Death demystified & the Ceremony

I don’t even know where to start with the Sukhavati Ceremony. In Buddhist traditions, the body is kept for 3 days after death to help release the spirit from the physical body. Just to clarify, I knew NOTHING about this a few weeks before Lance’s death. But a kind, gentle person in my life encouraged me that it might be something I would want to consider. I hadn’t really thought about the process of Lance dying and what that would/could look like. Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly ready to face it. I was still holding out for Divine Intervention.

My first thoughts were “Keep Lance’s body around for 3 days?” “How would my kids feel?” “How would I feel?” Death had always scared me when I was young and still as an adult, I was weary of how I would feel about the dying process and seeing a dead body. But one thing I knew with every ounce of my being was that wisking Lance’s body away right after dying would feel shocking, empty and invasive. Plus, the idea of freeing Lance’s spirit? That was definitely something I wanted to do. I wanted to do everything and anything for Lance. So I opened my mind to the process and only a couple weeks before Lance passed, I met with a woman who guided me through the process of having a home death.

My gut told me that having Lance home for 3 days might be too hard on my kids…especially because during that time you open your doors to allow people who loved him to come spend time with him. That was daunting. So I discussed with a couple close friends what other options I had. The Shambhala center was brought up and being that Lance, the kids and I had a history there, I knew immediately that was the perfect place.

Roxanna, Alison & Tiphaine

Now I’ve mentioned “the guys” but without these three amazing, loving and completely devoted, get-it-done woman, none of this would have gone so smoothy. I basically handed off everything to them and they had everything ready for when the time came. It was only two days before Lance died that we got the okay from the Shambhala Center. I was feeling the pressure but my girls were all over it.

Initially, I thought being at the Shambhala Center would allow for people to visit and sit with Lance but then Roxanna asked me ever so sweetly, “Would you like to have a little ceremony for Lance?” Trusting in all things that Roxanna suggests, I said yes and quickly met with the woman who would officiate the most beautiful and moving ceremony for my sweet deserving husband.

What this ceremony brought for me, my kids, family and friends was peace and acceptance for the beautiful man who happened to have the most undeniable graceful and peaceful smile that comforted us all beyond words. What he did for me and I have heard over and over again, is he demystified the dying process. For many of the people, it was the first time seeing someone who had passed, and there was nothing remotely scary about it, not even for my kids or the many kids who attended the ceremony.

Zach, Amelie’s and my hands with a red tail hawk wing lying on Lance’s chest

My kids were able to partake in the ceremony by offering elements to the altar (this was symbolic and something they took very seriously and profoundly) and people got a chance to tell funny and endearing stories of the man we all loved. Even Zach’s 10 year old friend Giacomo spontaneously stood up, in front of 250 people and spoke about how much he loved Lance, what a great father he was and how sad he was that he was gone. If people hadn’t teared up by that point they had now.

Thank you to Lindy who did a beautiful job officiating the service.

We also did a tonglen meditation which is breathing in our own fears, pain and sorrow and releasing it so that nothing hinders Lance’s passage. At the very end of the ceremony Lance’s photo was burned while the entire room chanted Namo Amitabhaya meaning “Homage to Infinite Light” (giving boundless light and infinite life). The ashes and sand from the picture burning were then scattered in the mountains along a trail Lance used to run during a silent walk attended by a couple friends, my kids and Lance’s mom.

There was a sense of joy and celebration for this larger than life being contrasting sharply with the great loss that was felt by all of this beautiful man, husband, father, son and dear friend.

Where there is light, there is darkness and in the dark we instinctively turn toward the light and that is one of the many gifts Lance taught us.

Love,
Nancy

Happy Birthday Lance

Lance with Mt. Everest in the distance

Today would have been Lance’s 44th Birthday. That makes me sad. People asked me if Father’s Day would be hard not knowing that his birthday was just a week away. I knew this would be harder. Not because we would have had a big celebration. We wouldn’t have. Lance never really liked celebrating his birthday too much. What makes me sad is to think he would have been 44 and it is a reminder of how young he was. He used to always say (pre-diagnosis) “I’m old” but as soon as he was diagnosed, he was suddenly “so young.”

The one thing that gives me solace on this otherwise sorrowful day, is Lance lived half the time that the majority of us will live but the time he did live, he lived it big. Anyone that knew Lance knew how much he lived life fully. He lived passionately, courageously, and enthusiastically.

