There are three people I know that are, or have been, close to death in the last year. One had a double mastectomy last fall when she discovered she had breast cancer. Another fell down confused one day earlier this year and discovered she had stage 4 brain cancer. And the third got taken to hospital a few weeks ago because, it turns out, she's alcoholic and has pretty much destroyed her liver.
One is getting better; her hair is growing out after chemo and radiation, she's playing music again (she's incredibly talented), and seems to be nearly endlessly positive (at least around me). Another is taking things day by day, travelling when she can, trying to eat (her sense of taste has been destroyed by the radiation treatment), hanging out with her grandchildren. And the third has been in detox for a few weeks now, and has a long road in front of her if she's lucky.
One was a close friend, then we lost touch, and now we make a point of seeing each other regularly; it's not as often as I'd like because we each have our own commitments, but it's wonderful to talk to her again after so long because she's funny and talented and just a righteous pleasure to be around. Another lives far away, and for a long time has been someone I knew about rather than knew; she's a good person, but our lives are separate, joined only by the people we have in common. And the third was always a wonderful, funny person to talk to at the social occasions we ended up at together, and I loved her writing when she kept a blog, but I could in no way say I knew her.
One my wife and I have been able to help, at least in a material way. Another, my wife and I have helped someone else be able to travel to see her. And the third...well, the whole problem has only just emerged, and we have no idea what to do, or what will help, or the prospects of her being around long enough to help.
I've come to learn the way I react to things like this: shock and numbness for an hour or two, then being surprised when I burst into tears, then long weeks of worrying. I've begun to be wary of hearing about someone I haven't thought of in a while, because this is when things and people fall apart and some days it feels like the news is never good. And I've started to think about why we go to funerals, and the way grief and mourning and remembering are built somehow into our DNA, our shared heritage with all the other animals that cherish and love and mourn and, in their turn, die.