Sunday, December 14, 2008


A Neighbor's Visit

I live alone as a widower. I lost my wife thirteen months ago. Since that time I have attended a weekly bereavement group sponsored by the hospice organization that provided end of life care for my wife. After a year, I am beginning to wonder whether I should graduate from the group or continue attending the weekly sessions. I don't feel any less sad at the loss of my wife than I did a year ago. Friends have told me that the feeling of sadness and loss never goes away.

Yesterday my neighbor who lives next door came to visit me. He brought a flower - a bird of paradise stem with a bloom - and I found a nice-looking vase to hold it. He said he had smelled the roasting coffee from my house. I had been roasting raw coffee beans on the stove so that the fumes would be collected by the hood and sent up the spout to the roof and the neighborhood. When I roast coffee the smell is more pronounced outdoors than indoors. He said he liked the smell of roasting coffee and asked me to make him a cup. I ground some of the freshly roasted beans and made coffee in a French press coffee maker.

We then sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and talking. My neighbor is an Iranian. We talked about politics, about the stupid governor of Illinois and the equally stupid President of Iran. The big cheese in the Iranian government is Ali Khomenei, the successor to Khomeini. My neighbor is no admirer of Khomenei. We talked about the new President-elect of the United States. We talked about Germany and Russia. My neighbor assured me that Iran is not going to build a nuclear bomb. He doesn't see any reason for it. Iran is not a large, powerful country. It could not hope to win in a war against Russia, Pakistan, India, or the United States. It fought a war against Iraq several years ago and couldn't win that war.

We talked about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. We agreed that the world is better off without him. Saddam didn't have Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) nor a nuclear weapons program. He wanted everyone, including some of his own generals, to believe that he DID have such things. The idea was to intimidate his enemies. He had many enemies. My neighbor didn't say so, but the thought came to me that the rather stupid President of Iran would like us to believe that he did have the capability of building a nuclear weapon and an intercontinental missile to carry it to the United States, just so that we would think long and hard before deciding to bomb Iran, as John McCain once suggested.

Finally my friend J, who had been one of the caregivers for my wife, came to prepare my dinner. My neighbor excused himself and invited me to come to visit him and talk any time I felt like it. He left. I talked to J about what I wanted for dinner.

Later I thought about the neighbor's visit and the conversation. I thought about the morning walks I take three times a week with three other old men, one of whom is also a widower, and of the conversations we have during those walks. We never talk about anything more serious than W's and H's eyesight, C's problem with his leg, or the state of the economy. The most serious conversations we have involve warning each other about oncoming cars. I think about all of these conversations and I realize that while I am thus engaged in talking and listeneing I do not recall the sadness of losing my wife.

I wonder if perhaps the benefit of the bereavement group discussions is that they simply provide a means for the participants to talk. Of course, in the bereavement group, we are encouraged to talk about our feelings of loss and sadness. We are discouraged from wandering off and discussing how stupid and venal and greedy the governor of Illinois is. Some members of the group have difficulty in getting started to talk about anything. One member of the group, J, is a writer. He has no difficulty in talking about his feelings and his memories, and serves, I think, as an example for others. He is a valuable member of the group. Perhaps I am close to being able to graduate from the group. I have friends and a neighbor with whom I can talk about almost anything. Perhaps they can replace the bereavement group for me, if I am ready for such replacement. Am I ready? I am not sure, so I will continue attending the group for a while.

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