This summer I furthered my learning on grief, in the process I’ve begun learning what it truly means to be a neighbor. (*1)  My neighbor was diagnosed with cancer in January.  I didn’t know this, our lives had been so chaotic that we hadn’t engaged with these neighbors recently.  But, I hadn’t seen them lately, crossing paths in the elevator, as we usually did.  It was February and I was compelled (prompted by the Holy Spirit) to go and knock on their door to see how they were.  I am so glad I listened to the Holy Spirit and shut the voices up that said “it’s weird and invasive to go knock on their door.” (Isn’t that the dialogue our society is embracing….and totally missing out on true community right in our neighborhoods as a result?).  This knock on the door re-engaged our interactions.  March, April and May were chaotic (*2) in our house.  But in June my neighbor began to get sicker and I earnestly tried to bring food when I could (though I was still struggling to sort out how to feed my own family well), most of all keeping a connection through conversation and letting them know they have our support.  It was difficult to say goodbye as we embarked on our month long vacation.  I was grateful M confidently bid us farewell, “see you when you get back.” 
When we arrived back she was in hospice.  Rayna and I were able to visit her there and have a lovely, like any old time, visit.  She mentioned that Rayna must not know what to think of a place like this, referring to the hospice.  I assured her Rayna was comfortable there because I take her when I do monthly visits to nursing home residents from our church.  I continued to explain that my mom had volunteering in nursing homes and that she taught me a deep respect for the elderly and my elders.  M replied, “She taught you well.” (*3)  I had hoped to visit my neighbor the next week, but my kids were sick and I wasn’t able.  The following week, was her last.  Ryan and I visited her the day she passed away. Read below, what I wrote upon learning of her passing.
I grieve today the loss of our neighbor of 9 years and friend. In the past months since her cancer diagnosis we engaged in beautiful conversations. We spoke of faith and the assurance of salvation for those who believe in Jesus.  This was meaningful because though she did not attend a faith community, she grew up going to church and expressed a clear and unwavering belief in Jesus’s redeeming power, offering us life beyond the grave.
I cry in grief for the loss of this friend.  She became so dear to my heart in the last half year.  I love her deeply.  As I ponder the hurt of stepping in to love and finding loss within that love, I can boldly declare: “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  I chose to step deeper into this relationship and blessing abounded.
This pain of loss is beautiful, it is a barometer of how “human” I have become. I am thankful for it.  How wonderful to be human with the capacity to have such a spectrum of emotions which stir up passions and declare we are truly alive. Our society tends to suppress emotion. Though emotion certainly ought not to be our guiding force, it is a powerful reminder of the beauty of our humanity.
As I grieve a friend, I am reminded of grieving another “friend” years ago.  I dated a guy in high school for 3 years, for those years I became part of his family.  His mother past away around 3 years after we broke up.  I attended her funeral, but didn’t know how to fully process the grief I was experiencing. I had healthy experience with death and grief; but I suppose I felt like I was on the outside, not fully entitled to this grief.  A friend’s mom noted this to me as she stated, sometimes it’s difficult to know how to grieve as a friend, when you’re not family.  (When you’re not in the “inner circle”).
I experienced this also yesterday visiting my neighbor in her last day. Family was also there and I didn’t want to “steal” their final moments with their mother.  In no way did they make me feel unwelcome; but within I felt like I shouldn’t be there too long.  As a result my last moments with her were more brief than they needed to be and held some awkwardness in them.  I wish I would have settled calmly into those moments I was given.  I went to go visit her the next morning and she had already passed away.
I walked away from the hospice and I sat in my car and cried.  If you know me well, you know that my emotions don’t usually rise easily to the surface (*4); but in this moment I needed to weep for my loss.  When I shared with my close friend, she said, “I am sorry for your loss.”  At times those words seem trite. Here they did not and I thanked her for naming it: my loss.
In my experience with M on her last day, I learned a valuable lesson.  As I reflected on how I wished I had behaved, I learned the value of being able to shove away feelings of what I think I “ought” to do when “ought” so very often just is not helpful.  While I let my notions of what I thought I ought to do direct me (or perhaps my uncertainty of not knowing what I oughtto do) and I feel I “blundered” my last moments with my neighbor; rather than regret I will choose to learn from them.
Another part of what I learned is this:  and here I want to state very clearly my wishes.  If you love me, you are welcome to grieve my death as family.  You are welcome to visit me in last days as family.  The dearest friends are truly family!
I don’t want to dwell on my death, it is not necessary, so to close I will reiterate: the dearest friends are truly family.  I am so grateful for how my family has grown over my lifetime.  Much love to my neighbors turned friends turned family.  And thank you to my neighbor M who taught me so much this summer.  Thank you for letting your life and death touch me beautifully.
(*1) Engaging with my neighbor as I’ve illustrated has been a beautiful part of learning about being a neighbor; but it is not the only part.  I live in an apartment condo building.  Over the 9 years we’ve been here I’ve begun to know numerous people within the building.  I run into Mrs. A from downstairs we talk, she tells me how good I look (her daughter has also battled cancer), later in the day she drops off a couple books and nice soap outside my door.  Mrs. M invites Rayna for tea parties when her granddaughter is over.  Mrs. E gave us a box of lovely books for the kids that their grandchildren had outgrown.  Mr. D has a motorbike that Garrett is already ogling, he is also a friendly caring neighbor.  Just yesterday M who used to live down the hall, called me because she felt she could trust my opinion and needed a few suggestions.  God bless Mrs. N who is gracious to not complain about our kids’ stomping feet and who we were able to be a support to when she fell and her daughter was out of town.  And we are saddened (but happy for them) that our neighbors turned friends are moving out of province next month.  They are the definition of neighbors blessing us simply but richly.  We will greatly miss them.  And as I type out this list, I realize I ought to banish my dissatisfaction for still living in an apartment.  Perhaps, this is part of the reason the need to leave does not feel as urgent as even I would think it would feel!  These are our neighbors and I have grown to love the different shapes and sizes of them.
(* 2) March was busy with celebrating Rayna’s birthday and engaging in the MAiD conversation.  April and May brought about childcare transition requiring potty-training which was part in parcel a bit of a necessary nightmare!
(*3) Yes mom, you taught me well.  Thank you.  I love you.
 (*4)  Ps. I don’t view this as a admirable attribute. I am trying to work on allowing my emotions to the surface more readily.