This Family Tradition Brought an Entire Community Together One Tragic Christmas

Sometimes, taking the extra time to hug someone and ask them about their day means more than you think.

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Reader’s Digest editors asked the Reader’s Digest contributor network to reflect on the true meaning of community during the holiday season. The following piece was written in response to that prompt. To share your own 100-word true story for possible inclusion in the magazine or on RD.com, click here

Good Neighbors, Bad Christmas

My mom said she never liked to use the drive-through at the bank because it was so impersonal. She wanted to be able to go inside and give people a hug. That’s why it was only halfway surprising to see her hugging her bank teller one Christmas.

We planned my Dad’s funeral sitting beside the Christmas tree, my mom and me. My brother had left to collect his family. My husband had gone back to our home to pick up our clothes. Dad had died suddenly, so we were existing in that surreal moment, unsure if what was happening was just a dream.

So, on that December day, my Mom and I sat with Dad’s favorite Perry Como Christmas album playing and decided who we would ask to be pallbearers and readers. The doorbell and the phone had been ringing almost constantly with people asking what we needed. My mom kept telling me how grateful she was for the kindness people offered. (This powerful story will convince you to stop saying “let me know if you need anything.”)

Neighbors are those people who weave themselves into the fabric of your life and give you a sense of belonging.

The street I grew up on is a dead end with only five houses, so, of course, we knew our neighbors well. We were comforted when all of them, along with some of their kids, and so many of our relatives came to Dad’s wake and funeral. But what surprised me most was the array of other people who came to pay their respects: his American Legion friends, the bartender from my parent’s favorite restaurant, the postal workers, the woman who cut his hair, his dentist and hygienists, the tax collector, and, of course, the bank teller.

It was a hard Christmas, but I learned that neighbors are not just the people who happen to live on the same street. Neighbors are those people who weave themselves into the fabric of your life and give you a sense of belonging. The funny thing is that you don’t even notice when it’s happening. And it’s so easy to take these people around you for granted. To build relationships, you have to take the time to foster them, as my parents did. Even if it means losing a little bit of time not using the drive-through at the bank.

I often think about that Christmas 11 years ago. When I go to the grocery store, the library, the bank, my daughter’s school, I just don’t ask people how they are, I am truly interested in knowing the answer. I hope that one day when I am gone, my daughter will have the same comfort and support from those people we are privileged to call our neighbors.

Suzanne Derham Cifarelli is a Reader’s Digest reader from Albany, New York. She is also a member of the Reader’s Digest contributor network.

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