It's been almost a year since we moved into this house. We were so excited to get out of an apartment and into a house. Part of being in a house and a neighborhood was the prospect of meeting neighbors. This looks way different in my head than in reality. A while back we made some bread to take to our neighbors. One of those was Mr. Bill. Mr. Bill kinda scared me. He'd sit out on his "stoop" with his cat, Killer, and if I waved or smiled he seemed to just glare. He was sort of a mystery to us. He never had visitors, but every Saturday like clockwork he'd leave in the morning early for a few hours. We always wondered what he did.
In the short time we've been living here we've seen Emergency crews come to Bill's house twice. It made me so sad because he was alone and it highlighted my inability to really reach out and care for our neighbor. I fell into the would have/should have/could have bit. After the second time, Mr. Bill never came home. We reached out to the folks coming by his house (old friend and coworkers). He had had another stroke, this was his 3rd in a year. We would ask how he was doing whenever we saw someone at his house and it seemed that he wasn't doing too well. Eventually his sister and her husband drove up from Florida. We met and talked to her a while. In that first meeting she gave us some insight into Bill. He was a bit of a loner and even when she was visiting or driving through he didn't want her to come by the house. They would talk on the phone and check in with one another, but it didn't seem to go further than that. She hadn't seen him in 9 years. I could sense a sadness in her, that she didn't really know her brother or understand the way he was. It turns out he was a bit of a hoarder too. (the folks coming by the house were cleaning it out for when he was able to come back home) We found out through our other neighbor that Mr. Bill passed away on July 1st. Once again I found myself wanting to go over to comfort his sister, but paralyzed. What do I say? I didn't know Bill. In fact, I was a sucky neighbor when it came down to it. So what, I took him homemade bread once!
Yesterday we saw his sister and her husband and talked to her a while. She seems to have learned so much about her brother in his death. He worked up until March 2009; he was 70. She was planning a private service because she didn't know anyone down here (they are originally from Ohio), but 30 people from his old work showed up for the service. She said his old boss even cried when he spoke. This brought tears to her eyes. I could only imagine what this meant to her to see that he did have a community here. His friends even encouraged her to bury him here since he saw himself as an adopted North Carolinian. One of his closest friends gave her the burial site. I was just so touched to hear a little more about Bill's life too. And even more thankful that his sister got to learn more about him because I could sense the pain in her voice when she talked about how he kept her out of his life.
I have no earth-shattering reflections from this encounter. It's just been sitting in my heart and making me think. About neighbors. About family.