While we were in Orlando, my 96 year-old down-the-hall neighbor, Charlie, passed away. We missed the funeral because we didn’t see the memo until we belatedly checked our tiny mailbox.
Charlie was the neighbor who came up to me a few years ago while I was running out to take out the trash. His wife had just passed away and his grief was raw. He hadn’t planned to come up to this Mama down the hall but the grief was so overwhelming that he shared with someone he had never spoken to before – “I just lost my wife. We were married for ____ years. I don’t know what to do.”
I dropped my trash and gave him a huge hug as tears escaped from both our eyes. I told him later that sometimes I take my baby to Forest Hills Park and that he can walk with us but he was too frail. I kept seeing him around with his full-time caregiver and dutiful son.
I ran into his son on Queens Blvd. while walking to the boys’ school this week and I grabbed his forearm to tell him how sorry we were for his loss. His 60 something(?) year-old son had shared with me once, “I don’t know how family live so far away from each other. I am so close to both my parents and always lived a building away from them.”
He told me that he was present at both his parents’ deaths and that they parted while holding his hand.
Growing up, I knew that my dad equated success with being a world traveler and adventurer. He immigrated to the U.S. after falling in love with it on a business trip. He always said that children should go far away for college instead of being sheltered and fearful, only confident at home.
He was disappointed when I didn’t get into Harvard. I applied, for his sake, Early Admissions and got Early Rejected. He never hid the fact that he thought my going away “just” to UC Berkeley, a one hour flight away from home / six hour drive, was not grand enough.
And because I always chase (chased?) after my dad’s approval, I believed the same.
But when I spent a few minutes talking to my recently deceased neighbor’s son on the street this week, I realized that my beliefs have changed.
After the boys go to sleep and Kevin and I get to unwind, one of us can’t resist going back into their tiny room to gaze at or squeeze them, especially after an episode of “This is Us.” It’s like having a cartoon rotisserie chicken asleep on the bottom bunk, and a scrumptious pork belly slider tucked in in the top bunk. Irresistible.
I no longer define success as globe-trotting and being as far away from family though I drool at my globe-trotting friends’ adventures in lands I have to Google. I would love for my rotisserie chicken and crispy pork children to traipse the entire globe…then return to home base to share as much of their lives with me as they will allow.
I will be waiting.
RIP neighbor Charlie. I am so glad that Art had the privilege of holding your hand as he ushered you into eternity.