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Am I My Neighbor’s Keeper?

18 Comments

You are the light.

This morning when I left my apartment, I saw a washer, dryer, stove and fridge sitting in the hall outside my neighbor, John’s, unit. I noticed, too, in looking out the hall window, that the blinds were drawn all the way up, and his place seemed empty. I was surprised he hadn’t said goodbye.

Although we were more friendly acquaintances than friends, I liked John and we would always stop and speak when we met. He was a brash New Yorker, with opinions he was willing to share. One more of the many and varied characters who inhabit our community. Part of our little world.

I was on my way to my local coffee shop, and outside on the sidewalk I encountered another of our residents, Bob. I asked him if he’d seen John lately, because I knew they were on friendly terms. He paused for a moment and then told me that John was dead. He had to say it twice, because I thought I’d misheard him. I was sure he’d meant to say away, not dead. Death is so final, so hard to take in and frequently so unexpected.

Bob said that a woman with whom John had been working had been trying to reach him by phone. Finally, concerned that he was not answering her calls or returning them, she contacted someone in, I believe it was Portland’s Human Services Department. They could not reach him either, so they contacted building management. When they found him, he was dead, and it’s estimated that he had died about five days before.

That made me feel so sad, to know that he had died alone. That he’d been lying there, mere yards away, with no one to know or tend to him. I don’t know the cause of death, but I believe it must have been very sudden, so that he had no chance to call for help. All in all, a swift and merciful death, it would seem, as I would fervently wish for myself when my time comes.

When I got home, I called several of my friends who had known him, too, and each of them expressed sadness and regret and had something kind to say of him. I will close by saying that I liked John. He was lively and opinionated, always willing to stop and say hello, and we will all miss him.

It made me think of John Donne’s famous words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Today, John, it tolls for thee. Rest in sweet peace.

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Author: Melody J Haislip

I'm either a transplanted East Coaster or a born again West Coaster. My heart kept pulling me toward Oregon, and when I followed it I found my dream, which I am living daily. My dream of becoming a writer has come true as well. I am in the company of people who speak my language, and the sense of community is healing hurts I didn't know were there. I am very grateful for my enormous good fortune.

18 thoughts on “Am I My Neighbor’s Keeper?

  1. Beautifully written, it held my attention but o so sad. It’s really such a sad moment when someone passes away but the sadness is deeper to think that a person could die alone and remain unfound for so many days. I’m Jamaican-British and in these two societies I know this is one of the major differences that I see. In England old people and sometimes young often die alone and no one knows for many days after, where as in Jamaica there is a stronger community feeling and something like this is so alien in a Jamaican society. I hope as you stated that he passed quickly and may John rest in a blissfully dreamy peace.

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    • Your way sounds much kinder than ours. My father’s mother lived alone in an apartment, but she was friends with one of the maintenance men. One day he checked on her, and there was no answer, so he entered and found her on the floor. The doctor said it was a stroke, and that she was gone before her body hit the floor. Someone in the family called her virtually every day, so it wouldn’t have been long anyway, but we will always be grateful to the kind man who kept a friendly eye on her. Thank you for caring about John. He was a good man.

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  2. Sudden deaths like John’s are always very shocking and catch one unprepared. A candid reminder to us all of our own ephemerality. One can only hope that John enjoyed his time while he was here and went with as little pain as possible.

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  3. NP, thank you, that is my hope, too. Death always seems sudden and a bit shocking to me, even when it is expected. There is such a profound difference between life and death, and no one ever returns to tell the tale. Each of us must wait our turn to discover the mystery behind it all.

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  4. Mr. Fly’s mother had a stroke at home…but was found by her gardener that same afternoon when he stopped for the cup of tea she normally made him and discovered her on the floor.
    She survived, but could no longer go on living alone and entered a nursing home, one of a series, where she suffered from inadequate care – despite astronomic fees – and was consequently in pain and in and out of awareness for much of the rest of her life.
    I think if she’d had foreknowledge she’d have chosen not to have been found.

    But, as my mother, 95 and just going in for surgery on her knee, says

    ‘Life’s sweet, even if it looks rotten to other people.’

    Let’s hope John’s life was sweet to him to the end.

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    • Helen, that’s just what I hope. Given the choice, I know what mine would be. There really are fates worse than death. I’m in no hurry, but I’m not afraid of death either, and I would never choose a twilight existence of pain and confusion.

      Good luck to your mom on her surgery and I wish her a speedy recovery.

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  5. I shall send up a prayer right away for his soul and that he was at peace with Our Lord at his time of departure.

    I find myself trying to stay in a state of readiness as we never know when we will be called from this life to the next.

    My heartfelt condolences to all of john’s friends and family.

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  6. Thank you, Theresa, I’m sure he would have appreciated it. Everyone has been so kind.

    I keep thinking of a biblical quote where God says to someone, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” You’re right; we need to be ready at all times. I’d just prefer not to be alone when I go.

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  7. Hi Melody, I feel your deep sense of loss at this unexpected event. I sincerely hope John’s last moments were peaceful. Death happens in aloneness, and is shocking for family and friends who are left behind.

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    • Yes, it’s always a shock. I’m working on a follow-up piece, because the story didn’t quite end here. Thanks for your good wishes.

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  8. I read this after the poem – extremely touching …

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    • So many lives are snuffed out without warning, people vanishing without a trace. John was a decent guy who deserved better, and I really hope he knows that he was valued and appreciated. Thanks for being a part of it. 🙂

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  9. Melody, what a beautiful tribute. This was a reminder of so many things – The impact that we can have on others, just by being who we are. The depth of human kindness and caring. The fragility of life.

    Peace be with you John, your life touched me today.

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    • Denise, thank you for chiming in. I think John would have enjoyed all the attention and the loving thoughts. It’s really helped me not feel so sad, too. You’re such a kind and thoughtful young lady. 🙂

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  10. Yes, it’s over all too soon. I’m sure your friend knew you cared, Melody. You’ll always have that to think in your heart. .

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  11. so sorry ..it is so hard to lose someone special…I believe it gives us a sense not so much of death and passing as much as it shows us life…our life xoxoxoxo
    bella darling…bella writing…AWITD

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  12. Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.
    Collaborate, Create, Publish

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