The Cremation

One of the most excruciating conversations Lance and I had (and I want to encourage ALL couples to have NOW…among others I will share in the future) is that of burial vs cremation. Lance and I had talked about it casually over the years…in a very “when we are old, what would you want me to do?” kind of way. Not in a very serious or detailed way at all.

As we were nearing the inevitable, I was desperate to know what Lance wanted. It was on my mind a lot but as I said before I was trying to take Lance’s lead. What I wanted Lance to know was that we (the kids and I) would always keep his spirit alive not only on a daily basis but that we would honor him in many ways throughout the years.

One of the ways was to spread Lance’s ashes to all his favorite places in the world since travel was one of his greatest passions. Some of the places on that list: Telluride (where we were married), Bali (where he had spent time and we always dreamed of spending a year with the kids), Nepal (he was obsessed with Everest), Egypt (Zach and Lance always bonded big time over their fascination with all things Egyptian), Lake City (where Lance spent all but one 4th of July and loved and adored his Gentry relatives), Hanalei (our dreamy last family vacation), Israel (another favorite place of his). We did finally have this conversation, through an emotionally painful tear-filled talk. Lance liked the idea as much as anyone could under the circumstances.

The day of the cremation was something I hadn’t exactly planned. Lance’s childhood friend asked me if I wanted his help getting Lance to the crematorium. I had vaguely thought that I would take him there myself in the truck but it was 30 minutes away and I was worried about the truck breaking down. I gladly accepted the offer and “my girls” arranged for “the guys” to meet at the Shambhala Center to carry Lance’s body down the three flights of stairs. What ensued next was his friends wanting to see Lance through this final process. They all considerately asked if I was okay with them coming (of course I was) and all five guys jumped in the mini van and surrounded Lance.

Just a little background…Lance and I met in 1990 at a Grateful Dead show in LA. So our dear friend Paolo (who also happened to be at the same show but we did not know at the time), burned the CD from the concert and they played it for Lance’s final ride. They even had beers. My friend Tiphaine and I followed behind them.

Once we arrived at the crematorium the atmosphere was very sobering. It was industrial and so final. UGH! I had hoped I would be ready by this time but in truth I wasn’t. I even joked (but was kind of half serious) that I wanted to keep Lance for a few more days and the kids new job could be to replace the dry ice. Later, Paolo said he was thinking the same thing.

We gathered around him, stacked up our hands one by one and said our final goodbyes. But then I realized (besides keeping his hat) that I didn’t want his clothes to go in the fire. I felt like we come into this world with no clothes and should go back the same way. I also didn’t want his clothes to be part of the ashes. I just wanted it to be him. So we undressed him. We left one eagle feather and the white Shambhala sash.

The final part is almost indescribable. All seven of us, with our arms wrapped around each other, watched as the person who tends to the bodies, put Lance in a giant kiln type oven.

Now I have seen many bodies on the pyres along the burning ghats of Varanasi (India) but to see the love of your life…there is no comparison. I have no words to describe what that was like. I don’t regret being there because I wanted to be a part of every step of the process. I guess I needed to see the finality of it and as I said before I never wanted Lance to be alone but it was hands down the hardest part of all.

When we returned to Boulder, we were not ready to part with each other. We had all been part of an extremely personal process for three days and this day in particular had been an intense, emotional day. We needed each other to help lift our spirits. So we went to a roof top restaurant and had a drink. We said many cheers to Lance and reminisced about the man we all and will forever love.

Love,
Nancy

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

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