He was always joking with me. He makes fun of me when I plant my flowers too early in the spring. He loves cats but adores my dog Kenzo. They have become the best neighbors I have who treat me with respect and are always kind. Yet, I don’t even know their names.
He told me his name once. It sounds like a Russian name and it didn’t stick. I don’t have a good memory when it comes to remembering names but I do remember a face very well. I believe his name is Gunar. For the sake of this story, let’s call him Gunar.
Gunar is the grey-haired neighbor I have who is always smiling. He is probably in his late 60s or early 70s. I have never seen him in a bad mood. Always smiling, always joking – we formed quite a friendship. He’s one of the neighbors I have who – when spring comes – ends up having the best outdoor garden arrangement. He really takes time to mix and match different breeds of flowers and plants. Walking by his house is a joy because I try to imitate what he is doing to no avail. I get advice from Gunar about what types of blooms I should plant in the shade and what types under the sun and so forth. Our conversations usually lasts a full minute and at times even a couple of minutes but it’s the light conversation I enjoy.
He has a grey beard as well. The mustache and goatee are yellow with nicotine stains from smoking. Yes, he is a smoker. I see him walking by my front door with a cigarette in hand, at most times. He and his wife love cats. They may have a few inside the house but they also take care of the stray cats outside. There’s a bush by their yard where cats seem to give birth to kittens during springtime and they feed the kittens until they are old enough to be taken to the SPCA for adoption. Before summer begins, I see them with small cages or boxes with kittens in them and Gunar always tells me, “You need a cat!” I laugh it off and they go to deliver the kittens to AWA in Voorhees.
I swear, because of the number of cats that they have in the house, they go through kitty litter like mad. Each trash day, I could tell you that they put out a minimum of seven trash bags filled with kitty litter. Sometimes I would kid around with Gunar and tell him, “Sheesh Gunar! What do you have in those bags? Body parts?” I don’t think he found my joke amusing. I can barely fill a trash bin with my week’s worth of trash and they fill bags and bags twice a week! It doesn’t bother me. It is what it is.
One summer day, I saw him outside watering his plants. I noticed that he has not smoked for a while. I asked him if he quit. He told me that he did. Further, he told me that his doctor found a tumor and that it was removed. It is cancer. He went through chemotherapy but I didn’t even notice. Like I said before, I have never seen him sad or depressed. He is always cheerful.
He was doing well for a while. Every spring time, we talk about our flowers and how often we put plant food in them and what varieties I should try next. His wife is very quiet but she smiles all the time. As I was watering my plants one day, he called out to me. He said, “Look what I got!” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out what looked like a cigar carton. As I examined it closely, it said, “MEDICAL MARIJUANA”. In jest, he said to me, “We’re going to have a good time!” I laughed. Then, I asked why he has it. He told me that the cancer is back, and that he needs it for pain and for helping him keep his balance. I told him that I wish him well and hopefully they can get it out for good this time.
Weeks after, I saw him again with a cigarette in his hand. “Why?”, I asked. He said, ” I asked my doctor if I should stop smoking. He asked me – What for? So, I picked it up again.” I laughed but told him that I hope that he gets well.
I was walking my dog Kenzo when I passed by his house a couple of weeks ago. I saw a sign outside that said, “No Smoking. Oxygen in use.” That made me wonder how Gunar was doing. I haven’t seen him lately except when he arrives from work and there was really nothing out of the ordinary.
One day, I was outside, pruning my rose bushes when I ran into his wife. I asked her how they are doing. She immediately teared up and told me, “Not so good. Gunar found out yesterday that he only has three to six months to live. It was a surprise because we thought the drugs were working really well. We found out that the cancer had spread all over his body and into his brain.” I could say nothing but, “I am very sorry to hear that. I will keep you all in my prayers.”
Just as recent as yesterday, I have seen many people drop by their house. Today, a truck from a medical supply company delivered what looked like equipment for hospice care. I walk by their house whenever I walk my dog. I saw a glimpse of their house inside and it looks like they had turned the living room into his bedroom. The same exact scene when my dad was ill from the same disease.
As hard as it is to see the decline in his health, I am still hoping that he doesn’t suffer much. He looked like he has lived his life fully as he also traveled the world while working for an international company. He has been one of the best neighbors I have ever had and I will keep him in my prayers always. I hope that when my time comes, I do not suffer. I am praying for a peaceful and painless death for him. I think, right now, they are just making him feel comfortable.
It is springtime once again and I know that he is too weak to set up his garden this year. I will set up mine as a tribute to him. It will be my living tribute for Gunar. And when the time comes, I pray for the angels in heaven to guide him through the fast lane to the pearly gates.