Good Night Irene

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were on our driveway cleaning up from the yard sale we had this weekend. We looked behind us and saw a familiar figure cutting through our backyard. He had his head down and was making hurried, deliberate steps our way.

From a distance he appeared to be the 93 year old neighbor man we have known for 8 years who lives on our block. As he approached though he was almost unrecognizable. His always slender frame was now reduced to skin and bones. His face had an ashen hue to it and his eyes, once bright and lively were now replaced with a lifeless stare.

Bill and his wife Irene have always been some of our favorite neighbors. Bill owns a big tractor snowplow and plows everyone’s sidewalks on the block. They grow a huge garden in their backyard and deposit bags of tomatoes on our doorstep. When we are out walking we always stop by to visit them if they are sitting on their porch. They dole out Dum-Dum lollipops to the kids and invite them to sit on the large porch swing. Then they love to regale us with stories about the “olden days” and we love to hear them. I have heard the story about how they met no less than 10 times. Bill used to date Irene’s younger sister but then Irene stole him away from her. Irene tells me her secrets about how they had the perfect marriage. Irene has taken my kids into the house on several occasions and played piano for them while Bill takes me to the back room to show me his WWII memorabilia. He was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Hawaii during that time. He has several medals and plenty of photo albums that he has proudly showed me. He always takes out a picture of Irene in a bathing suit from that time and whistles.

As Bill sauntered over to us yesterday I said, “Hi Bill, How the heck have you been doing? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

He stopped and looked at me and said, “Well, you know Irene passed away last month.”

I didn’t know.

I quick grabbed him and gave him a hug and felt his jutting spine beneath my hand. I told him how sorry I was and how much we adored Irene. He just nodded his head. I asked him if his son was at the house with him but Bill said his son lives too far away and has only been able to make it up a few times to handle all of the paperwork.

Bill started to tear up then and he threw his arms up in the air and said, “I’m all alone now” in a jagged voice.

He abruptly started to walk away again and we asked him if there was anything we could do to help out. He just shook his head and muttered, “I’m just all alone now.”

My husband and I watched him walk away in his old straw hat, his jeans cinched at the waist and his flannel shirt draping on him. We were paralyzed and didn’t know what to say or do. I wanted to run to him and tell him just to sit down with us but inside I knew his pride would have denied him from doing that. I just stood there in sadness for a long time watching that 93 year old man walking down the street alone. The same street that I have watched both him and his wife walk down together many of times.

Later last night, I looked up her obituary online and discovered that Bill and Irene would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this coming Wednesday, May 1st. On Wednesday I will be paying Bill a visit with some chocolate chip cookies in hand. I hope he invites me in and I hope he pulls out those photo albums.

I hope he pulls out that picture of Irene in her bathing suit and gives a whistle.

Good night Irene, good night Irene. I’ll see you in my dreams.

82 responses

  1. How sad – your post made me think of the Winnie-the-Pooh quotation about wanting to live one less day than the person you love. I hope Bill enjoys the company and cookies on Wednesday, and that you come away having heard the story of how they met for an 11th time!

    • Oh, that quote is so fitting for this! You can just tell he is really struggling without her. Normally, Irene was the one telling me the story of how they met so it would be wonderful to hear Bill’s interpretation of the story…for the 11th time!

  2. The poor man! I’m sure the cookies will help, but it’ll be your company that will be more a source of joy to him. It’s so sad to see this happen to someone you care for. And men, well, they don’t do well with it. Women seem to soldier on, but men in this position often just “give up”. I hope that doesn’t happen to Bill. Good luck!

    • Thanks Jackie! You’re right about the men/women thing. Women do seem to fare better because they turn to their friends. At 93 though I’m sure there isn’t too many friends still left. The impact of that really hit me when I saw him walking away all alone…

  3. Oh dear, that makes me want to cry! I was just about to tell you to bake him some cookies when I saw that you already had that in mind. I’m glad that you will be there for him. I hope that he lets you in.

  4. Oh. Often is the time, in my work life, that I go in to an elder person’s home. And I am filled with stories and pictures of the world that used to be. Too many times I’ve been told “everyone who loved me is gone” or “everyone I loved is gone”. My heart aches for him.

    • Colleen, I think the first post I ever read of yours was of the gentlemen who fought in WWII that you presented cards and things to from everyone in your blogging community. That was really brilliant. Do you still talk to that man?

      • Yes I do. I called him last week and he was again getting over a cold. Koji sent me pictures of his division, my coworker printed them for me and he is supposed to call me to visit when he feels better. It seems like as soon as he gets past one ailment that further affects his breathing, another comes on. 😦 He is genuinely one of the kindest men I have ever met. I thought of him as I read your post. I hope he is okay when you go to see him.

      • I hope so too…I haven’t stopped thinking about him the past 2 days. It has been weighing pretty heavy on me. I spent the afternoon today with my 89 year old next door neighbor lady. It’s just so hard to see all of these people aging and feeling like I can’t do enough for them all.

      • With all of the visits I have done with the elderly, the most precious thing you can give them is that bit of time you share with them. Knowing you value the time THEY give you. I think you are wonderful. I hope the cookies turn out wonderful!!!! I hope he shows you her picture.

      • And I called him today. He isn’t feeling very energized. I’m frustrated for him but can’t give him the one thing that would make him feel better: breath. Air. But I did tell him people were thinking about him and asking about him. He is so humble I don’t think he believes me that people are thinking about him. πŸ™‚

      • Oh yes, there are people thinking about him and I’m sure so many more besides me! I’m glad you were able to touch base with him. After all the recent tragedies it’s such a comfort to know that men like this exist that did wonderful things for our country and continue to be great men!

