Two days ago, the son of our next door neighbors was killed in a motorcycle accident as he drove to work early one morning. Nick was 21.
The news stunned our family. We’ve known these neighbors ever since we moved onto our street over 11 years ago. Our kids played with their kids. My husband coached Nick in football.
My youngest daughter was in tears and I was left wondering, “what exactly should I do?” Should I go over now and say something? Or should I wait and take a meal over? I had not talked to the parents for several months. In our neighborhood, the houses are farther apart and it is easy to go for a long time without interaction. When our kids were little, they would play with neighborhood kids and we were always outside, chatting it up. But as our kids grew, they moved inside with their lives and they became involved in school and community sports. It became easier and easier to neglect neighborly relationships.
Nick’s passing changed that.
As Ted and I went for our usual evening walk, we passed our grieving neighbors’ house where several cars lined the street and a few neighbors stood outside on the street talking. We stopped to greet them and they invited us inside.
As I entered the full living room, my eyes went immediately to the bereaved mom sitting on the couch. Feeling a bit unsure, I went to her, wondering what I would say. What can you say to someone who just lost their son that morning?
But my concerns were enveloped in a huge hug as my neighbor and I embraced in tears and stood there holding each other for what seemed like several minutes.
“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say as I embraced her. “I’m so sorry.”
We sat down and talked quietly for a few minutes. She told me a few things about her son and the upcoming funeral. She tearfully talked about how sweet he was and how so many people were reaching out to support them.
“I’m so glad you came,” she said. “It means so much to me.”
And I was filled with shame. Shame that we had let life and its busy-ness cause us to neglect our next door neighbors. Shame that we had almost kept on walking without stopping in because we didn’t want to “disturb” them. I dropped to my knees in front of her as she sat on the couch and grabbed her hands in mine.
“I’m so, so sorry it has taken this for us to connect again,” I said tearfully.
“Let’s stay connected, go for walks, talk when you feel the need.”
She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’d like that.” As we left, I promised to check in on her after all the family and friends had left town and life settled down to a painful normalcy.
We only stayed in their living room for a few minutes, but it was long enough for me to come to a very stark realization. If the neighbors had not invited us in, how long would it have taken me to get up the courage to come express my sorrow? Would I have stayed away because I was worried about what I should say? Would I have let life continue on, living my own life in my comfy home, where it’s safe and I don’t have to worry about saying the right words?
God, forgive me for worrying too much about what I should say and do. Forgive me for letting life catch me up in its never-ending chores and to-do lists and events so that there is never enough time to stop and be a neighbor.
And thank you for showing me that when I face a person and feel I can find no words, it’s okay. Because it was at that moment that I felt your love flow through me to this grieving mom. I was not worried about my words; I was only thinking of her. And maybe that’s all you wanted me to see after all.