This past Saturday afternoon, my husband got a text and subsequent phone call telling him that our friend and neighbor, Dave, had died. He succumbed to complications arising from a lung biopsy and died of a heart attack due to severe blood loss. My husband had just been up at the hospital visiting him a few hours prior. He was making plans to return to the hospital that evening to help Dave shave, since he was miserable in his hospital induced scruffiness. My husband also wanted to take him a Bible, but he never got the chance. Dave would have turned 78 years old tomorrow.
Dave was like a father to my husband. Their relationship was a gift from God for both of them. My husband’s father has been completely absent. I’ve only spoken to him three times in our 11 years of marriage. My husband was like a son to Dave, who also had complicated relationships with his own children. Spiritual fatherhood and sonship is a tremendous gift, that in this case, helped heal wounds within their hearts they both carried.
We are blessed to live in a neighborhood where we know our neighbors by name. We help one another out when needed. I take flowers to each of my immediate neighbors every summer when my flower gardens are in full bloom. My husband has helped fix and build things when needed. Our other neighbors take care of our dogs and chickens when we travel and we chat and greet one another most days. I credit all of this to my husband—who is much better at talking to strangers than I am—and to neighbors who genuinely care about one another.
We all come from different backgrounds. There are times when we get on one another’s nerves, but we genuinely care about one another. Most of our neighbors are retired or near retirement. My husband met Dave early on when we moved into our house 8.5 years ago. He was very handy and taught my husband all about fixing cars, mowers, weed eaters, tillers, and more. They made plans for expanding the garden and my husband planted peach trees in their backyard last year for them to enjoy. Unfortunately, he died before getting to enjoy any of the peaches.
God, in His infinite wisdom, love, and mercy, placed my husband in Dave’s life to help him during these difficult months of illness. He was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. My husband is well acquainted with dangerous lung diseases. Knowing the great difficulties of navigating such terrain, he sought to make things easier on Dave and to be an advocate for him. He even got him in to see his pulmonologist because Dave’s was not getting the job done and my husband spent many hours in the ER with him because his wife couldn’t go, due to her own health issues.
In our fast-paced, individualistic, and isolated society, we have largely abandoned our neighbors. Something that would be foreign to previous generations. My dad often tells me stories about how there was no getting away with anything as a kid because someone was always looking out for the neighborhood. It was understood that we are our brother’s keeper and we have a duty in charity to look after one another.
The single greatest obstacle to getting to know our neighbors is our lack of effort. We claim to be too busy with the tasks and responsibilities we have within our families. This is not actually true, since we seem to have time for Netflix binges or to scroll social media endlessly. It’s easier not to put any effort in, especially if we find our neighbor to be obnoxious or weird. Relationships through the gleaming pixels on our screens require very little sacrifice. They are a cheap counterfeit to the real thing and the actual people right next to us.
We have been looking for a different house for a few years now. Nothing seemed to work out with any house we put an offer in on. As time went on, my husband started to firmly believe that God was keeping us in our current home for a reason. Dave and his wife are that reason. We needed to be there to support and walk with Dave during this difficult time. Building community means a willingness to walk the Way of the Cross with others. God knew Dave would need my husband in the final months of his life.
Shortly after we found out he had died, one of our neighbors went to take the mail to his wife—thinking she was up visiting Dave at the hospital. I walked out to tell him the gut wrenching news. We both stood there feeling the heavy weight of death. There are few words that can be spoken in such moments because very little is said at the foot of the Cross. The mystery of suffering and death reaches its apex in these moments and we are struck dumb in the face of it all. We simply do not know when it will come, and even when someone is seriously ill, it still catches us by surprise. Death truly is a “thief in the night.”
As I walked away from my neighbor, I was struck by the sheer gift it is that we can grieve together as a neighborhood. I’ve lived all over the United States and in England. This is the first neighborhood I have ever lived in where we genuinely rely on one another, check in regularly, and help as we are able to. We all feel the tremendous loss of Dave within our community.
Our individualistic society has led to rampant loneliness and isolation for countless people, especially the elderly. We have an opportunity as Catholics to reach out to our neighbors in order to walk with them, especially if they have been abandoned by others. It is sadly no longer the norm for children to care for their aging parents. This is an area where we can step in to serve others. It is a privilege to do so, not a burden. We should be asking ourselves: How can we lessen the suffering of our neighbors?
My daughter often sits on the porch chatting with the elderly woman across the street and gives her a break from caring for her high energy 3-year-old twin grandsons (another increasingly more common occurrence in our culture). She would go to visit Dave and his wife and she often chats with our other neighbors as they work around the yard. I will admit that as the one tasked with chores around the house, I don’t stop to visit as often as I should. Both my husband and daughter have taught me to move outside of my comfort zone in order to serve our neighbors and to take the time to visit with them regularly.
As Catholics, we should live differently and that includes our abandonment and rejection of the individualism that is harming our culture. We should reach out to those around us and seek to help them in whatever way is best. It is a tremendous gift to rejoice with our neighbors and to mourn when one of them dies. Love requires sacrifice and it must hurt. Building community means that we will face the Cross together, but what a tremendous gift we are given through the love we share.
Watching my husband care for Dave has been a privilege. To see him be able to freely love a man who was like a father to him after years of rejection and abandonment from his own father—through no fault of his own—and to be given that fatherly love in return, is truly a gift from God. Dave was given the love of a son who was willing to sacrifice time, sleep, and whatever is necessary to walk with him in his agony. Now we will walk with his wife in her grief, all of us, as neighbors God has placed together to walk this earthly sojourn.