How we overcome sadness when that great neighbor moves away

When I launched my neighboring journey and blog 18 months ago, I got an insightful comment from someone about one of the possible reasons we Seattleites develop ‘Freeze Mentality’:

“The Seattle Freeze was totally a thing for us when we first arrived, and I didn’t get it… but now, I’ve been here for 5.5 years, and in that time at least two really good friends moved away. There is a definite time investment involved in making friends, so it’s hard when people move away. Now I find myself cynically asking how long people have been here, if they’re planning on staying, and asking about their families “back home” (wherever that may be, stateside or not) before deciding whether I can safely be friends without losing a part of myself when they leave.”   – Annette

Yes, when we invest time in our neighbors, there’s always the looming eventuality that one day they – or we – will move. It will happen to all of us. And it kinda hurts. It doesn’t hurt because we’re offended.  It hurts because we miss them and it can sometimes feel like we’re faced with ‘starting all over again’.

I’ve been there. Last weekend I hosted a breakfast party for our former neighbors Sherry and Hal.  They used to live across the street and have since retired to California. They were in town and I was able to pull a few of ‘the ‘ole gang’ together and enjoy a simple Saturday morning breakfast together.


Sherry and Hal. Great (former) neighbors. We miss them.

Sherry and Hal were great neighbors. For many, many years Sherry and I shared fruitful conversations over our shared love of gardening (she taught me a lot!) and I have strong memories of her azalea hedge blooming each spring.  I will always remember the first time I had “plum pudding” was when she made it for our book club. And I think of her each time my fragrant red rose and lemon day lilies bloom that she gifted me right before she moved.

But perhaps the main reason I’m always eager and grateful to carve out time to connect with Sherry & Hal when they come to town is because Sherry was the first neighbor who came to say hello and welcome me to the neighborhood right after we moved in.

That’s a strong memory. You always remember the first neighbor who made you feel a part of the neighborhood.

As we all enjoyed getting current and solving the world’s problems over breakfast that morning, I was reflecting on the three things about how we deal with losing that great neighbor:

FIRST: You don’t have to lose touch if you don’t want to.

Do you live next door to your best friend from high school? Not likely.  Does the maid of honor or best man from your wedding live right across town? No, they probably live in another state by now.

It’s true: we live in a generation of frequent job relocations and people ‘retiring elsewhere.’

But I would argue that we also live in an age of email, phone calls, texting, Facebook, Instagram and Hallmark for pete’s sake.  Yes, it is sad when our neighbors and friends move.  No longer having them close by for coffee chats, bike rides or occasional pop-ins is a real bummer. But we can choose to stay in touch.   We can all do a better job of connecting with those available to us NOW, as well as taking the initiative once they or we have moved.

SECOND: You can really like and become friends with the new neighbors who replace your old neighbors.

I remember the feeling when Sherry and Hal put the for sale sign in their front yard. Ugh. When they sold their house, I really had to work to not get my panties in a twist about whether or not I would like the new people who would move in. ‘What if they’re obnoxious? What if they don’t take care of their yard? What if they have rude kids? What if….’  Oh come on, you’ve done it too  – admit it!  This is Seattle and we love to talk about how open minded and accepting we are, but that’s because we have a reputation for not deeply connecting with ‘newbies’. It’s EASY to be open and accepting when you don’t actually get to know people. (ok. Enough of my soap box…..)

The reality is, after deciding to get the phat over myself, I made a point to walk over and say hello a few time when the ‘NEW’ neighbors first moved in to what I referred to as “Sherry’s and Hal’s house”.

And you know what?  The NEW neighbors are the bomb. Totally fun, totally intelligent, totally great neighbors who have, over time, become friends. My husband and I have enjoyed having them to dinner, bbqs and the like and they are terrific people who add a lot of enjoyment to our neighborhood. So there ya go.

THIRD: You always remember the first person who made you feel welcome and a part of the neighborhood.

For me, that’s Sherry.  She will always remain a special person to me for that simple reason.  

The question is: can each of us be that person for someone else?  New people are moving in everyday from around the country and around the world.  They’ve got questions about local schools, need recommendations for doctors, dentists and landscapers, and some struggle with language barriers.  And with a simple hello and a few invitations, we may find that they also might share a love of books, gardening, crocheting, golf or some other common interest. Many want to plug in. They want to feel included in our circles.

Could you be that first neighbor who reaches out to make them feel welcome?

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