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!