Our Old Neighbor

It’s been a difficult time for my family lately, as we recently heard that our long-time neighbor from our old place in Provo had been hospitalized. Things sounded kind of iffy.

You see, we bought our small ‘starter’ home in Provo in 2001, after coming back from our Japan teaching experience pretty flush. Our neighbor in the house just to the west was Donna Bird, an older lady, in her seventies, who still got around plenty and was just very endearing. She loved to watch our oldest, Thomas, who was 1 at the time, play around in the front yard and on the sidewalk. When we had our second child just about a year later, she watched him go from just a couple days old to walking.

We took off to parts known and unknown for the next two years, but when we returned, kind of licking wounds, Donna was still there. We arrived back in Provo in 2005 after leaving in 2003– and we were wiser, more world-weary, and had child number 3, our one girl, with us. Lily turned 1 the day after we got back to Provo.

As we rebuilt our lives, with me doing my darndest to screw things up for a while there (WHAT WAS I THINKING??), Donna was always around. She sat in her living room, watching the world through her windows, adoring our adorable children. They liked her a lot too. All of my kids, except for #6, have called her “Sista Bud.”

When Donna needed something, she knew she could call. I shoveled her driveway a lot during our few snowy winters. Annemarie helped her every day, twice I think, when Donna hurt her arm and needed assistance with some basic daily activities. This went on for a few weeks. Thomas, the oldest, helped her by taking out her garbage every day or so for nearly a year.

Donna Bird has been a part of our lives for over a decade. So when I got the voice mail that she had been hospitalized and that doctors had found a mass in her stomach and that she was in poor shape, I got very emotional. I called Annemarie. I almost didn’t hold it together there in my car. I put myself in a semblance of order and got back to work.

That night at dinner, we told the kids. We held nothing back and were very clear on Donna’s outlook. Annemarie visited her that day and has talked to her a few times. Some of the folks in our old neighborhood have made great efforts to keep us in the loop.

Donna has terminal, inoperable cancer. She is 87. We told the kids tonight. I was glad that they’d had time to heal a bit from the last announcement. Donna has maybe a few months left. My dear 6 year old, whom I call Sunshine, kept suggesting that she might have a miracle and survive. I told him that was possible, but that it was also a miracle that her last few months could probably be relatively pain-free and that she would be surrounded by family.

But it’s still raw. We love Donna. I didn’t really want her to be the person who helped my family truly start to understand how death is the gateway to the next stage– and it is necessary and sometimes merciful.

In all of this grim news, something kind of miraculous has happened. Donna won’t be going home to her old house in Provo, next to the house we now have renters in. She is being moved to a care facility. Here in Orem. Four blocks away. In our ward (a geographical region that provides the members for an LDS congregation). We do sacrament meetings there pretty regularly for the people being cared for.

Donna is going to be our neighbor again, for a little while at least. We will get to sit by her, smile with her, and just be neighbors again. For a little while at least.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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