When I saw the U-Haul truck, I knew in my gut it was getting real.
My neighbor, a friend and one of my guardians angels, just kind of disappeared. Before long his sister and nephew moved in to his house. His sister eventually shared with me that my neighbor had gone to an assisted living facility, but I didn’t know which one. They wouldn’t tell me.
I didn’t worry about it too much. She wasn’t always the friendliest and I just chalked it up to that. She was certainly not like her brother.
When my son was young, he became the adopted grandson of our neighbors. Daniel would run up the hill to have cookies and milk with them and listen to their stories.
They never had any children of their own. Daniel loved them and they loved him.
When my husband left, my neighbor started watching over us even more closely. He used to freak me out a little because I felt like he was always watching, but I grew to appreciate very much his watchful eye.
He let me know when someone who didn’t belong would show up at my house. He let me know when the wind caught my tent I had left outside to air out had blown into and got hooked on my son’s basketball rim. He was there to help my dad and I get a lock off my RV to which I couldn’t get a key.
He was always there. Even after his wife passed and left a huge void between our two houses, he carried on. Always watching, helping, talking to Daniel … at least as long as Daniel thought it was cool to hang out with the older neighbor.
About a year after his sister and nephew moved into his house, his sister passed away. A few months later, his nephew went to stay with his daughter for about six weeks. When he came back, he had a friend with him.
Habits of the household next door changed again. The garage door that was always closed by 6 p.m. was now sometimes left open overnight. There was a lot of drinking that went on. At times, the nephew would be sitting outside and his truck and friend would be gone … for hours.
And then one day, Daniel calls to say there is a U-Haul backed up to the garage. The nephew and his friend are going back to New York, moving this time.
When I got home, I tried to talk to get some answers. He wouldn’t come to the door.
The new morning when I left for work, the U-Haul was gone.
I called the number I had stored in my phone. He would call from time to time when he needed a ride to or from the hospital, so I had at least a phone number. He answered, said in a very slurred way that I didn’t need to worry about his uncle, my neighbor, he was OK and being cared for.
Now my neighbor was alone. He had no family, and we didn’t know where he was.
I started making contact with different facilities, and finally found where he was. I shared the story, and my concerns, with the staff and after several months they informed me that my neighbor now has a legal guardian. I felt much better.
Then last week my son calls to tell me there’s a For Sale sign in the yard. I knew it was coming. My friend at the facility told me the house would be sold to help cover his expenses.
What we weren’t prepared for was what followed the next day. Daniel called to tell me he came home from work to find the contents of my neighbor’s household sitting alongside the road for trash. People, strangers, pulled down our short little road throughout the night rummaging through his things.
The next morning, what was left was scattered across his front yard. Daniel cleaned it up so the garbage truck would take what was left. Then later that day, just as much was again put out by the road. It has sat there since last week and again has been picked through by strangers.
It has been heartbreaking to see strangers go rifling through our beloved neighbor’s possessions. He wouldn’t have wanted that, and neither would his wife.
It’s like Daniel said, “Mom, they’ve just thrown him away. It’s like he never even existed.”
He went on to explain that no one understands that each piece that have taken had a meaning to our neighbor. Kind of like the eggshell that my son has kept. It has a significant meaning to him. Once it’s gone, so is part of that memory.
You know, for being so young, he sure is smart.
I share this story with you to encourage each of you, regardless of your age, to write your will. If you have something that means the world to you, take time to designate where it should go. If you don’t, it could end up out on the side of the street for strangers to pick through.
Romona Washington is executive editor of the Highlands News-Sun. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.