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

16 thoughts on “Death demystified & the Ceremony

  1. Wow. Nancy you are truly remarkable. Lance had a wonderful wife and left his two children with the most amazing mother. Thank you for sharing such a personal ordeal. I really, really wish that I had taken the time to say “hello” to Lance when I saw him at school. It sounds like I missed knowing a man who appears to have been a blessing to everyone who knew him. Just reading about Zach’s friend made me cry. I couldn’t imagine how it felt at the ceremony. I didn’t attend the ceremony because I felt that I didn’t know Lance well enough to be there, but do know that I thought about all of you during the ceremony and continue to pray for understanding and comfort for you and your family. I hope you and the kids are surrounded by loved ones and that each day brings healing from your loss. XOXO

  2. Beautiful Nance. Thank you. The picture of you and Amelie at the end of this post brought more tears. It’s an amazing photo.

  3. Nancy, Zach and Amelie,
    What a beautiful way to say goodbye, just hearing about it through your beautifully written words is a gift for those of us who could not be there for the ceremony and can not be near you now.

    Lance took me on that walk and for some reason when you described it in this post, this song from my childhood Summer camp popped into my head:

    Peace I ask of thee, oh river
    Peace, peace, peace
    When I learn to live serenely
    Cares will cease

    From the hills I gather courage
    Visions of the days to be
    Strength to lead and faith to follow
    All are given unto me.

    All my love!

    Amos

  4. Nance-this ceremony, as well as the entire process, is the absolute best experience of death I’ve ever known, or even ever heard of. So fitting for a man who lived so large. You guys certainly know how to do things with style and grace, and you are all, truly, my heroes. Thank you for showing all of us how it can and should be done. My deep love, admiration and gratitude to you, Zach and Amalie.

  5. Nancy,
    the ceremony you celebrated for Lance was one of the most honoring, graceful and beautiful events I have ever attended. It was another testament to the gifts that you and Lance and your families have given to those of us who were able to observe your process. And a gift I will cherish forever, because it not only demystified death for me, it made me see how magical a transition it can be and I gives me hope for my own passing and that of my loved ones. Again, you both have blazed a path of beauty for the rest of us.
    Sending much love to you, Amelie and Zach,
    Tina

  6. Nancy. I am overwhelmed with a particular gratefulness I can’t quite put into words. I can only say that I am honored to know you and Lance… to be part of this process in it’s entirety. I believe that everything you’ve shared and continue to share creates great healing in us all. Thank you. xo

  7. Nancy- I must say coming from more of a Southern Bible belt tradition of death and what ensues in the aftermath- I found the ceremonies and celebrations surroundings Lance’s passing to be absolutely refreshing, meaningful and authentic. It has been a tremendous gift to me, to see how gracefully we can send our loved ones on even when we don’t want to let them go and that there are so many beautiful ways to honor that. You created one that was so perfect for Lance. We are all enriched by having shared in the experience in some way…..with gratitude- millicent

  8. Nancy, thank you for this. I’ve learned so much from you, Lance and your family. Sending you love and peace every day. Kim

  9. Once again I am more than grateful that you are sharing all of this with your community. Thank you. Secondly- I was, and continue to be, amazed at those girlfriends of yours who showed extraordinary unconditional and steadfast love & support- I was constantly reminded how special friends can be- a true gift. I will never forget the image of you and Amelie sitting by Lance- I saw this image in real life & it will stay with me forever. I too have always been frightened and confused about death- this experience has gotten me a little closer to some enlightenment…. I’m rambling….
    Love you Nance-
    Gina F

  10. Nancy
    You and the kids blow me away
    This is so beautifully written thank you so much for teaching me about death
    Transition and how it’s all apart of life it’s a circle
    You are beyond generous to share and the photographs so stunningly beautiful !!!!
    Really beautiful
    Much love and prayers
    Susan

  11. the gift that you have just given your children will make this world so much different (better) for them and everyone that comes into contact with them. Most of our cultural traditions treat death in a way that is very scary, for adults, let alone children. Our (natural) mortality is to be faced with celebration, bravery and confidence, and in this passing on, you have gracefully and unselfishly provided that. Just imagine the profound way in which the life and death of your children’s father will always be with them. So much gratitude for sharing this experience and providing insight into another way. You are a very brave and special person.

    much peace.

  12. Beautiful! Thank you three angels who assisted Nanc in this process and made the ceremony and Lance’s passing absolutely life changing.

  13. Nancy,
    I feel lucky to have at least spoken with Lance on two occasions. We had planned to talk once a month, but that didn’t pan out. He was inspiring enough in the limited time I shared with him but to read these posts, …well, it’s a humbling experience to say the least.

    All the LOVE that he enkindled was/is showering back upon him and you and your kids and all the lives you touch making them richer.

    Thank you, Nancy, for sustaining your love for Lance through these beautiful pages.

    Mark & Marianna

  14. Nancy, thank you. I can’t think of words other than “thank you.” Thank you for sharing your journey, your love and this final blessing. Truly awesome.

    Sander

  15. Nancy,

    I know that we have never met but I wanted to write to express my gratitude for putting your words out there and for supporting a man I have gotten to know over the past year. Lance and I had known each other for years through the natural food world/Boulder but got to know each other better when we were diagnosed with cancer around the same time. I was only 35 at the time of my diagnosis. He and I would email and text back and forth throughout the past year. trading compassion and understanding for the treatments, surgeries and general perspective shifts that came about for the both of us. He never let on that he was ever being anything but courageous, grateful and pushing forward, as you said in your posts. Gratefully, I am now in remission but am forever changed by the way I look at the world, the things I consider important and the general way that I choose to live my life. While I honestly didn’t know about his passing until I found out from a friend just today, I wanted to send big love to you and your family for the approach you took toward….well… just about everything, including the way you chose to honor his passing as well as the sadness I am sure you are experiencing now that he is no longer with us. Lance will be missed and he certainly leaves a legacy behind him. In his honor, I will continue to put my efforts into the foundation I recently founded (a project he was so graciously supportive of) to provide young people affected by cancer a unique opportunity to share their stories. If you are so inclined, you are welcome to visit our site and hear my story. While I wish I could have had the chance to at least offer the opportunity for Lance to share his on our site, I know that by you sharing who he (and your entire family) chose to be in the face of your circumstance will bring great inspiration, love and compassion to a world of others.

  16. I am filled with such overwhelming gratitude for the ways I’ve gotten to learn and grow and be inspired by both you and Lance. I hardly know you in person, but cannot express how thankful I am for your wide open heart, Nancy. The gift you have given all of us in sharing your journey and lessons on living and dying will be with me forever. Your lovely family is a bright, beautiful light that inspires us. Thank you,
    Christy

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