Sunday, November 30, 2008

The people in your neighborhood

I've learned a number of things since we became dog owners last year. First, no matter how ardently the kids promise that they'll take care of the furball's every need, they inevitably leave the heavy lifting to me and my wife. Second, when you walk a dog as often as I do, you learn a lot about the folks who live nearby.

As an example, there's a lovely woman who lives just around the corner. Her sweet little Bichon, Jewel, often sits on the porch when Frasier and I saunter by. Over the months, I've learned that she visits her Alzheimer's-stricken husband in a nursing home every day, that her son is a dog owner, too, and that she doesn't know what she'd do if she didn't have a dog.

She'll often come to the door when she sees us outside, and when she does we'll chat about neighborly stuff like the weather or the local headlines. In many ways, she reminds me of what life must have been like before kids stopped playing outside and before we entered our houses using remote control garage door openers.

This week, I took a break from writing around mid-afternoon and headed outside with the dog. Jewel was outside, and her mom just inside the screen door. Before I could greet her, she came outside, in slippers and no coat, and addressed me.

"I just heard from my son, and my heart is breaking. They just put their dog down this afternoon, and I didn't know what to say. He cried on the phone, and my son never cries."

Suddenly, I was the one who had no words. I told her I knew what that was like, that I had been there before. I tried to be as comforting as I could from my snow-covered spot on the sidewalk, hoping that a little bit of empathy from a neighbor would bring her a little bit of comfort.

We chatted for a few minutes as I tried to give her something to smile about. I focused on her dog, and talked about how in times of difficulty, our own pets become our security blankets. I knew how much hardship she was under, how difficult her life has been juggling a declining spouse while still being there for her adult kids.

I doubt I found the right words., but when she turned to go back inside, she smiled and said she looked forward to being outside again with Jewel tomorrow.

Maybe that was enough. As long as she keeps looking forward to tomorrow...

12 comments:

bobbie said...

I'm sure you gave her the comfort that she needed at that moment. Even when we stumble and search for words, the fact that we try and that we are just there is what lets people know someone cares.

Terri said...

What a beautiful post, Carmi. I think you said just the right things.

I look forward to reading more - I just discovered your blog through the Thematic Photographic.

Terri said...

Me again -- perhaps Neighborhoods could be an upcoming theme...

Beverly said...

I'm sure that just by being there and listening to that dear lady was a comfort to her. She's blessed that she has you living in her neighborhood.

Karen said...

Yes, as long as we can look forward to tomorrow there's hope. You sound like an incredibly nice person.

Becky said...

So sad I feel for her.Its so very true about pets though,they are truly something special....I dont think there are right and wrong words to say to someone during bad times,you did just great Carmi.

Rose DesRochers said...

I agree with Terri. I think that you said just the right things. The world needs more people like you.

Mojo said...

It never gets any easier no matter how many times you go through it. There's no "right" thing to say, but empathy goes a long, long way. And that doesn't require any words at all.

John said...

You did the 'right' things all the times before-when you became more than a passer by. You became the ear she would need on that particular day.

I think you summed it up nicely when describing what life used to be like. Where neighbors were also friends.

Tammy Warren said...

This is my first time over to your blog. What a touching story. That was so kind for you to be there for her.

I have a lovely older neighbor that lives next to me. Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to.

lissa said...

I absolutely agree, Carmi - as dog walkers, we learn so much that we don't know from staying around our house and our usual activities. When Theo joined the family last year, I got to know neighbors AND their dogs that I'd never known were around.

Your story touches my heart in that way only dog owners and animal lovers can understand. What a profound impact you've had on so many lives, because Frasier became part of your family. Just...wow.

Hilary said...

She sought you out because she knew you would understand. She was right. No doubt your support made a difference.