Last week my neighbor Frank died. He was 90.
The news was sudden; I hadn't known he was in the hospital. At the wake, a neighbor told me Frank didn't want anyone to know. He had gone in on Friday for an abdominal blockage and they were ready to release him on Tuesday. A neighbor told me that on Monday Frank was laughing and in good spirits. That night, however, things took a turn for the worst.
In the past year Frank had appeared more frail; I hadn't seen him walking the stairs as much or out on the sidewalk. He would leave his door ajar and I would ask if he needed anything as I passed on my way down the stairs. He would smile and wave, thank me, and tell me he was fine.
I had known him since moving into the building. He had lived on the street since the day he was born, and in the building for as long as anyone could remember. If one of my other neighbors is the mayor of the building, Frank was the soul.
I was at the opera when I read the news. A neighbor had emailed me to tell me the wake was the next night. He apologized for telling me via email; we had seen each other in the morning, but he was in the midst of telling another long-time resident of the neighborhood who was somewhat shaken. He felt it wasn't the right time to tell another. I told him I understood and would see him at the wake.
I was thankful for the wake. I often had the intention to visit with Frank to hear stories of the past, but I always seemed to be heading to somewhere or needing to do something when I got back home. At the wake, some of the other long-term residents of the neighborhood filled in some of the stories I had missed. We laughed together along with Frank about the past and the stories opened up a window into a common memory I could now share.
Last night I noticed that someone had posted Frank's obituary in the foyer of the building. I read the brief description of his life. I hadn't known he had been a Port Authority police officer; was unaware of his service in World War II. There were so many things I didn't know about this man I had lived so close to for so long.
At the funeral service I sat in the last row of the church. Various other neighbors sat beside me or in the rows adjacent. A priest left a flower in the seat closest to the aisle in the pew I chose. After the service he told us that that was Frank's seat. My neighbor looked up and said it was apt that we all sat in such close proximity to that seat, neighbors to the last.