My dog Tanner and I pull into our attached garage on this crisp fall day after spending all afternoon running errands. I have grocery bags in my arms, his leash wrapped around my wrist and my key chain hanging from my finger as I try to unlock the house door. Unpacking comes next, turning up the heat and going back outside for Tanner’s potty stop and then my friend calls me on the phone.
In all this commotion of everyday routine, I hear sirens and think, “That seems really close.” It isn’t until Tanner gets back inside and seems agitated, running back and forth to look out the windows and barking, that I pause to look myself.
There is a fire truck and ambulance across the street at our neighbor Ruby’s house. I have to admit that my innate first reaction is to run over there as a result of my overused “fight or flight” response. But over the years that has gotten me into trouble.
All that adrenaline and stress has taken its toll over my fifty-two years, heart palpitations and stress related illness rearing their ugly heads as I enter midlife. That is why today, when I see the paramedics and Ruby’s daughter-in-law’s car in the driveway, I stay home.
This is foreign to me, but I remember a therapist telling me “tolerate the anxiety of others without rescue.” I have also learned that I do not need to be all things to all people, even if I am a nurse and caregiver by nature…
The idea lasts ten minutes and when I see her daughter-in-law outside I run across the street and ask, “Is Ruby okay? Is there anything that I can do to help?” She says she has found Ruby slumped in her chair and they think she has had a stroke. No more information is given and all I can offer at that point is my prayers.
The ambulance leaves and five days later I know nothing more than I did that day. I see glimpses of her son who lives out-of-state and his car drives off before I am able to speak with him. Her son and daughter-in-law who live two blocks away come and go quickly, without stopping for an update or approaching me when I am outside walking my dog.
We don’t know Ruby well but we wave and talk with her every time she is outdoors. She tells us she is afraid of “big dogs” so we talk about the best way to approach Tanner and help to introduce them to one another. Months later she is proud to pat him on the head and tell everyone that “he is a nice dog and that she is no longer afraid of him.”
She loves to garden and we talk about our tomatoes and her collard greens and the plants she grows in her elevated containers. She complains about the deer and we compare stories about sightings in our yards. She speaks to us about her years as a social worker and that she misses Mississippi and the rest of her family that is there.
I don’t even remember Ruby’s last name but it doesn’t matter. I worry about her as a neighbor and I wish that her family would consider giving us an update! I might not react to a crisis in the same way I did years ago, but my heart is still the same. Compassion and concern is still alive and well. I hope Ruby is.
Do you know the people who live around your parent(s)? If your loved one was hurt or died, would you consider sharing that information with their neighbors? Have you found yourself reacting to crises with the fight or flight response? I would love to hear your comments!
OK, you asked me for my opinion, so here it is: Stay out of it. It’s lovely that you care about your neighbor, but if you aren’t close enough to know her last name or never spent long Saturday afternoons in her home, drinking tea and sharing stories about your lives, then it’s not your business. The family is going through a lot right now. They will be able to update you in a few weeks when everything is ok. If a neighbor would have run over to my parent’s house during their health crises, I think I would have been horrified. Ruby’s daughter gave you as much information as she was comfortable giving and you were kind enough to offer your help. Now you need to step back. I know you are a kind and compassionate person Kathy, but in this situation, it might come across as being meddling and nosy. Relax and wait until they seem less stressed. But that’s just my opinion.
You are so right our relationship is not deep enough to go any further. I have been in these situations myself and was too stressed and overwhelmed to care about anyone else but my immediate family. If they want to share down the road, that will be much appreciated, but I will not wait for it! Thx Pam for your wisdom and for your sharing – yes, I did ask!
I love your blog posts. Personally, I’m one to stay out of things and wait for information as it comes. My parents are both deceased. One of my sister’s and her husband are in their 70’s. My other sister and her husband are nearing 70. I don’t know any of the neighbors around either of my sisters, so no I probably wouldn’t share anything with anyone unless they asked.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is the difference between being compassionate and being sympathetic. Compassionate contains the word “passionate” — something I’ve always found you to be about anything in your life. “Pathetic” is contained within sympathetic. A word that would never enter my mind to describe anything you do. I can say that for myself as well. And I know you know the difference between those two words. You live compassion.
I would suggest that you do whatever it is that you need to do to live your compassion in the scenario with Ruby and her family. I would offer that compassion comes in the form of a vibration, too, and although you may not physically make your presence known, your love is still very present.
I am so blessed by wise friends and I couldn’t agree with you more. I never want my compassion to become pathetic. The family is in control of what is shared and they should be. Thanks Jill for your insight!
What a compelling post. To be honest, I don’t think there is an easy answer based on intervention when “the relationship is close enough.” I think that your reasons for wanting to show your compassion have everything to do with your life experience and what you have to offer others when you want to and it seems supportive.
My parents live a few hours away. Long enough to for it to be seen by me as a complete and total gift that their neighbors, both new and old, take an interest in them and “look in.” I make a point of keeping in touch with that part of the wider “circle” of my family when I am home to visit. We make up a net of support.
As society changes, it is critical NOT to fall back on trite myths of “don’t interfere.” Of course, you may be rebuffed. If so– no harm done other than to your ego. If not rebuffed, you’ve just given at least three people a boost in terms of loving empathetic support. Its not a shameful matter to be aging, Its should not be “humiliating” to have a stroke. People who would seek to offer support at this time are most likely those who have been through something similar themselves, I have found. In the next ten to twenty years, we will face the dilemma of many childless or abandoned elders who have no one other than a passing stranger who is concerned. For heavens’ sake, let’s risk “interference” for the sake of shared humanity.
Thank you, Kathy, for raising the conversation.
It is interesting to me that when I re-evaluate my comments, I realize it was my ego that got in the way of responding to this whole situation in the way my heart and soul was telling me to. I didn’t want to be perceived as the “nosy neighbor.” I completely agree that society is changing and that we may be confronted with this more and more as the baby boomers age and family continues to be spread around the world.
I am glad to hear that you find the “wider circle” of family to include neighbors and that you have this type of support for your parents. Another neighbor and I have decided to contact Ruby’s son and if they think we are interfering, so be it! My ego will adjust. I am a compassionate person and I know my angst has been that I didn’t show it in this situation.
Thanks for your insight and for reminding me to “go with my gut” next time!!
Yes, due to an earlier traumatic experience (a long-term, chronic experience, I should say) I actually do suffer from PTSD in certain circumstances. I won’t detail but I will say it is an awful awakening of old memories and stresses that causes a near panic-type anxiety for me…thank God it is very, very rare for such an occasion to come about. My oldest daughter, who is now in her mid-20s, was about 2 when these things (trauma) happened…we both went through counseling back then but she has had OCD (which she hid fairly well) for about half her life as a result of what happened. As for having neighbors to look out for my aging mother, there are none now that we know on a name basis. The area demographic changed dramatically, but my sister lives with her and cares for her so that takes most worrying.
PTSD or any type of panic attacks are beyond terrifying and I am glad that the occurrence is rare. Glad to know that you got professional help for you and your daughter. Your sister’s help in caring for your mother is a gift and hopefully she feels supported emotionally in her efforts, caregiving is a difficult job!! Thx for sharing CJ
Just found out that Ruby died last week and the services (whatever they were) are over and done. The house stands dark, the garden still has plants and all of the neighbors closest to her house were stunned by the news. Tomorrow I will shop for a bereavement gift for her family from all the people who were thankful for having known her, even superficially. R.I.P. Ruby