The Kindness of Strangers

When my dad passed away in July, he left my mom, his spouse of 52 years, to mourn his loss. Their lives were so intertwined that it has been doubly hard on my mom to process his passing. And in this time of COVID, my sister and I can’t fly out to be with her to help alleviate that sense of loss and provide company in a time of grief.

This is where my mom’s friends and neighbours have stepped in to fill the gap. They are constantly coming around with food for dinner, or an offer to take my mom to the store or the bank (she doesn’t drive), or just to visit and talk. Her friends bring Dutch newspapers and magazines for her to read, and lunch while they’re at it. She goes for walks with some of her friends, and has been invited to dinner. One neighbour has helped with tasks around the house, like removing the air conditioner from the window or changing the battery in the smoke alarm. Another neighbour showed her how to remove the light shade in the dining room to change the light bulb.

So many people have stepped up to help and support her, it makes you realize how important friends and neighbours are. My parents have lived in that neighbourhood for 20 years, so they know most of the people there. My mom has also volunteered at various arts venues for much of that time, so she knows her fellow volunteers quite well, some of whom have also offered to help.

It makes you realize how living in one place for a long time can be helpful in times of need. We have lived here for six years, and I think of what would happen if I lost my spouse: I wouldn’t get meals or walks or newspapers from friends. We don’t know our neighbours that well and are always on the brink of feuding with one of them. We don’t have a lot of friends in town either, as most of them are in distant cities. When my dad died I got a lot of cards, which was lovely, but no invitations to dinner or to go for a walk with someone.

Birds eating lavender seeds (Photo by D. Lewis, used with permission).

It’s the curse of having moved so often – we don’t have a solid base of friends and neighbours we can count on to support us in a time of need. It’s also the curse of being self-employed and not having kids – you don’t have people you meet regularly at work, and you don’t have a network of parents you would have met while raising your child. When we lived in Lethbridge we had friends in the dog world, but we don’t have any here. I went to dog training for a while but it was all individually based and there wasn’t much interaction between students.

I worry sometimes about our future, about what will happen if one of us goes and the other is left behind. How will we grieve, without a community to support us in that grief? How will we cope, without a community to help us cope? It will be up to us to forge a way forward through our grief and coping, without the support of neighbours and friends. It will be tough.

Is it too late to build that community? If we moved in a year or two to a neighbourhood with smaller lots and people closer together, would we make friends and build community? It’s hard to know, but it’s worth thinking about as we consider what kind of life we want to build in the near future.

Note the featured image is one of my photos of our garden.

2 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. It’s not too late to start building a community of neighbours. Start with small, kind gestures. Remember things about them and their families. Love them. I am one of your mom’s friends.

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