My friend Jana had died.
What was unsettling was the realization that she had been a major stress factor. I loved her dearly, but she called three or four times a week, always in the throes of some crisis, usually something to do with her family. But sometimes it was work, and sometimes it was her relationship with various groups she belonged to, usually internal politics. (I never knew how snotty, petty, and and political the falconry community was until I got it all, usually in excruciating detail.) I tried to be supportive, but there were times when I really wished there was less of this stuff she was discussing with me. Especially since I'm Auntie Jilara to a whole lot of people, though most of them never seemed to have the kind of grand opera crises that Jana's life did. Well, my own life has had grand opera crises on a much larger scale, but I deal with them by rolling with them, the willow in the wind principle. Jana was always rooting herself solidly and trying to defy the forces buffetting her.
Suddenly I realized why she died of a heart attack at age 44. If you're always in mortal combat with the forces attacking your life, and don't fall into the Zen of things, it does horrible things to your body, long term. Me, I've been dealing with literal life-and-death issues since I was a teenager, and came to a realization that some things you have to deal with differently. I took up Trancendental Meditation when I was in college. I started studying martial arts. I looked for spiritual answers. In my 30's, I went into therapy. My strategy must have worked, because my therapist said I seemed to have suffered remarkably little damage to my psyche from stuff that would have turned most others into basket cases.
Jana didn't do that. She fretted and agonized. She took aikido, but then she fretted and agonized over it and whether she was good enough, whether she was dedicated enough, whether she was fooling herself. She never found a dojo with a spiritual focus. She escaped into the SCA, and ended up repeatedly victimized, constantly trying to please people and be accepted, a thankless task. She cared too much about what people thought. She dispaired over her inability to solve her family's huge areas of disfunctionality, to figure out ways to gain her mother's approval, to better her younger sister, to get better communication with her self-focused kid brother. She was the one everyone went to for problem resolution at work, too, because they knew she would give it her all, either professionally or personally. She hurled her entire being into these things, and was devastated by her lack of success on so many fronts. She was her own worst critic, and tore herself down for every failing, from her inability to control her weight despite various failed diet and exercise programs, to her inability to mediate all the bickering and head trips of people she associated with. (I realized she moderated several email lists where people were constantly on the attack. Interesting...)
And I know all of this because I was her best friend, and she told me everything. I told her repeatedly to try not to get so personally involved in everything, to not be so sensitive to the opinions of others, to... Well, you can only council. What people do is their own issue.
She suffered from stress, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, aches and pains everywhere, and finally her heart gave up. I guess one could say she died of a broken heart. It's an expression that's truer than most people really think.