Sunday, October 13, 2013


For those of you who aren't on facebook and haven't heard, I discovered my neighbor dead in his apartment a week ago.  I have been caught off guard by how much I was affected by it.  To sum up the story, on Friday morning I was busy getting ready to take my son to preschool when the thought popped into my head that I had not seen Fred all week.  It sounds weird, but I just knew in that moment he was dead in his apartment.

Fred is a talker.  He just had his 59th birthday last month and lives alone.  His kids are grown and though he calls them frequently, he doesn't see them often and so he waits for any opportunity to talk to a neighbor.  I'm not joking.  If you are hanging laundry outside, he will know.  If you are unloading groceries from your car, he will know.  He never misses an opportunity to talk with a neighbor, whether it is a convenient time or not and he will talk right up until the moment you close the door.  So, in that split second when I realized I hadn't seen Fred all week, the following thoughts spilled through my mind.

#1 His car has been parked out back the whole week, so he is not out of town.

#2 He smokes and I have not seen him outside one time.

#3 Another neighbor was moving out all Monday and he never came outside to talk.

#4 I knocked on his door Tuesday night to borrow a drill and he didn't answer.  At the time I thought he must have gone to bed early, because he hadn't been feeling well.

#5 He seemed pretty sick ever since they changed his medication two weeks ago.

I immediately stopped putting on River's shoes and rushed next door, hoping to prove myself wrong.  That's when I saw the mail in his mail box.  Fred is super habitual.  He always checks his mail, especially at the beginning of the month.  His disability check is coming and half the time he is on the steps waiting for the mailman to arrive.  He always takes a trip to the casinos in Wendover once the checks arrive and here it was October 4th, his car was here and his mailbox was full.  I started knocking as hard as I could and ringing the doorbell, meanwhile trying to come up with another reason for all of this.

He never answered.

I called my landlord.  He agreed we should check on him and said he would be there in 30 minutes.  In the meantime, I took River to preschool and got Ash down for a nap.  I said a prayer that there would be some other explanation, that maybe he was just really sick and couldn't get out of bed, but I also prayed that I would be able to handle whatever I saw and be helpful.

I saw my landlord's suv pull up to the apartments through the window and the thought came to me to grab something to eat quickly, because I probably wasn't going to want to eat after.  I had banana chocolate chip bread on the counter and so I ate a slice while my landlord climbed the stairs.  He's 92, so I had a minute.  Needless to say, I won't be eating banana chocolate chip bread for awhile.

We knocked again.  No answer and so my landlord turned the key.  He called Fred's name as we stepped in and said, "Fred... it's Morrie... we're worried about you."  Still no answer.  My landlord motioned for me to go in.  He's elderly, or I definitely would have made him go first, but I went ahead and that's when I noticed a lot of blood on Fred's meticulous white couch.  His shoes and pants were lying by the couch and a shirt was on the floor in the direction of the bedroom.  We called out again, but to no avail, so I turned the corner and that's when I saw him.  Looking back, I wish I called the police instead.  No matter how many funerals you've been too, seeing a dead body lying where he spent his final moments of panic and pain is not the same.

His body was gray and covered with white Ash.  He was laying on the bed, but not flat like he was sleeping.  He was naked and his knees were up and his hands were stretched out trying to grab a blanket.  His eyes were open and looked frightened and darkened blood had crusted over his mouth and nose.  I couldn't bring myself to touch him.  So I flipped the blanket over his lower half, because honestly, I hope someone would do the same for me and then I ran next door to get my phone and call 911.

I told the dispatcher my neighbor was dead and she asked if I had a defibrillator handy.  Okay... who has a defibrillator just lying around and if you do, you probably are the type to try using it before you call 911.... anyway, I told her it was going to take more than that to bring him back and she asked why I thought that.  I went back in the room to describe his body to her and that's when I noticed the foam in his mouth and that it was open as if trying to call for help.  That did it.  I started gagging.  I walked out quickly, and by the grace of God, did not start puking.  I caught my breath, wiped away the tears and kept giving her information.  I live close to a fire station and within minutes could here the sirens approaching.  That gave me some comfort, thinking how quickly help would arrive, should I ever need it.

