In May my husband’s half-brother Grant was killed in a naval helicopter accident off the coast of San Diego, leaving behind a wife and two small sons. When our family arrived at the funeral we discovered that Grant’s friends had spent over a week building a wooden Viking boat. It had a carved dragon’s head at the bow with a tail at the stern. There was a traditional naval ceremony with the bugle and rifles firing on a deck looking out over the pacific ocean. At sunset the people closest to Grant placed his things in the boat a hat, his favorite beer, letters loved ones had written to him. All of the things in the boat were symbols of his life. His wife and oldest son who was five lit the first torch, setting the boat on fire and those closest to him followed. And we watched as the sky grew dark and it burned. This ceremony served as an example of how loved ones can be inspired to authentically honor and bring closure to a life.
In June I went to Santa Fe New Mexico, the place I go alone once a year for the last twenty years to return to my soul. It just so happened that my closest friend for 20 years had a partner whose body finally gave up in a third round of Lymphoma. He was a consultant to large corporations and the state of New Mexico and ironically, a Tibetan Buddhist. I joined a group of loved ones in a five day vigil at the hospital.
Often when one gets close to death the body is in this chaotic lethargy, while the mind becomes, for lack of a better term, almost bright. Robert woke up the night I arrived and with big eyes excitedly asked “Hey Jennifer, How is your Life?” And if there was anything going on for me (and there is always something), it was nothing. My life was no less than fantastic and there was nothing else to report. Except I told him about the monks coming and the trip to India in March. And he paused for a while… and then asked if I would take his ashes to India to leave them at the auspicious places where the Buddha spent his time.
Often when people are dying there is a struggle to leave the body. But Robert had a strong spiritual practice for many years. He valiantly fought lymphoma for many years as well. But when hearing that this time it was time to go, he embraced his transition fully in a very rare way. That experience gave a new way of looking at how I would want to exit my body, assuming I have the privilege of knowing when its time. He was so gracious about it.
In our yoga practice we realize how heavily we identify with the body. One of the benefits of continued practice is the growing experience of feeling our own energy housed in this great vehicle of our body. Robert’s passing gave me the opportunity of seeing ‘shavasana’ done exactly as it is meant to be done. At the end of our practice, or our life, we lay down the body and open our hearts out to the invisible. So brave and so complete, he took it on so fully, like a great athlete who just gives him or herself to the moment. This practice of ‘shavasana’ is meant to be done every day as a reminder of how to give ourselves over to everything.
While the trip to Santa Fe was by no means a traditional vacation, it did reacquaint me with my soul. The soul that knows that we often forget that sacred event called our lives won’t last forever. And so here I am again at a newsletter saying the same thing I always say with renewed clarity and calm fervor: Life is short, life is precious.