Death In An English Village And My American Expectations

Late yesterday afternoon the sound of a helicopter drew me out of the house. It is rare to hear any air traffic over our tiny village and after a quick look at the two emergency vehicles parked on our street, I hurried down to the far end of the road to see where the air ambulance was going to land.

Any time you hear a helicopter hovering low over the village, you can bet it’s here to help someone. We have several elderly people on our street and my first concern was for the welfare of a sweet man in his 90s who lives a few houses from ours near the small car in the photograph.

Some of my neighbors were outside watching to see where the helicopter was landing and who might be needing emergency care.

A few years ago, the elderly man I mentioned had a heart attack and the air ambulance landed in the same field on the other side of the hedge.

It turned out it was our next door neighbor they were coming to help, but after being inside the house for a while, they left without him.

The sky was on fire while we watched what was happening outside their home and one by one the emergency vehicles drove away without taking anyone with them. It was too late to change the outcome and we learned early this morning that our neighbor had died. I think he was younger than I am.

Things are done differently here when people die and today I feel like someone at the scene of an accident unsure about how to render aid. My heart hurts for my neighbor and I want to do something to help, but it has been suggested by several that a card through the mail drop in the door is the best way to offer our sympathy to her.

At home in Georgia there would be no question about what to do. I would be standing at the door now offering a casserole, or a meal of some kind, handing it over to a relative, or close friend tasked with accepting the offerings of those wishing to offer some comfort if only through a favorite recipe.

A death in the American South seems less constrained and more emotional than the three I’ve experienced here and even though I was not close to the couple, I wish I could do more.

I saw a car arrive this morning and a family member stayed the night so I know our neighbor is not alone. People won’t bring food here, John said it is just not done and would be considered odd. I can’t imagine anything more lonely than walking into the empty kitchen of a home visited by death.

It seems more sad to me somehow than countertops covered over with foil wrapped dishes, and plastic containers of sandwiches and cakes, meant to feed people as they come to pay their respects. I know that food doesn’t equal love, but in the south, it does mean we care.

I don’t know how many people will be coming to help her through this sad time, but I think I may hang convention and make a cake or something because odd or not, it’s a better way for me to say I am sorry for your loss than a card through the door.