The rest of the story is just a hodge-podge of firemen and policemen confirming he is dead and all of us trying to track down his missing cell phone, so they could notify his family.  Morrie had his rental form with his sister's number, which I called and got an answering machine.  I didn't want to drop that kind of bomb with a message, so I hung up.  Thankfully the police said they'd take care of it and eventually were able to get a hold of his son.

I couldn't get the smell out of my head for days and I don't like that I share a wall with where he passed away.  I get creeped out thinking about the body and I am thankful I don't work in a profession where I would witness things like this on a regular basis, but the thing that surprises me the most is how sad I am about it.  I really wasn't expecting to feel such a weight on my chest.  He was my neighbor, but not a best friend, or a family member.  It really made me realize how much we can take for granted the people in our everyday lives.

Before Fred died, if you had asked me about him, I would have told you he talked non stop, repeated the same stories ad nauseum and would never let you get a word in edge wise.  I would have said he was nice, but on blistering hot summer days, I was going to lose my mind when he'd trap me on the stairs to talk, while I was juggling two boys and grocery bags.  All of that is true, but now that he is dead, the space he occupied is so empty and I can see all the other things that made Fred who he was.

Now I would tell you about how he decorated for holidays.  How he went all out, especially for Christmas, which is rare in apartment living and I am really going to miss seeing the decorations this year.  I would tell you how he was so happy we didn't end up moving in August and how he always was so sweet to my boys.  I would tell you how he made sure our mail was collected when we were out of town and how he was nicknamed the neighborhood watch, because he kept an eye on everything.  I would tell you how he reached out to all the neighbors and got us to all know each other better.  People are so much more than their annoying habits and it does everyone a disservice if we don't realize this till they are gone.

The question playing in my mind is, "Did I do all I could do?"  I don't mean, could I have saved him.  From the amount of blood, I am sure he would have died even if I had been in the room with him.  What I mean by did I do all I could do is... Did I let him know he was cared for?  Did I follow the Savior's command that if we love him, feed his sheep.  When Fred's medicine started making him sick, I saw him looking very shaky on his feet.  He mentioned that he had fallen that day.  In my mind I thought how dangerous that could be for someone that lives alone, but I didn't offer to get his number and call and check on him each day.  I asked if he was hungry, but when he turned down my offer, I left it at that.  I didn't bring food by, just in case.  I think we were good neighbors to Fred, but I also know I didn't act on every prompting and now I know that when the opportunity is over, regret is a hard pill to swallow.  I know Fred is in a better place, but could I have made his time here better?

I have had friends and family members pass away that I was much closer to than Fred, but his passing has been hard in that he essentially lived with us, separated by only a wall.  It is hard to lose someone you are used to seeing everyday and you feel their absence all the time, as you have constant reminders they are no longer there.  I don't like seeing his empty parking space and I don't like how quickly his apartment was turned over and having hopeful renters walking through to apply.  It makes people seem so disposable, to have the world just move on so quickly.

I'm not quite sure if I've been able to put my finger exactly on the lessons this has taught me, but to sum up this post, I offer three things...

1. You will never regret kindness.  Take the time to act on promptings, even when it seems like you have no time.

2. The world will not stop for your passing, so don't spend so much time investing in things that are limited to this world.

3. Don't forget to feed the sheep.  Even when it is a pain in the butt, they still need to eat.  Do it at first, for no other reason than because you love the Savior and he asked you to, but, eventually, you will do it for the same reason you feed your naughty, noisy, entitled cat everyday, because despite his annoying, inconvenient behavior at times, you love him.  Then you will wonder why it was ever hard for you to remember to feed the sheep in the first place, because they will all be part of you.

The light in me, sees the light in you.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

Lil, this is powerfully written. It moved me to tears, and, I hope, will move me to action because you are absolutely right that it is so easy to ignore those promptings to reach out and care for people.

I will pray that you can get those images out of your head and remember the good things.

Thank you for sharing your lessons from an emotionally exhausting experience. Sending you a hug from Wyoming...