They say life is short. They don’t mean to be depressing when they say it. On the contrary, they intend to encourage appreciation for the fullness of the moment. The exquisite preciousness of it all.

But what if “life is short” is not an abstracted universal truth? What if your doctor essentially tells you, that YOUR life might be winding down?

What if you have been battling a chronic degenerative illness for years, using every last drop of your energy to be “normal” and to avoid attracting pity or being a burden on others and then, one day, they tell you, that your systems are starting to degenerate so rapidly that you might die or become severely impaired in the next few years?

Someone I know is going through this. In the last couple of years, the frayed edges of her fortress have really started showing. She has had trouble keeping up the charade. She doesn’t like having to lean on anyone too much. When she tries, it fails – perhaps because she lacks conviction in “leaning” and the effort comes across forced, too intense. Perversely, it even comes across to some people as weak and pathetic because one is so accustomed to seeing her strong and vibrant that, when she finally cracks, it seems “sudden” and out of nowhere. We don’t see the great effort it takes to be what she is; we assume that’s automatic. So, when the levee breaks, her ocean of pain doesn’t strike us as real. It seems like so much whining.

But people love her. And when she isn’t resisting the crumbling of her walls, some of them can see through to a shining light kept heroically alive in long gathering winds and still struggling to burn when the storm finally hits big. And they want to reach out and shelter the little flame for as long as it lasts, however long or short that may be.

It seems some of us – perhaps ultimately all of us – have to figure out how best to honor a very literal version of that old, ironically upbeat piece of wisdom: life is short.