Friday, September 28, 2007

A Tribute to the Fallen

We all moved into this neighborhood together, ten years ago. It was brand-new and each family was delighted to be in this new little neighborhood. Across the street from us lived a young woman, a single mom whose ex-husband had lots of money and had provided the lovely home for her and her 4 year old daughter. Our youngest child, a boy, was the same age as her daughter and soon the two children were playing together.

The mom was the woman all the other women were jealous of. She was young, pretty and had a gorgeous figure. She would ask our husbands to help her with any manner of domestic problems, from a broken garbage disposal to ticks on her dog. They seemed glad to comply, and although I was a little jealous I was happy to help her out. After all, my husband had been away a lot when he was in the Navy and I always appreciated any help I could get. Besides that, I liked this person because she was sweet and generous.

My neighbor was cheerful and friendly at first, but gradually things began to change. She was a sad person who became sadder and more fragile as time passed. I guess she had been abused as a child, or so the rumors fly. It was hard to see her husband go on to the next wife and have a child. She was easily rattled and became more and more anxious. She met a man who was not particularly good for her. She started drinking and her world became small. She would work a job for awhile and then get laid off. We suspected that she might be taking pills or other drugs, but she was a private person and didn't trust us enough to unburden herself to us that way. She often trembled when she spoke, and only occasionally, the spirit of the pretty girl would return for a moment or a day.

After our neighbor went to the hospital following a seizure, or so we were told, the daughter went to live with her dad full-time. Now the five-bedroom house with the inground pool was home only to a lonely, quaking leaf of a woman, who was scared to be alone and drank and medicated herself in order to sleep at night.

Ironically it was on the occasion of a rare overnight visit by her daughter that the pretty girl slipped away from the tenuous hold she had had on this life. On Wednesday morning, September 26, 2007, the fourteen year-old daughter was out on the front porch in her night clothes awaiting emergency vehicles and her father, whom she called when she couldn't wake her mom that morning. The ambulance came, and after awhile, the crew came outside and stood around the ambulance, waiting to be dismissed. The crew chief came outside and spoke to the husband. I saw him sort of lurch backward at hearing the news, then turn and walk away a few steps. The crew chief and the policeman followed him and talked to him some more. He was in his sleeping pants and a black tee shirt, a ballcap on his head. He was chain-smoking. He went to the side of the house and reacted quietly to the news. Then he was on the cellphone, crying and talking for the next half-hour.

We watched, like ghouls, when they wheeled her black-draped body out on the gurney. They wheeled her out of the always fastidious big white house, with its vinyl and roof and shutters in colors she had picked, through her garage past the shiny SUV that she always drove, and past the artificial flowers, now faded, that she had placed in her flower bed to try make it look pretty, in a no-maintenance sort of way. They placed her into the back of a plain, green van at exactly 10 a.m. as a full moon could still be seen in the sky above her house. That same full moon rose again that night, illuminating the still, empty house. My heart ached. Yesterday I noticed mourning doves assembled across the top of the roof.

We had all been right here around her, the whole time, wishing good things for her, but gossiping still. We tried to help her when we could, but we really did not help her in a way she needed to be helped. We were too polite to take a chance and be lovlingly confrontative. We were Christians who went about our lives the best we could, after all, giving money to missions work. Indeed.

They have done an autopsy to determine the cause of death. We will go to the wake tonight and will not ask. We don't expect to be told how she died and we don't need to know how she died. We know why. There is one thing that can kill you, but only if you lack the second thing. The one thing is a broken heart. The second is the will to fight for a life worth living.

My thought now is that all flower gardens need tending. Even artificial blooms cannot stand the direct barrage of sun and rain for too long before they fade and break. Maybe we can survive with a broken heart as long as we fight for life, but maybe we can only claim a life worth living if we notice the silent flowers at our feet more often, and though they cannot ask us we might try our best to tend to them and preserve their beauty.


  1. Hi, Gail. What a sad occasion. What a beautiful essay.


  2. Thank you for reading, Annie. We should take nothing for granted, I guess.

    I'm finding it very hard to look over there at her empty house; the water hose is still looped up over the back fence, her little flower wreath hangs on the front door. Every day the morning newspaper gets thrown onto the driveway and we go and pick it up. Hoping her ex-husband will stop the paper this week.

  3. Maria6:51 PM

    Your words are so beautiful even though it was a tragedy. I think that we all at times are selfish and do not realize when people around us are hurting, I am guilty of that. It brings tears to my eyes reading this and she will truly be missed.

  4. Anonymous4:46 PM

    When I was young my playmates had a mother that I could describe like this woman. Even as a small child I could feel her loneliness. We have all come to realize too late what we wish we had done. These life lessons will help us or others down the road. It is very sad. God was there with her even if we iddn't think to be. Sarah


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