We found out on Wednesday that our next-door neighbor, Marie, passed away on Friday. She was elderly (in her 80s? 90s?) and lived alone. I overheard neighbors talking about it. Apparently, she died on Friday but no one found her until Saturday. When I heard the news, I felt a pit in my stomach. As neighbors, we weren’t as good to her as we should have been.
We live in a small South Philly rowhome on a tiny street. For those who aren’t familiar, that means we share a wall on each side with our next-door neighbors. South Philly rowhomes also have a small patio, or as we call it “outdoor space” (patio might be too generous). We share the entire west side of our house with Marie, and our back patio is directly next to Marie’s – separated by only a chain-link fence.
When we first moved into this house in August 2009, we had a housewarming/one-year anniversary of adopting Hu go party. When we were out back using the BBQ, Marie came out to introduce herself. Then, an hour later she came back out with some lemon cake she had made for us. It was such a sweet gesture. It reminded me of something you would do in a small town. I remember my mom taking over baked goods to welcome new neighbors when I was a kid.
We were so appreciative and made sure to say so, but we never properly thanked her. We never wrote her a thank you note. In fact, we still have the plastic plate she used when she gave us the treat – we never returned it and I feel so guilty. I think part of it is that we thought we would see her more often. Aside from the day we met, we very rarely saw her out back and we only saw her a handful of times in the nearly four years we’ve lived next door. She kept to herself, but we saw family come and go, visiting her on weekends and checking-in on her.
Tim and I are often complaining about our neighbors. Many of them are “old school” Italian families who have lived here forever. They haven’t been very friendly or welcoming. After I learned Marie had died, it made me feel as if we aren’t any better than they are. (Okay, maybe we are better than some of them – we don’t sell and/or use drugs. We don’t yell as our normal conversational tone. We don’t cuss out our family and friends in front of our children. We don’t throw trash down the storm drain and think we’re “cleaning up.” We don’t have hair pulling, drag-out fights on the front porch and regularly have the police at our door. To be fair, it’s not all of our neighbors. It’s one house in particular and the general mindset of several others.) Still, why didn’t I go out of my way to extend a helpful hand and be more neighborly to Marie? The row houses in South Philly are so close together. Marie died just a few feet away from us on the other side of our wall. It just makes me sad to know she died alone. Although I know she was loved by many, in that moment, she was alone. I hope she didn’t suffer. I hope she knew how much it meant to us that she reached out to us when we first moved in.