I live in a house that was built in 1956. My grandparents were the first owners of the house. My neighbors on the right and left are elderly widows who had bought those houses with their spouses at about the same time as my grandparents did. I have known them for all that time.
I use the word “known” rather loosely. Although you might not suspect it if you are a regular reader of the blog, I am by nature a somewhat shy individual. Perhaps the shyness stems from not wanting to impose myself on another person’s schedule. I don’t make a lot of personal phone calls to chat because I don’t want to interrupt the other person.
Over the years, the two women that are my neighbors and myself have developed a loose bond. They know they can count on us if they have an emergency. And they have helped me, too; there were times when my children were younger and I was a single parent, that they would watch my children while I would run an unexpected errand. Having said that, I would not describe us as friends. I would agree to say we are good neighbors.
I do care what happens to these women. One is in her mid to late eighties and has had heart by-pass surgery. The other is ninety-something. She is independent and strong, although she is going deaf and her balance has become an issue in the past few years.
This winter has been a difficult one for many of us in Massachusetts – the cold, the snow, the wind. This winter caused my husband and me to decide to become “snowbirds” when he retires. Not surprisingly, it has been a hard winter for the elderly, including our neighbors.
The 80-something neighbor, who lives on my left as I sit here typing, has had the ambulance come for her because of a health emergency. The 90-something neighbor, who lives on my right as I type, disappeared.
You read that correctly, disappeared.
We don’t keep tabs on our neighbors (except for the ones who live directly across the street, in full view of the picture window). So I could not tell you, especially in winter when we are all indoors more, when the last time was that I was my neighbors.
Sue, the 90-something who disappeared, was usually out at least once a day to get her mail. In good weather, she would hang a bit of laundry or do tend the yard a bit.
One day in November, the substitute mail carrier knocked on my door to ask about Sue. I wasn’t sure when I had seen Sue last. She asked me to look at Sue’s mailbox. It was jammed full of mail and the 2 free local newspapers in the box indicated the mail had not been picked up in at least 2 weeks. What was I supposed to do?
Sue has no children, just a niece or nephew, I think. No one to call. I knew Sue had called the ambulance after a fall just a month or so earlier. I was concerned that she had fallen and couldn’t get to a phone. I tried the doors – all locked. I tried to see in through windows – they were either covered or out of reach. I dithered.
Should I call the police to check on her? It would seem very silly if she were sitting right there. I tried to call my husband at work for his opinion but he wasn’t at his desk. So I made an executive decision – I called the police.
When the officer arrived, I explained the situation, showed him the mailbox full of mail and walked with him as he tried everything I had. The results were the same. No one answered the door. No one answered the phone. He borrowed my ladder to look into the higher windows, to no avail. So he reported in.
They sent out a locksmith to open the house. I went into my house. I didn’t want to be the one who got to identify my neighbor if she were dead. In about half an hour, the police officer was at my door. There was no one home. There was evidence that someone had previously been collecting the mail. But the was no clue as to where my neighbor was. They called local hospitals – no one by that name was registered. They locked up the house and left. I was left with more questions than before.
I didn’t think my neighbor was dead. The reason for that is that I read the obituaries daily. I once missed an uncle’s death so now I take no chances. It takes 5 minutes to check online.
I didn’t think my neighbor was in a nursing home suddenly. She had been in good health except for the inclination to fall. She didn’t even have a visiting nurse or health aide coming.
I theorized that the niece/nephew had asked her to come stay with them for the winter. We have since seen a car with Virginia plates come to pick up the mail. The way this winter has been, Virginia may not have been much warmer but at least she would have family to take care of her.
I hope, when she comes home, she forgives me for having the police break into her house. But I couldn’t have lived with myself if she had been hurt and unable to get help.
The moral of this story: when you have elderly neighbors, pay more attention to what goes on and be in contact with them on a more regular basis. It’s a small effort on your part but it can save you a lot of concern and keep you out of the dilemma I faced.
I would do it again. I would call the police and look a little silly rather than risk the anguish of doing nothing when a neighbor was in trouble.
What would you do?