Sunday, July 12, 2009

The House Across the Street

I am determined to make this the last post about grieving, or at least entirely about grieving. We all get it: we're a mess, we're sad, alright already. But, I did want to share my observations about my neighbors for anyone who might read this blog someday, rife with my raw emotions about a new scenario in my life and wonder if there is a light at the end of the long, sorrowful tunnel. If my neighbors are any indication, I think there probably is. Just not maybe a whole and complete light, but something worth fighting to get to.

I will not mention their names, first to provide them with their privacy and second, because I have no clue how to spell their last name anyway, but, like many of the families around here, the people across the street are a little older than us and have lived here since the neighborhood was developed. They raised their family in this neighborhood and are now seeing their grandchildren grow up in the same area. It is very Americana, and very old school given the transitory nature of modern society. For that reason alone, I would think any sort of tear in the fabric of their lives would be hard to overcome.

Ten years ago, they had a major rip in that fabric. In mid-December, on his way home having just finished his finals at Texas A&M in College Station, their youngest son was killed in a car wreck. I don't know the details of the wreck; I was in Pennsylvania at the time collecting Mother to bring her home for the holiday. I heard about it after the fact once I was home, and, I regret to say, I never spoke to them about it. Of course, we don't speak to one another about anything. Our two reasons for being in this semi-rural neighborhood are wildly divergent and, frankly, mine really has them worked up. So, they want nothing to do with me, which in turn makes me want nothing to do with them back. They view yard work not as a chore, but as a labor of love. I, on the other hand, view my yard as a pasture to house as many furry, four legged creatures as I can get on it. Those four legged critters love eating my neighbors tender flowers, leaving unpleasant reminders of their travels for them to step into and generally causing havoc. So, we keep our distance from one another; she will occasionally shout to someone so I can hear how it "really pisses" her off that I feed deer (which is legal here, I should clarify). I respond by tossing out more feed. But, for all of that, they have always had my sympathy, but I don't think I realized how obsessed I was with their situation until my own grieving put a focus on it. But, I realize that I always look over at their house, as though my gaze is magnetically drawn to it. If I am out front sitting down, I will actually subtly position the chair to face them. I glance over at them when I am about to get in my car, when I mow the lawn, when I go get the mail or feed the deer (of course, then I'm making sure they're not outside to yell across at me), always with the same vague curiosity about how they go about their daily lives with such a heavy loss. At least once in every day since I learned of it, they cross my mind, however briefly.

When their son died, our troubles with our daughters had not begun, so my curiosity was simply as a fellow parent wondering how they deal with such a devastating loss, and then I would be grateful that all I could do was wonder. Later, as first one, then the other daughter became victim to a laundry list of issues, including, but not exclusive to, eating disorders and drug abuse, it of course occurred to me that I might one day be in my neighbor's shoes and wondered about them all the more. The good news is it did not defeat them, or at least not on the surface. I am always vaguely surprised by that, I have to confess.

That first year, their home was already decorated for Christmas, and I noticed everything came down early on the 26th. The next year there were no decorations. Our next door neighbor confirmed this. She told my husband that the first few Christmas seasons were hard and they didn't really celebrate. But these days they do subtly light up the house. I can see a tree from the window and some very modest lights. I always assumed they concede to it for the sake of their grandchildren.

Of course, they never skipped a beat in caring for their yard. I would imagine that, for them, it is like feeding the deer is for me now. It gets me up in the morning and gives me a purpose. I actually understand that better than I did before. I used to wonder how they had the energy and desire to do anything, let alone spend so many hours in the Texas heat to make their house a showcase. Now I know you'll do what you need to do to keep your mind occupied. So, along those lines, it is not that surprising that they began doing some exterior improvements to the home, adding an elaborate stone walkway a few years ago. However, I confess to being very surprised when they built a pool last year. I am not sure why, but some part of me wondered how they can have any fun like that after losing a child. Of course, I had lost track that nine years had gone by at that point. Even before that, though, they took their boat out routinely, entertained not infrequently, and someone is always coming and going. In short, they did not dry up and blow away. They seem to have put the pieces together and they moved on with their lives.

Now I wonder how often in a day their thoughts still turn to their lost son, and I wonder if those thoughts are painful or pleasant for them now. Greg plans on asking them. I will stay behind when that conversation happens, a herd of deer remains between us. However, we are now mutual members of a society none of us wanted to belong to and, like it or not, we have a bond that cannot be broken.

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