  5. So sweet and sad at the same time. My grandparents were like that. They married when they were 17 and 18 and my grandpa died suddenly on Christmas Day, 2006, just 2 days before their 54th anniversary and she has never been the same. Love like that just doesn’t come around as much anymore. I hope he lets you bring him some sunshine on Wednesday so he knows he isn’t really alone.

    • Courtney, I just can’t imagine what it does to you when you lose a spouse and especially when you have been with them that long. Your grandparents were kids when they married so they basically knew each other their entire lives. It’s no wonder your grandma has never been the same.

      • There’s a really high statistic about death of the other spouse within a year of the first passing because of broken hearts. It’s a real thing, sadly 😦 We were really concerned about her for awhile but she is a trooper and now brags about the widowers who hit on her (not that she is interested or anything – haha)

    • This is sad and beautiful and just stunning really, another one of my favorites. Makes me want to head to green bay with some cookies and a hug for him too. We really should invite him to mom and dad’s anniversary picnic! And you should send this off to some magazines, I know it would get published, it is so so wonderful!! Love ya, awesome! Thank you for this: )

    • That’s a good idea Sarah! I should see if I can others who would go visit with him. We live in a neighborhood that consists of mainly all senior citizens and many of them are house bound but I’m sure I could find someone if I branch out my search!

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of Irene’s passing and how sad it is for Bill. I only met them a couple of times and had a brief conversation with them, but they were so friendly and engaging. A remarkable couple filled with joy !! I just can’t imagine Bill being by himself …. especially since he seems so frail ! He will love the visit from you and the cookies on Wed.

  7. I am tearing up reading this. What an amazing life Bill and Irene must have had together! I so too wish I could be there to see the photos and hear the stories. Your visit and cookies will be so much appreciated. You are a kind, lovely soul Melissa πŸ™‚

  8. May GOD continues to strengthen him and allow him all the good memories of both him and Irene. He definitely needs the company of others and their assistance to help him out despite his refusal. Be Blessed, Mtetar

  9. Wow. What a story, Melissa. Thanks for sharing and reminding us what the important things are…time and kindness. I want to invite him for dinner and hear his stories…

    • Thanks Maryellen! I am happy that we have got to know these people. We are surrounded by lots of elderly neighbors that have amazing stories that they share with us. It is fascinating and definitely rewarding!

  10. That is both sad and wonderful. Sad that he lost his wife of a long lifetime, but wonderful that they had such a long & beautiful life together. Taking him cookies and encouraging him to reminisce on their anniversary is a great idea. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. If he isn’t there, I’d leave a card and the cookies and visit another day. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about in my blog posts about kindness. They mean so much!

    • Yes, that is exactly what you have been talking about! I hope my little gesture helps him out like you said it did your family. That is a great idea to have a card ready in case he doesn’t answer. Thanks Keisha!

  11. What a beautiful couple, and how they have blessed you…and your family is continuing to care for this sweet, heart-broken man. I pray you can offer him some comfort and company!

  12. This was a tear jerker, Melissa. I don’t think it was an accident that you saw Bill a few days before his 50th wedding anniversary. He will be so overcome with emotion by your visit. What a wonderful way to lend loving support to a neighbor!

    • I know Kerry! Irene and Bill experienced a lot together in all of those years of marriage…traveling all over with the Coast Guard, loss of two children etc. but they really stuck it out together and leaned on each other.

  13. I’m so sad hearing what happened to that poor man. When we are so close to our partners, its is heart breaking, earth shattering to loose your best friend… we will pray for both of them. For now cookies is a wonderful idea!!! God Bless them.

  14. Oh Mel such a heartbreaking story, I hope he lets you in and you share cookies and memories and tell him to visit you when he can… how lonely he must be. This got to me a little as my mum’s name is Irene…. beautifully written from the heart Mel. xxx

  15. This reminds me of Uncle Lester. Aunt Elva was in poor health for such a long time and he lovingly took care of her. Even though he had some health issues he always seemed robust, lively, with a positive attitude. At her funeral, I was so surprised by his appearance. He seemed so old, frail and broken. A week later his daughter called to say her Dad passed away ! Uncle Lester had lovingly cared for Elva and now his purpose was done and it was time to rejoin her …. in their Eternal life of Love.

  16. Melissa, you are a very sweet and thoughtful, I’m sure you bringing him cookies tomorrow will make him feel a little bit better and hope he will take that picture out and whistle at it! πŸ™‚ touching story, I feel bad for him

    • Hi Steph! I just got back from there and it was a great visit! I chose today since it was their 70th anniversary and I pictured him sitting and thinking about it all day but lo and behold he didn’t even know it was their anniversary. His mind is sharp but he said he always forgot when their anniversary was….I thought that was hilarious!

  17. This brought tears to my eyes! My Grandma passed away at 94, leaving my Grandpa so out of sorts. I agree with the comment that it seems harder on the men. I am sure he appreciates your company!

    • Joan, the funny thing about the fact that yesterday was their 70th wedding anniversary is that I figured he would be really down yesterday so I picked yesterday to go visit him because I thought that would be the hardest day. While talking with him yesterday I am the one who brought up that it was their wedding anniversary and he said, “It is??? I never did know when our anniversary was. I was always forgetting it!” His mind is sharp as a tack but I guess he is just a typical guy about remembering those “important” dates. He and I were really laughing about that!

  18. We had an old neighbor like that.He finally died last spring. We used to stop in and I would send him goodies. The last time my husband dropped off some soup I made him,he knocked on the door and Emerson said to come in. My husband told him he had some home made soup for him and Emerson told him to put it in the fridge. While Al was in the kitchen Emerson asked him to bring him that 7Up that was on the shelf. I guess they talked for a while and as Al was walking out the door Emerson hollered WHO ARE YOU. He didn’t have his glasses on.

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