A voracious reader who traveled the world, skied like a mad man, built companies from scratch while being an awesome dad, husband and friend, built everything from kitchens to bathrooms to tree houses and real houses (maybe not to perfection but hey..at least he did it), did 10 day solo vision quests, summited Kilimanjaro, traveled with the Bedouin’s in the Middle East (Syria & Jordan), hiked to Everest base camp, scuba dived in the Red Sea at night during a full moon, went on an African safari in a do it yourself way (not high end), climbed to the top of the pyramids in Egypt (I think illegal now and maybe then too ;)) and ran barefoot (these are just a few of the things that come to mind).

Lance was a “can do” guy. There was nothing he felt that he couldn’t accomplish. I am continually reminded by others how Lance lived the lives of three people combined and that gives me comfort. One friend said to me recently, “Lance was too much of an adventurer not to come back and visit.” Hoping for that too…

So on this day, I am going to go hike in the mountains behind our house, reminisce about all the things Lance achieved big and small and give thanks to his spirit that was and is such a big inspiration in my life.

Happy Birthday Lance. I miss you.
xo
Nance

 

Lance’s last ride in his ’68 Ford truck

I had made a list of men that in my mind were going to be the “pallbearers” (translation: Lance’s close friends that were going to carry his body from our house to the back of his ’68 Ford pick up truck and up three flights of stairs to the shrine room at the Shambhala Center). The thing is, I didn’t want to tell the guys about this list because after all Lance was still alive. But as I said in my earlier post, I had to think of some of these details if I wanted to have a smooth process. I knew I didn’t want some hearse like vehicle with some man I had never met taking Lance away. I wanted to be a part of every step of the process including his cremation (yet another post) and I wanted him to go Lance style. Anyone that has known Lance long enough, knows he has NEVER been without a big ole’ beat up truck.

Almost 24 hours after Lance’s passing in our home (might sound freaky to some but felt like the most natural thing in the world), my seven strong men showed up organized by some of my dear close girlfriends who pretty much orchestrated everything after Lance’s passing.

Some of the men had been with Lance the day before while Lance was in a coma and some were seeing him for the first time. I was so impressed how they all showed up. Not just with their emotions but with their dignity, honor and grace. I felt such a connectedness with the group instantly from the moment they arrived which would only develop further as the days continued. Many of them would come spontaneously to the cremation with me a few days later. They sat around our bed, honoring and telling stories about Lance, laughing and crying. I was so touched by this display of affection from seven hunky men.

Roxanna and the guys in the back with Lance

When they carried him, they treated Lance like a prince (which he was of course). My girls had bought a box (yes a cardboard box…made for a prince) for his transportation and my friend Roxanna had dyed these beautiful silks to lay him in. They placed him gently in the box and carried him to the truck. Mind you it was a 90 degree day and they were worried about him melting (he had dry ice on him to preserve his organs) but I didn’t want him to be covered up for his last ride in his truck (or ever actually). They complied, sweet men that they are, and all jumped in the back and gathered around him. I drove the truck along with my friend Roxanna while his childhood friend, Derek, pulled out a beautiful flute and started playing it. It was sweet and magical ride in light of such a sorrowful time.

We drove downtown and even got stopped on Pearl and Broadway right downtown (not by police, but by a red light). This is the busiest crosswalk in Boulder. The juxtaposition of these people casually walking across the street while the nine of us were in a sacred procession was a bit surreal.

When we arrived at the Shambhala Center, Lance’s dear and caring friends carried him up three flights of stairs to the beautiful shrine room where Lance and I have meditated many times and my kids have been a part of the Buddhist school there for years. Almost immediately, four gorgeous bouquet of flowers (thanks to Tommy) arrived and were placed around him.

Lance and his famous hat (more on that later)

Between the men, they decided who would be with Lance throughout the night…sometimes multiple people sat with him. He was never left alone for a moment until his cremation. This gave me great comfort after being awake for more than 60 hours to go home, be with my kids and finally get some rest before yet another mystical and moving ceremony that would be held the next evening.

Words cannot express my gratitude for these gracious, heart-centered men who honored and loved Lance in a way that the sincerest of friends do. I know Lance in spirit is smiling down and saying “thank you.”

Justin, Tommy, Travis, Hatch, John, Paolo & Derek (from left to right)

Lance’s last words

I didn’t know when Lance said very softly “I love you Nan” in the early hours Friday morning on the 8th (around 2am), that that would be his last words. Later, as I was holding his hand and he was unable to communicate anymore, he squeezed my hand 3x which I thought to myself “Is he doing ‘the thing’ we have done for 16 years?” Three times, meant “I love you.” So I squeezed back 4x “I love you too.” Then he squeezed back 2x “How much?” and then I squeezed one more time as hard as I could….meaning “so very much.” This would be the last communication I would have with him.

