The neighborhood we live in is mixed with long-term rentals, short-term owners, short-term student rentals, and old Athens families. Our neighbors are one such family; Tim is the chief of one of the essential volunteer fire departments, and his young son is following in his footsteps. While they maintain a private and reserved presence on our block of transients, they have been friendly to the girls who greet them loudly and cheerily when they see them out with their dogs, and helpful when I've had gardening questions or needed a hand with something. I could make a lot of assumptions about them, based on the little I see of the family - they are not outside without a cigarette in hand, there are 4-7 large pickup trucks parked in front of their house at any given time, and they have a small grand-daughter who is passed back and forth between dad, who lives at home with the grandparents, and mom, who does not. The main assumption that I have made about this family is that they have done something right in raising their kids; this home is the center of activity for a group of young twenty-somethings who seem content to hang out with these young grandparents and their kids most evenings and some weekends. How often do you see that these days?
The other thing I know about this family is that Sharon, Tim's wife, is a wonderful gardener. I told her earlier this summer that I am so grateful that she thought to plant such beautiful flowers - roses, lilies, hibiscus, crepe myrtle - along the south side of her house, facing my kitchen window. She doesn't even see this side of the house, not from her windows, which house air conditioning units and permanently closed blinds, nor from her front porch. I have often felt that this little garden is planted just for me, so that I can look over the cars parked in our driveway to the climbing roses or the dinner-plate sized hibiscus. She very shyly took my gratitude with a little smile and a shrug.
There was a funeral for Sharon today. At age 48 she passed away suddenly from a heart attack. While I hope this is the way for all of us to go, quickly and without pain, this passing was too early, too sudden. I could see the pain radiating from the young people on the porch the morning she died, when Tim came over to tell me. They have returned to the house once to get some clothes, unwilling to stay in their home without the hub of their family.
I share this because it is all I have been thinking about since Wednesday, when it happened. Despite not knowing this family really at all, I am aware daily of their comings and goings, I have witnessed the tight gathering that happens next door, and I am so concerned for the unraveling and the emptiness that they must be experiencing. It is impossible not to personalize this further to our family - the circumstances, our histories and lifestyles are so different, but 48? It is a wake-up call to me to take care, to be present, to savor what we have.