I Didn't Know

We live in a modest, but busy neighborhood.  Our little house is nestled on the corner of two quiet streets.  Our house, and all the other houses in our area are simple brick ranch homes, built in the late 1950s.  The yards are small but tidy.  It is not uncommon to see American flags flying on front porches, petunias in window boxes and children riding tricycles along the sidewalk. When we first bought our house, I teased Dan that it seemed like the kind of place Betty Crocker (had she been a real person) might have lived.  Really, our neighborhood is a picture of classic Americana.

We have met most of the neighbors of course, as we’ve lived here since ‘07.  One of the couples who live right next to us (technically they live right behind us since our house faces the other street) has always been super sweet.  A retired older couple, they are quiet but always friendly.  Our houses are separated by maybe twenty feet of yard and fence and shrubbery. 

We should talk to them every day, but we don’t. 

When both of our houses had flooded basements in 2008, we commiserated over the fence.  When they got a new dog, we went over and introduced him to Little Guy.  When they had a garage sale, Little Guy and I visited, and they fussed over him the way Grandparents do.  When I was pregnant with Baby Boy, we chatted while she was out walking the dog.  We have always been friendly, but our interactions have been sporadic to say the least.

Yesterday as I was unloading the car I noticed that my neighbor lady (who was out walking her dog) had stopped on the sidewalk at the base of our driveway.  She was clearly waiting for me to notice her.  I waved and said hello before directing Little Guy to head inside.  I went down to talk to her.  “How are you?” I asked, smiling the ignorant smile of someone who doesn’t remember how loaded this particular question can be at times.

“Well”, she said falteringly, “I lost my husband.  Did you know that?” She is clearly devastated.

My heart fell.  “I didn’t know.  I am so sorry.” This is all I can muster as I see the tears well.

She went on to say that her beloved husband (they’d been married for more than forty years and had four grown children) had passed away last September.

LAST SEPTEMBER!!  How did I not know this?  My excuse, I suppose, is that we’ve just been busy.  That is, of course, a terrible excuse and not at all an acceptable one.  I would have been on maternity leave, and certainly was wrapped up in the new baby and all that goes with that particular blessing, but these dear folks were some of our closest neighbors.  I should have checked in more.  I should have noticed when I didn’t see him puttering in the backyard (which he often did).  I should have asked how they were, or something…

I didn’t though.  I didn’t check in or notice or ask.  I just stayed absorbed in my own little world, oblivious to the pain and grief living right next to me for eight months.

I am ashamed. 

There is no other way to describe it.  What can I do?  Is there anything?  I think Little Guy and I will make her some cookies and take over a card this weekend.  It’s not much.  It’s certainly not enough, but I want her to know that we care (even if we are grossly late in showing her).  I want her to know that we’re here for her if she needs anything going forward.  I want her to know I’m so very sorry, and that I would have talked to her sooner but I just didn’t know.

Why didn’t I know?

Sometimes in our modern world, if it isn’t happening on Facebook or Twitter or in the Blogosphere, it doesn’t seem as important.. as tangible… as “real” to us.  Life should be the other way around though, shouldn’t it?  The living, breathing people that surround us are the ones whose ‘status’ should be most important.  I know that one of my buddies from grade school had a birthday this week.  I sent him a happy birthday greeting on Facebook even though I haven’t talked to him in person in maybe twenty years.  I knew his ‘status’ even though after all these years, he’s essentially a stranger to me.  But these folks, these neighbors, these wonderful people who ate and slept just yards from my front door… their status was unknown.

Shame on me.

This is not something I’m proud of, but it is something I vow won’t happen again.  I’m making a promise to myself today.  I always make an effort to be involved with my family and friends, but now I’m going to try to make a stronger connection to my neighbors, my co-workers and the other people around me as well. 

I want to be a better neighbor and a better co-worker, and maybe a better human being.  How exactly I’m going to go about this, I’m not sure.  First and foremost, I’m going to start checking in with my neighbors, and with the folks around me, because I want to know.  I want to know when things are good and I want to know when things are bad.  I want to know so that I can respond in a timely manner – be it in a mood of celebration or sympathy or just support…

More than anything I want to respond with something other than, “I didn’t know.”


  1. Aw no :( that poor lady. I'm glad you know now :)

  2. I'm sure whatever you do will mean so much to her.

  3. So long as you keep reminding her that she is important, I'm sure that she understands that you have been busy with your new baby. Its great to have neighbors like that, cherish them because not many people do have those kind of neighbors.

  4. The fact you feel so badly shows what a good person you are Christy, don't beat yourself up about it too much - sadly this is the way of the world nowadays, most people are quite insulated. At least you did speak to them occasionally. Mabe you could offer to help with any garden or diy jobs she can't manage now her husband has gone?
    I've lived in my house for 3 years and the family opposite have never spoken to me, never even nodded hello. Luckily my neighbours either side have though, which is nice when you're all alone, nice to know you could knock on their door in an emergency.

  5. Poor thing! I know how it feels. I tend to isolate myself from my neighbors. Not to be mean or anything but just because I get wrapped up with my own life and I lose touch with everyone. At least you have the opportunity to get to know her even though her husband has passed. Some people wouldn't even care the way you do so major props to you for actually wanting to be a better neighbor!!

    God bless :)


  6. Oi! You! You are a lovely human being! You didn't know, so...you have a lot on your plate with your own immediate family.
    I like the fact the she now feels strong enough to catch your eye and talk.
    She possibly has family of her own that fussed around her at that terrible time, that looked after her and kept her spirits up, as much as is possible.
    She probably didn't want to 'bother' you with her desperately sad news, because she knew you were looking after a newborn.
    I think the beauty of this situation is that you are here NOW, when her family has maybe retreated a little. With the passing of time, she can now enjoy watching the boys grow up and chatting with you over the fence, on the street, in your kitchen with a cuppa.
    Sorry, that was a long spiel, but, honey, you are too special to question yourself over this!!
    Z xx

  7. I've been feeling the same way in my neighbourhood. Where I grew up, everyone had an open door policy, you knew your neighbours and they knew you. Our neighbourhood seems like it has the same feel as yours. It is a place where people come to rest their heads but it doesn't feel like a community that lends itself to people really getting to know each other.

    My neighbour across the street's husband also died a few weeks ago, she left a note in my mailbox when I was out of town, when I returned I saw it amongst all the mail but couldn't for the life of me figure out who Beverly and John were. I called my mom, my sister, everybody I could think of to figure out who these people were and nobody knew. Last week, I saw someone working in her yard and stopped to talk to them on the way to the park and they told me about her husband. That's when I realized, they were Beverly and John. I immediately ran out and got her flowers and a card, baked her cookies and apologized profusely!!! Even so, I've made a decision to check in on my neighbours more. I realize that's not how this neighbourhood operates, but I need to make a change because I need to live in a community that cares!

    All that to say, I know how you feel and it's not your fault, you just didn't know!



Related Posts with Thumbnails