A few days ago I was at my son's primary school doing a bunch of fixing of their computers. I was in First Class (not like on an airline, but like 1st grade in Ireland) when I heard a small voice next to me.
"Hi," she said. "Atreus, right?" (Names have been changed to protect the less innocent.)
I looked, and recognized the little girl. She was the daughter of a good friend of mine who died about eight months ago of cancer---my first exposure to the seemingly random nature of death and its harsh effects on you, the spectator. My brain had to work really quickly to disguise my real thoughts and memories. (Friend holding her when she was an infant, talking about parenting with him, laughing over a pint of Guinness about the lack of sleep.)
I maintained my composure, smiled, and said back, "Hi! R____, right?" Her glowing smile told me I'd remembered correctly.
"You used to be a friend of my dad's," she said.
Jesus. "Yes, that's right!" I agreed. Holy cow, she sure blind-sided me with that.
"Bye!" she said, still glowing, and went over to her table where I overheard her tell her best friend who I was.
I tried desperately to focus on what I was fixing on the classroom's new PC, but all I could think about was how much I really haven't come to closure on his dying. I'd seen both she and her older brother around at the school, said "Hi" every once in a while, but never encountered such a hefty bit of innocent reality. Perhaps I was actually trying to avoid seeing them too much, because it would just remind me of their dad and force me to focus on my memories of him.
I managed to get myself together and make progress on what I was doing. The teacher started to ask for the class's attention, then dropped her own bombshell.
"Now many of you know the boy C____ who was in Sixth Class last year, right? You remember how he was really sick?" A number of little heads nod, sharing glances. "Well, he got better for a while, but now he's back in the hospital and not feeling very well." Wow, you really can't say his kidneys have failed, I thought. He's the son of some neighbors of ours, and we know his family reasonably well. I'd only just heard from my wife that she'd spoken with the principal of the school that morning and learned he'd had a serious set-back. His dad's part of our street's bookclub, and a source of great humour.
The teacher continued. "I'd like us all to take a minute and send a lot of happy positive thoughts to him. Can we all do that together?" A hand shot up.
"He was my buddy last year!" the little boy announced more to the class than just to the teacher.
"Really! Well, you'll be able to send him even nicer memories of the projects you did together, won't you?"
"Yes!" he replied, the eagerness broadcasting from his wide eyes.
In less than ten minutes I've been absolutely blown away by two incredible examples of mortality, both of them startlingly close to me. I have to acknowledge the fact that even if I've lost some relatives in the past, it was always in the context of not having regular day-to-day contact with them which seems to soften the blow somewhat.
But now I've got it happening right in my close field of vision, involving people more directly involved in the closer world around me. Maybe my acceleration towards passing 40 is making this hit me stronger than it would have ten years ago, but still ...
I bet a counselor would have a field day piecing this one together. (Not to mention the fact I'm blogging this rather than actually seeking one to talk to about it...)