor from the next block was walking by some months ago and said, "I haven't seen your daughter lately." When I told him she had passed away I though he was going to cry. I wanted to hug him for asking and for his sweet reaction too.  I avoided telling a woman I know up the street when she walked by asking how everything was because her little kids were with her. I didn't want to upset them and figure that is news for a parent to tell (or not tell)  a kid. Later that day I went up and knocked on her door to tell her and her husband.  Let me tell you, there is just no good way to do that.  

Recently I have had encounters with two neighbors I don't know very well. Both are older than I by 10 and probably 20 years One lives up the street and is something of a socialite. The other lives a couple of blocks away and is the dog lady of the 'hood. The socialite  has always been very pleasant to me, but I don't really know her very well. She has some sort of non profit that purportedly helps the disabled, but I've never really been able to suss out exactly what service they do.  Because of that she loved to talk to me about Maggie. Many of her notions of  and terminology about dealing with the disabled are terribly out of date, but her heart is definitely in the right place. The dog lady is something of a know it all, but also very pleasant. Everything relates to dogs. Everything. And you can be pretty sure that whatever you are doing with your dog isn't quite right, but she's happy to instruct you how to do it better. After months and months of quickly waving and ducking inside I had to tell them about Maggie.

I ran into the dog lady at the corner market a couple of months ago and told her Maggie had passed away. Of course she was very kind, but then said she knew how I felt because she had to put her dog down. I just walked away. She was completely clueless that maybe her comments were inappropriate, and I'm sure she completely equates the two situations. I don't. I experienced both situations in the space of a few short months and I can assure you they are very very different. I've run into her again at the park now and then and she has decided I will never feel better - ever, as long as I live and tells me that. Now I do my best to avoid her.

The socialite was a different story. She was walking by the house, which may be a first in the 28 years I've lived here. I've never seen her outside her car unless it's right in front of her own house. I decided it was time to tell her about Maggie. She was lovely, though she used a few of her out dated expressions, I took no offense. She's very sweet, but it's just too hard to take.

A day or so later I found a note in my mailbox that had a bow around it. I though we were invited to a wedding or something. It was just a lovely handwritten note offering her condolences and her insights into losing a loved one, especially a person with special needs (not her words). It was really quite extraordinary. I realized though that had she said those things to me in person it would have been really strange and at the same time if  the dog woman left a note stating her observations it probably would have been quite lovely. Sometimes the medium can make or break a message.

I don't have a pithy ending for you. I'm just relaying another strange layer of this world I live in. As you get farther out in your circle, it becomes a different kind of strange. The inner circle of family and friends knows and tells the next circle of people for you and that continues as long as there are people we know in common . But then there are the outliers, the people who aren't really our friends, but acquaintances. If we don't tell them they won't know and Maggie was a tangential part of their lives too.

It's just so strange.  And it really doesn't get easier.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds very strange -- almost surreal. And I think you're incredibly generous to not only "inform" these people but to try to understand their positions, spare their feelings and make the whole thing less awkward. You are generous, too, in parsing out your reactions and feelings and sharing them here with us. So hard.


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