Monday, April 23, 2012

Walk the Walk

I see my neighbor who just lost her 18 year-old son to a sudden heart attack while he was away camping.

I stand in the kitchen, pouring orange mango juice into my glass filled with ice. My subconscious must have seen her out of the corner of my eye – although that would surprise me, as the front window of my house is a full room away from the kitchen.  Yet, I find myself, mid-pour of mango juice, turning my head to the left and looking through the living room and out the picture glass window.  There she is, walking, passing by in front of our house.

I recognize that walk.  Shoulders slumped, leading with her head, she stares straight ahead and yet her eyes focus on nothing. Her feet never get more than an inch of the ground as she moves forward – if I was beside her, I’d be able to hear the sidewalk scraping the bottom of her shoes. 

I empathize with her, knowing at this point in her mourning process, all one can really do is to keep your body moving.  It’s not time yet for acceptance, understanding, or rebuilding.  Just keep the body moving.

My instinct is to run outside and talk to her, to tell her that I am sorry for her loss.  But more importantly, that I’m not one “of those” people who express their sympathies. I want to tell my neighbor that I experienced loss myself.  No wait.  That sounds like it’s more for me than it is for her, like some sort of competition.  Didn’t I hate when people did that to me, but then again, didn’t I hate when people said nothing at all.

I am over thinking this entire hypothetical conversation.  She is already long gone down the block and a quarter of the ice in my drink has melted – leaving a watery version of the tasty mango flavor.

Two days ago, I was putting my three girls in the car when she also walked by our house.  She was with a friend who was walking a puppy.  The girls ran to pet the puppy and I had the best chance to express my regrets to a neighbor I’ve never met.  “Is that a pure breed collie or a mix?” Is all that came out of my mouth.  Then the moment passed as well as her and her friend.

She’s been on my mind these days.

I know it’s okay to ask about her son.  It would be a bit much to run out of the house with a fruit drink in my hand yelling, “Hey, wait, sorry for your loss!”  But the next time I see her, I won’t hesitate to bring his death up.  I’ve been preaching too long that people don’t ask enough about loved ones we’ve lost.

She must be very proud of him and would like to know people are thinking of him.  Him.  I don’t even know his name.  I think I’ll ask her, as well as her name, when I see her walking by again.


  1. I wish I could forward this to everyone I know. We are the ones who should know what to say, and how important it is to ask others about the people they lost. The way you write this, it's really so simple. I was just thinking this morning about all the (former) close friends who don't reach out at all.

  2. Yep. I know that feeling. I still feel awkward approaching people about THEIR loss and there's no reason for it. And it's very true, in the first days, weeks, months, you don't want people to talk about it, and you don't want people to not talk about it. (Being rational flies out the window with your spouses last breath.)

    And I remember ALL THOSE DAMN CARDS that just kept coming, and coming, and coming in the mail. I was so SICK of them. I would quickly skim over them, not absorbing ANYTHING, and threw them into a pile for later viewing. (I still haven't gone back to read them 22 months later.) I just wanted it all to end. The death. The funeral. The decisions. The paperwork. All of it. How could that be my life now?

    But you know it was the few cards that would come months later that actually meant something to me. To know that he/we were still being remembered.

  3. The best -
    "I heard about Jim. I am so very sorry."
    The thing I can't stand "how are you?" I know it is meant well.
    I answer my standard
    "surviving" - "ok" or "as good as can be expected"
    Yes at more than a year - it is the people who call now, who write now, who remember the anniversaries that touch me most.

  4. Beautiful, Matt.

  5. Matthew -- to be so aware of another person's pain when you are still (at least in my experience) dealing with the holes left by your loss is so very kind of you. I am afraid that for a very long time after my husband died, my neighbor's house could have been on fire and I would have been so wrapped up in the black cloud of my situation that I would not even have noticed. Thank you for helping me to remember that it is so very important to recognize another person's tragedy. We are not the only ones who hurt.