My next door neighbor called me Sunday. He knew we’d been away for awhile and had just come back the night before. He thought maybe we hadn’t heard yet that our neighbor across the street was dead. WHAT?! How could that be? Kevin was far too young (mid-to-late 40s or thereabouts) to just up and die that suddenly.
As far as we knew he’d been a happy, healthy single man with his own retail business in the city with numerous friends, particularly of the female persuasion who seemed more than willing to settle down with him. I remembered the afternoon barely a year ago when he’d invited neighbors up and down the street on the spur of the moment to come over for a party from then until “whenever.”
It was a chance to meet more neighbors and finally see the redecorating we knew he’d been doing to the house over the last several years. We heard he’d said when he was finally finished, his was going to be the prettiest house on the street, a boastful challenge since the neighborhood is full of pretty homes.
He and I had, so far as I knew, only one thing in common. We were both southern born. Hubby and I quickly made up a cracker and cheese tray and went over to mingle with neighbors as well as a few of his friends of all ages. He was a guitar player and he and his more musical buddies even showed off a little on their shiny guitars in the “music room” downstairs. We enjoyed the food and comaraderie and met a few other neighbors.
The house looked splendid. His mother, who either is or knew a lot about decorating, had collaborated with him on the color scheme. The new granite wrap-around bar in the kitchen was filled with all kinds of food and drinks, the new wide-screen high def TV was on a college football game. The SLC downtown and Great Salt Lake views visible from the outside porch deck were magnificent. I decided he was indeed well on his way to prettiest house status, and even joked that he should trade houses with us because his smaller one would be perfect for the two of us.
Only a short few weeks ago I had what was to be my last conversation with him in passing during a walk. He was outside with his aging Yellow Laborador Retriever, Murphy. I asked how the new puppy training was coming along as he’d gotten the new puppy, also a yellow lab, several months back, and no one could help noticing how different he was from the well-behaved Murphy who was much loved by the whole neighborhood. The puppy had proved to be too much a challenge and had gone to live with a friend in the country where there was more room for his youthful rambunctiousness.
Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve been shocked by the sudden death of a neighbor or acquaintance. We’d been settled only a few weeks in our home in Ohio in 1977 when about mid morning as I glanced outside my bedroom window while doing the morning chores, I saw several police cars along a neighbor’s curb .
I called the woman next door, one of the few I knew at that time, and she told me the woman, who was married with two pre-teen children and known to be an immaculate house keeper, had cleaned the whole house and done the laundry, ironed her husband’s shirts and put them in their closet, and had folded and placed the son and daughter’s fresh cleaned things on their beds–just what any stay at home mother might do at that time in life. No one will ever know whatever possessed her and tormented her so much that she then took a gun and shot herself in a garage with floors clean enough to eat from.
A few years after that, still in Ohio, another woman I knew well who had two sons near the ages of my girls took a handgun with her to a park and shot herself along the trail to be discovered by another hiker later that day. She appeared to have so much to live for, a lovely home, a new business she was working to establish with her husband, good looking young woman who dressed well, was a talented crafter and writer of poetry. The writing was the thing we shared at the time, though I didn’t know her very well.
In viewing suicide statistics for a random year, 2001, I learned that suicide is the eighth leading leading cause of death for females, with four male deaths for each female death by suicide. More people die from suicide than from homicide than from homicide with the 11th leading cause of death being suicide with homicide ranking 13th. I’m not sure what these numbers indicate, but it does make one pause to reflect.
In my own experience, I count three unexpected deaths of neighbors over the past 32 years. I hope this numbers aren’t typical, because in each case, I’ve always asked myself whether there was anything that I could have done–had I been more aware–that might have made a difference, survivor’s guilt I guess it’s called. Guilty for being in a good place in life when others around me aren’t. I doubt it, but still–I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t have done better.