The other weekend my next door neighbor dropped dead. He was a grandfather, in his seventies, and had heart problems. Strange as it may seem, I never met him. I’d seen him driving by in his car. We’d waved. But we never crossed paths. However, his wife B and I meet frequently. She has a little dog. I have a big dog. She’s healthy and able-bodied and goes outside. We’re not exactly close. We chitchat. I knew he was not well. I knew she had a cute grandson and likes to golf. That’s about it. So when a swarm of emergency vehicles arrived on the street one night, I knew it wasn’t B.
The next morning, my phone rang. It was S, my next door neighbor on the other side, calling to see if everything was all right. I was embarrassed that upon waking up, the events of the night before were not on my mind, but they came back to me. I realized S had seen the ambulances, which had parked in front of our house as well as next door. In fact, the paramedics had been pulling a gurney towards our door when I opened it and told them the emergency was next door. I assured S we were all fine, but that the emergency had been at B’s house. We said goodbye and just then my neighbor across the street texted me to find out what had happened. I texted back that I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure if I should call B. I wasn’t sure if I should bother her. My across the street neighbor texted that I should call her. So I paced around the kitchen for a moment, debating the merits of bothering her and seeming like a nuisance versus potentially offering help and getting a bit of information about what had happened. I remembered reading something about helping people in emergencies by being specific, rather than general, with offers to help.
Then I called B. She answered, and seemed tearful and happy to tell me what had happened. I asked if there was something I could do, then reminded myself to be specific, and offered to walk her dog if she needed to take care of funeral business. She declined, and we signed off. I reported back to my other neighbors what I had learned, that B’s husband had died suddenly, a few days before reporting to his cardiac surgeon.
The next day, Monday, around five pm, I put some meatballs the husband had made into a plastic container and took it over to B. Before I did it, I again debated calling. I debated offering to bring food. Instead, I decided I would just show up. No calling, no asking.
B opened the screen and ushered me in. I petted her little dog and she clutched the meatball container to her chest while she told me she had just gotten back from getting a funeral plot and when the obituary would come out. Then I went home. The next day, the obituary ran in the paper. There was to be a viewing two nights later and a funeral the morning after that. My across the street neighbor and I decided to go to the viewing, and so Thursday night we arrived at the funeral home I’ve driven past almost daily for eight years.
As we arrived, so were other neighbors. Inside, B and her son were greeting people. There were quite a few there, most unfamiliar, most grouped near the entrance. Through the crowd, I saw rows of folding chairs and at the far wall, a casket. A little glitch in my heart region registered it was open. I would have to deal with that.
B seemed very happy to see us, although still frazzled. She told us she was still in shock and even scratched her head like Laurel - or was it Hardy? She introduced us to her son, whom I had never met, as he lives in a different town. Then she thanked me for the meatballs. In fact, she said, “I have to tell you this. I almost said it when you arrived with those meatballs, but I knew it would sound crazy so I didn’t say anything.” She said she had just been home a few minutes after running around making arrangements for burial and the funeral and she had just been on the phone with someone saying how hungry she was, and how much she wanted some pasta with sauce, but she was too tired to go out and get it, when I rang the doorbell and showed up with the meatballs.
So, this made me feel happy. And I write this not to brag that I did a mitzvah, which is Jewish for good deed. I write this to remind myself that it’s better to do the thing that seems like a good thing to do than not to do it because you’re not one hundred percent sure. I did it despite my worries. Should I call B to find out what happened or would she think I was just being nosy? Was it my business? Would I bother her if I showed up? What if she didn’t like meatballs? What if she was vegetarian?
After she told me this, my across the street neighbor and I braved the end of the room with the open casket, and I had my first close up look at B’s husband. Neither of us lingered, although I noted the rosy tint of his cheeks and thought about the show “Six Feet Under” about a funeral home. Then we moved on to the photo display boards. There were casual snapshots from B’s wedding. Pictures of the young couple, he in a piped, wide-lapeled, suit, and she in something with lace and bell sleeves in that Seventies-hearkening-unto-Medieval-Europe style. My favorite shot showed B lifting her dress to her knee and revealing that with her shoes she was wearing knee socks embroidered with Mickey Mouse. This I found endearing.
What Martin Seligman said about depression being an inability to envision a better future has been dogging me. I think I have that. Getting out from under that viewpoint is a struggle. Following through on my impulse to do right helped me. So did seeing my neighbors scattered around the room at the viewing. As my across the street neighbor and I walked back to the car, we admitted to one another that seeing the body in the casket had turned our stomachs a little. It had seemed like the right thing to do to confront it, though. We were glad we did.
|Nature. We must protect it.