…stroke. He wasn’t even 50 years old yet.
I remember when they moved in to the other side of the duplex in our military housing unit many years ago. They were great people. He was a pediatric nurse practitioner and I can’t remember if she was employed at the time – army wives are often unemployed during a move. I was pregnant with our first child and loved living on the central coast of California. We spoke in passing mostly, on the way in or out, meeting on the sidewalk or in the shared carport. We were becoming friends, sharing the same home state and finding it easy to start and continue conversations. We all liked each other which can be a rarity when you put four personalities together.
One day, after I had the baby, he showed up at the door asking to see him. Something in the way he phrased it must have made me comfortable about having my child handled by this man I didn’t know too terribly well. It ended up being a free well-child appointment, with a once-over kind of look one might expect a mechanic would give a car being considered for purchase. In the days after, we continued getting to know each other, the five of us sharing that one building with a wall dividing us. We ate meals together and enjoyed the time visiting. They became friends with another couple we knew there and all four of them came to celebrate the first birthday of that first-born child of ours who eagerly accepted all of the attention they gave him.
We moved away 2 1/2 years after we started sharing that place, but kept in touch through Christmas letters, having a brief in-person visit once in the midst of a chaotic time after my dad’s death when we were racing the clock to get his house emptied and on the real estate market. When I had shared my MS diagnosis in a Christmas letter, he responded in a way that made me feel cared for instead of pitied (an art I’ve grown to appreciate). Good friends are hard to come by.
When a Christmas passed without hearing from them, I called to make sure everything was okay. But everything wasn’t okay. He had had a stroke and was grappling with the effects it had put him through. When I say “he suffered a stroke”, I don’t just mean his body had a stroke, I mean he has suffered in many ways from it. Last time we talked, he asked me how I was doing. And as is the case sometimes, I said something I didn’t realize I felt until the words came spilling out of my mouth – I told him I had been prepared for the physical impact that MS might have on me, but I had not been prepared for the emotional impact. He could relate. Somehow, we don’t bargain for all of the feelings that course through us and the toll any physical loss has on our psyche. There was a moment of silence on the phone, but it wasn’t awkward. It was the kind of silence good friends are comfortable in. Friends like that are rare.
My friend was learning to deal with the changes – grieving the loss of a job he loved and coping with the decreased capability of some of his body parts; but mostly he was mastering how to BE somebody else. He was learning a new kind of patience as he started new hobbies and new ways of accomplishing things. Sound familiar, MS friends? I haven’t talked to him in awhile. I think I’ll call him and see how he’s doing. Maybe its time we all call somebody we haven’t connected with in awhile. Suffering is diffused when its shared.
NOTE: After I shared this blog post with my friend, we had a wonderful phone conversation. He let me know he was 51 when the stroke happened.