Monday, October 5, 2009

To Be Neighborly . . .

The other night, I responded on a call with officers who had to kick open a door who were dispatched on a medical call. When they arrived there was no answer at the door but they could see someone laying on the floor. The ambulance got there shortly and the crew started CPR and transported the lady to the hospital. A little bit later we got a phone call from the hospital and they told us that she did not make it--she had passed. Now by policy, all we had to do was secure the door and leave but the phone number to the house was the only number that the hospital had for any next of kin. Judging by the house, all the lady seemed to have to keep her company were a couple of cats. There weren't family pictures or anything to show that she had anyone close. So we felt we needed to find family somewhere.

We started to look around the house for some sort of phone numbers, addresses---anything to reach the next of kin. We found one number that had the emergency contact as her next door neighbor. He gave us a glimpse into Madge's life. She was elderly (95 years old). She had married late in life. Her husband had already passed away. She had no children of her own but her late-husband's children looked after her. He did not have any contact numbers though.

Back in the house, we found a emergency contact list. The first person on the list was her husband. The second and third were brothers who she has marked as deceased. The fourth and fifth were marked as nieces--both of them living in southern Missouri. I tried both numbers and both of them were answered by gentlemen who stated that they were the husbands of Madge's nieces. Both gentlemen also explained that their spouses were both invalid (86 years old and 75 years old) and there was no way they could come to Kansas City to take care of any arrangements. One of the husband's restated what the neighbor had told us--Madge had made arrangements for her late-husband's son to take care of everything.

I was pretty bummed out at this point. Here was a lady who had lived for nearly a century and it seemed that all she had were her cats and we couldn't even get anyone to take care of them.

Finally, a closer look at the emergency contact book revealed that "husband" was scratched out and "step-son" written in and a second phone number. I called it and was able to track down the step son. I gave the number to the hospital and gained reassurance that they would come the next day and start taking care of the house. We were finally able to secure the house and leave.

As I was walking to my car, another neighbor stepped out of the house and asked where the ambulance had taken Madge. I told him that she had passed and he looked a little sad. My first impression that this lady had been alone had been wrong. There had been people who cared for her and took care of her.

Sadly, there are people out there who are alone and have no one. There are people who live alone or live on the streets who have been forgotten by society--young and old. The world is filled with lonely people. It may not seem that they are alone. It may seem that they have many friends but they feel alone.

This is why we are supposed to take care of our neighbors. Not necessarily the people who live next door to up but the people we may come into contact with but our fellow human beings. We are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This isn't an easy task--to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Heck, sometimes it's difficult to love a loved one as we love ourself but that's how we are to live our life.

So love our neighbor. It doesn't always take nice. Maybe just a smile instead of a scowl. Maybe by not giving the guy who cut you off that hand gesture. Or so something more. Be a friend. Listen when someone needs someone to listen to. Help when someone needs help. Most importantly--love when someone needs loved. And finally--say a prayer for Madge.


  1. What a sad story, Jamie. Perhaps we all need to look for opportunities to reach out to people like Madge. There are far too many Madges around, folks who yearn for kindness.

  2. Thanks for this post. Back when I was in law enforcement, saw the same thing. One was a guy who DIDN'T have anyone. The caretaker at his apartment saw the newspapers stacking up and called us to be present to key in to his apartment. He was dead, TV on, stack of magazines (nothing gross) next to him, a box of empty vodka bottles behind his chair.

    Had another one who had left a tape. A suicide. Left behind an ex-wife and a daughter. His tape was a 'to be or not to be" kind of thing, and his daughter was clearly what was keeping him in the world, and in the end, that wasn't enough for him.

    He was discovered by a postal worker who couldn't figure out why he wouldn't come to the door when he could clearly be seen from the window. This guy died in plain sight of anyone who passed by...and no one cared.

    As a single woman myself, I realize how important it is for people to know where we are, to leave some kind of indication as to who to call. And you've reminded me I haven't done enough. I'm healthy and active and have lots of friends...but would any of them know who to call? Probably not.


  3. Sorry, hit "post" too soon. I really wanted to say that it IS important that we know our neighbors and be ready to help them. To do as you, be approachable, be available.

    A lot of people don't have anyone at all.

  4. I don't know if you intended the connection or not, but today's reading was the story of the Good Samaritan. "Which one do you think was a neighbor to the traveler?"

    Very poignant. Thank you for your story and reminder.


  5. Actually, no, I did not know until last night at dinner that yesterday's reading was about the Good Samartain. Interesting how things like that happen, huh?