What happened? To some, Lance’s passing may have felt sudden and shocking. His decline was quick. In fact he died exactly one month after we returned from Puerto Rico. He worked until 2 weeks before his death and even held a sales meeting at our house a week before he died. He was never in pain until the day before he died and for this I am eternally grateful.

Lance was given a very dismal diagnosis back in January 2011 but I truly (as did he) felt in our hearts that we would beat this. In fact Lance said days before his death, “I never thought this would get me.” This past March when we received a bad MRI, I was still hopeful against all odds but also feeling like I might have to face a harsh reality. Lance was pretty determined until two days before his death which is a testament to who Lance was.

The thoughts and details I was personally struggling with in those past few months were difficult for me to always share with Lance because I was trying to take his lead. I wanted to be the person he needed me to be (his cheerleader, supporter, partner in hope) but when you are faced with the potential of someone dying, you can’t just stand passively by if the worst does happen and your biggest wish is to make the very end as peaceful and natural as possible.

My goal was that Lance would not end up in a hospital…cold, isolated, sterile, behind closed doors and so not Lance. I knew that if Lance were to die I wanted him to be in the comforts of our home and around people who loved him. With a stoke of luck and the love, dedication and unstinting help of friends, we made that happen. Next I was looking at the process after his death which can often look something like this: wisking the body away, funeral homes, embalming…all cold, weird and NOT LANCE. I wanted Lance to go Lance style…and boy did he ever.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the last 48 hours of Lance’s life and the days that followed. Lance, forever my teacher, left me with some powerful lessons about both life and death in his final days. I am sharing this not only because it is cathartic for me, but his death was something as close friends witnessed, incredible and helped demystify death which by all accounts felt like Lance’s last gift.

While there is no amount of words to express how much I wish Lance was still here and how I know the worst of my sorrow is yet to come, his death and three day ceremony to follow were magical and unforgettable. His last ride in his ’68 Ford pick up truck with seven guys gathered around him as I drove to the Shambhala Center was just one of the many extraordinary events that happened in the course of 3 days….but more on that later (with pictures).

Lance and my common goal in starting this blog was to share the insights and lessons we learned throughout this experience in hopes that people will make changes without having an ending like ours. I will continue to share those teachings because I feel passionate about them as well as in my own small way, it is my way of honoring the amazing and one-of-a-kind man that was my husband.

Love,
Nancy
PS: A couple of articles about Lance:

http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_20832278/lance-gentry-president-justins-nut-butter-remembered-guy

http://newhope360.com/blog/honoring-natural-products-leader-lance-gentry

 

Lance M Gentry

Dear Friends & Family,

It is with great sorrow that we share with you that Lance has passed away. He died at home Friday night with his loved ones by his side.

What a journey Lance and his family have been on for the past 17 months. Together, they learned so much about life and love.  It has been a sojourn of hope, faith, charity and grace. Initially, Lance was overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of love that flowed his way – from all corners of the world.  At times it was hard for him to take in.  In these final days, Lance seemed to be taking it all in.  We couldn’t take his journey for him, but he knew he wasn’t alone.

The peace on Lance’s face when he passed was a tribute to the state of grace he was in, surrendering with dignity and beauty.

Lance was a huge life-force, larger than life.  We know all of you have special remembrances of him.  In the coming weeks, will you please take the time to write down your memories of Lance for Zach and Amélie?  Please make these age appropriate for 9 year old Zach and 7 year old Amélie. These could be short and sweet or as long as you like: a story which makes you laugh, advice he gave you, the way he danced, his favorite music, a trip you took together, a special joke you shared, his outlook on life, his favorite books, something quirky that you remember. We plan to collect these memories of him and make a book for Amélie and Zachary to help them continue to know the unique, love-filled, crazy, gifted, thoughtful, caring, dynamic, professional, funny, fabulous man who is their father.

Please address them to Zach and Amélie and mail them home to 1830 Mariposa Ave, Boulder, CO 80302.

Lance’s body will be at the Shambhala Center in Boulder (in the main shrine room) starting today around 4pm, with a special ceremony on Sunday at 5pm for those who would like to participate. Friends are welcome to view and visit Lance during normal Shambhala hours.

A memorial to celebrate Lance’s life will be scheduled for the Fall and all are welcome to attend. We will notify everyone once the date has been set.

The Gentry family thanks you for all you have done to uphold them throughout this passage. In deep gratitude for the love that binds us all together, and in the joy we all share in having known and loved Lance.

Lovingly,

~Friends & Family