Considering things most important

It’s been about a week since our neighborhood was rocked with very sad, tragic news. One of our own took his own life. I had talked with him the day before, and I never suspected this was possible. He had everything going for him despite a bump in the road. I learned of the news as I was returning home and witnessed about six or seven emergency vehicles in front of his house. I pulled over and stood with four other neighbors on the corner as officials went about their grim tasks.

The neighborhood immediately reacted in shock. How? Why? Who is to blame? Questions that will forever go unanswered, for only he knows the exact reason, the tipping point that all was hopeless.

Why does it take someone’s death to reflect on relationships, family, neighbors and community? It always does. We say, “I’m going to try harder.” “I’m going to try to repair that relationship.” “I’m going to reach out more often.” “I’m going to be there when my neighbor needs me.” Some of us will actually do that. Some will just fade back into comfortable thinking—old habits. It’s human nature.

When the news spread through our neighborhood on that fateful day, I must have kicked into my pastoral mode. Yes. I spent time in the pulpit—eight years as a volunteer youth leader and five years as a candidate for the ministry in the United Methodist Church, four in the pulpit of a small country church in Oregon, Illinois. I understand shock and grief. I understand death and dying, and the hardest to understand is suicide.

There were a couple of impromptu gatherings of neighbors, and I made the rounds to check on individuals, especially the four who stood on the corner with me. My approach was simply that of concerned neighbor and friend, my current role. I left the pulpit in 1989—more than 20 years ago. I’ve never stopped caring for others and being a good neighbor.

I subscribe to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and the other day, he wrote, on the occasion of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s birthday:

… [Emerson] wrote in his journal: “I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry….”

I understand that. I left the pulpit because I discovered lay ministry to be more powerful and more meaningful. Ministers and pastors are paid to do their job. I could watch people’s behavior change right in front me me upon learning that I was a pastor. Lay people minister from the heart. That’s where being a good neighbor comes in.

I am going to try harder to connect with neighbors through our impromptu gatherings, events and social media like Facebook. Time will tell if our neighborhood will rally in support of each other, or if we fall back into old ways.

It’s important to let others know you care, and that nothing, nothing is hopeless.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are missed.


Have you seen my father?

There is no agony and worry like that of a missing family member. We raise our kids hoping to keep them safe and teaching them to keep themselves from harm. We never expect that as we get older, our roles may change from that of child to parent of our parents. That’s what dementia does to a family, it reverses the roles of child and parent.

“Have you seen my father? The service said they dropped him off one hour ago, but he’s not here.” Her voice is filled with stress, worry and a little panic.

The neighborhood search begins as she calls 911.

The onset of dementia is a slow process, one filled with its own worries, for it takes about six months for a correct diagnosis. The confusion sets in and memory starts to fail. Where would an elderly man on foot go? What precautions might he take in this heat?

While the police arrived and asked questions, two neighbors fanned out in vehicles to scour the neighborhood. At mid day in hot weather, nobody is out. Everyone is inside in their air conditioning. Everyone that is except for one man, sitting at a patio table set with the umbrella up providing shade.

“Hi. Are you visiting?”


“Are you Chris’s dad?”

“Yes. She’s not home and I’m waiting for her.”

“This is the neighbor’s house. Chris is around the corner and looking for you. Let me take you there.”

“Oh, good Lord. Okay.”

Walking down the street towards home, Chris is standing in the street talking with the police. I call her phone. “We’re walking down the street.” She waves and I wave back. Her dad just keeps walking along and greets her as if nothing has happened, maybe wondering why she wasn’t home.

After a few inquiries, it appears the service dropped him off at the wrong house. He didn’t know it was the wrong one, and so he was waiting for someone to come home. He raised the umbrella on the patio table for some shade.

It was a good outcome … this time.