Brian, I was asked to join Facebook by a friend. I really did not want to do it but I did. I now wish I never had. I have found lost friends but at a huge price. The first was a big strapping Marine who was one of the first kick boxers in the USA. He is now relegated to a wheel chair with Parkinson disease. The second was my sparring partner. He now has Lou Gehrig’s disease. The third was one of my martial arts instructors who now has cancer. The fourth is our main instructor who has grown old and feeble.
I understand impermanence and I understand attachment. But this just plain scares the hell out of me. As a Buddhist I know what I am supposed to think, but in reality it is not working.
We all age and we all die, and most importantly, we all know it’s coming. But when we are confronted with too much of it all at once, as you were, it really leaves an impact.
Everything in life changes. Everything. The bit of poetry last week by Li Bai exemplified the concept. In the comment section below that post, a reader mentioned that given enough time, even the mountain itself would be gone, and that’s an excellent point. If even the mountains wear down and “die” (ask any geologist, they really do), then why should even the strongest of humanity, such as your kick-boxer friend, be any different?
Buddha himself said that change leads to suffering, and in the case of your friends, that’s clearly true. Of course, as you say, you already know all of this. It’s applying these ideas to your life that is the hard part.
The only words of advice that I have that might help is to repeat again that all things do change; the same thing that terrifies you and causes your suffering right now can also be the solution to the problem. Your friends’ suffering is temporary as well. Yes, I mean death. In your case, your friends aren’t suddenly dying, they are suffering lingering, debilitating diseases; the worst of the worst. Most people don’t really fear death itself, but I think most of us fear a long, drawn-out process of dying. Even giving up your own attachments would not mean giving up compassion for those suffering.
None of us, not even Buddha himself, really knows what comes after death. Yet if you think about it, one thing we do know is that the suffering resulting from aging will stop. The survivors, such as yourself, will move on and continue with life for as long as it lasts, while your friends will move on to whatever comes after, if anything. Does this solve your problem? No, of course not. There is no solution. But keeping all this in mind may help a bit, and that’s all we can do.