My neighbor, who lives in the apartment below us, had a stroke two weeks ago. It was Sunday, the last day of June and I was getting Zoe ready for her trip to Ireland. I called him wanting to borrow their thingamajig that measures the weight of a suitcase. I was taken aback when his wife, Annie, answered my call. She told me that her husband had a severe stroke a couple of days before and that she was in the hospital with their two adolescent sons. 

I was numb. I had no words. Mere half hour before his stroke he called Anya to move her car to avoid a ticket as the street cleaning was going to start. The night before I talked with him for more than half hour about our children, life in general, home repairs, and Annie, who was In Massachusetts, taking care of her nonagenarian father. He told me he quit smoking back in January, and I praised him for it. 

This man was my crutch, my handyman, my go-to guy for anything concerning the apartment, from plugged-up sinks to blown fuses to wobbly dining-room chairs. He is an expert high-end carpenter who makes exquisite furniture, but lately he has not been doing much, besides the dishes, and grocery shopping, and driving his younger son and my youngest daughter to the community college. 

If I was not at home, and my daughters needed anything, he was on their speed dial. If anyone’s car broke down, he was the one we called. He had every gadget and tool imaginable, and I didn’t have to think twice before I knocked on his door to ask him to measure my tire pressure or check out my fuse box, or help me unscrew my dishwasher filter…

For more than two weeks he has been gone. First in the hospital. Then they moved him to a neurological facility near-by. Today I talked to Annie and she told me that he had no medical insurance and they are moving him back home. She applied for MediCal in his name, but the approval is going to take between 45 and 60 days. In the meantime, he is going to stay home. 

His stroke was severe. His right side is completely paralyzed and in two weeks he did not make any improvements. Today they moved him back to the apartment, to be cared for by his two sons, who are my daughters’ age, nineteen and twenty, and his wife, all of five feet plus…

There is nothing I can do to help. I asked. They are in a panic mode. He made their days roll out smoothly. He was the pillar, the rock, the problem-solver. Without him, they are lost. I am lost, too, in a way.

He was several years older than me, but what happened to him made me do one of those “what ifs?” I don’t have a spouse to take care of me. My oldest daughter lives in Dublin, Ireland. My younger two are close to me, but barely able to take care of themselves, let alone me, if I were incapacitated by a severe stroke. 

My father had a stroke in August of 2013. His neurologist said that most people would not have survived a stroke that potent, but he did, as all of his vital organs were healthy and strong. He lived for another fourteen months, a shadow of a man he was, teetering between angry and subdued, unable to vocalize his thoughts, his right side paralyzed, his thoughts jumbled…

I could see the annoyance in his face when we Skyped, as he could not remember the names of his granddaughters, but knew that he knew. I could see the anguish in his eyes when he looked in my eyes wanting to say something and then forgot. I saw the tears of helplessness, and they broke my heart.

I hope my neighbor recovers. I know he is never going to be the same, but I want him back. I want his sons to breathe a sigh of relief, I want them to smile, to have hope in the future. But if he needs help, I want them to be able to come together and offer him the support of their strong shoulders, and to assure him that they are going to be alright. That’s all the assurance a parent needs.