Thursday, February 9, 2012

A conversation on the couch

Hello, everyone.

As we move into our lives without her, I have one last thing I want to share with you. I recently found a recording of Nancy on my phone. Last July, she and I were having a conversation on the couch in our living room, and started talking about the battle, the future, our belief and faith. For some reason, and reached over to my phone and tapped the voice memo app. I recorded a few minutes of our conversation before she fell asleep.

The recording is linked on the sidebar of this page, and you can listen to it here. Be ready for your feelings, as you hear her voice. Here is our conversation.

Nancy: could say I'm willing myself to push myself a little harder every day, to, like, exercise, or eat when I really don't want to. So, it's more of's fight, fight to me is a struggle. I'm fighting through something, I'm pushing through it, I'm fighting to live. I'm not fighting cancer, because you really can't fight cancer.

But then the faith, too, isn't like I have faith in the universe. My faith isn't going to make me live.  My faith is going to allow me to accept what cards I've been dealt. My faith is going to allow me to accept whether I'm going to live or I'm going to die. Because it's not heart-centered to just be 'I'm going to fight through this, and I'm going to live', and because of my faith, god is going to have me live. Because that may not be the case.

...And I don't think it's faith alone. I could sit here and have faith the universe is going to give me a million dollars, but unless I'm willing to work hard, that's not going to happen either. Like, faith requires action.

Tom: Yeah, I remember in my studies seemed to me that finding faith had several levels, like the first level was just trusting something outside of yourself. And then the second level was taking action based on that trust. Because it's one thing to have that trust and keep it all inside, but though you have that trust, and functioning in the outer world as though you have that trust, is a completely different level of expressing that faith.

N:  Well, you can even go to Catherine's statement on Stand & Deliver, because if the goal is creating the workshop, and/or the goal is beating cancer, one has to have a vision that one is going to be able to do that.  One has to have the vision to live, or the vision for acceptance....there's got to be a vision. And you've got to have some passion around life....and, you have to take action.  Like the action is taking the drugs, the action is using the sunblock, the action is getting sleep. On some level, the action is deciding where to take action and where to not take action. Because, I rested for two months, but I just got into a rut, staying in bed and doing the same thing over again.  I just felt like I was somewhat dying inside.  The one thing about working was that, and I don't want to push the working too much, because there is the down side of overdoing it, but actually starting to get engaged in my life takes my mind off of what I'm going through, and I felt more passionate about living. I was starting to feel not that much passion about living, because I felt like my existence was pretty narrow, or not that purposeful. That's even why, when I was in the hospital, I was taking all those coaching calls. My life needs some kind of purpose, and the whole purpose can't just be coupled around cancer. Like, you either choose to live with cancer, or you choose to have cancer.

T: Hmm, I don't understand. To live with cancer versus have cancer?

N: Well, it's either...does the cancer take over everything, or are you living a purposeful life with cancer?

So. Nancy lives in our hearts, after living a very purposeful life, and I am beginning to step into my new life and find my own purpose. My story belongs elsewhere, as it is no longer about Nancy. Unless I find more to say about her, or you do, this is my final NancyJonesUpdate. You can always reach me at

With love and deep gratitude,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The closing (day 49)

And so we are coming to the end of this journey together.  So many of you came tonight to the closing ritual, I am deeply touched.  There were more than seventy people attending, in a room with seating for fifty.  I collected dozens of hugs, and my body is still reverberating.  I saw friends from thirty years ago, a dozen of Nancy's fellow designers and architects, Pathways comrades and mystery scholars and mentors and mentees, family and friends...I feel so full.

And so empty.  The white roses from tonight's altar are on the table next to me, lovely and simple like the ritual Val Szymanski led tonight.  Zen teaches the beauty of emptiness, and I can feel that through the memorial service, and through the loneliness of my silent home.  The cooling fan in my laptop is the only sound, except when I click the keys to write this.  Or sniff back my tears.

Like the Tara prayer, which has held me so well for 49 days, the Funeral Prayer we chanted together tonight brought an ancient wisdom to the process of grieving our loss.  We were a great chanting group, make no mistake.  As we spoke the words of the prayer, at first only the Priest, and then the Collective, a lot of energy moved through the room, and perhaps the cosmos.

If you were not there, you might speak the prayer aloud.  First, set sacred space, as Val did so well...we took refuge in the buddha, the dharma and the sangha, but I believe you might choose your own sacred space, as this is a transcendent prayer.  If you can do it with another, in a measured cadence spoken and not sung, repeated three times with a pause between lines so the synergy of your voices moves the intention, you may feel a bit of the force of seventy good chanters in a small room, addressing a beautiful focused altar with Nancy's ashes, flowers, our wedding rings, a picture.  It was like sitting in the middle of the Gyuto Monks, throat-singing a bridge to the divine.

O Compassionate Ones,
Abiding in all directions,
Endowed with the great compassion,
Endowed with love, affording protection to sentient beings,
Consent through the power of your great compassion to come forth;
Consent to accept these offerings concretely laid out and mentally created.
O Compassionate Ones,
You who possess the wisdom of understanding,
The love of compassion,
The power of doing divine deeds and of protecting in incomprehensible measure;
Nancy is passing from this world to the next.
She is taking a great leap.
The light of this world has faded for her.
She has entered solitude with her karmic forces.
She has gone into a vast silence.
She is borne away by the great ocean of birth and death
O Compassionate Ones,
Protect Nancy, who is defenseless
Be to her like a mother and a father.
O Compassionate Ones,
Let not the force of your compassion be weak
But aid her.
Forget not your ancient vows…

I feel cleaned, empty, soft-lonely-grateful-content-quiet.  I have one more thing to send to you, as we breathe our sadness, and turn our attention back out to our own incarnations, allowing Nancy's to start to fade from our presence.  Perhaps tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sweet dreams, Richard (day 48)

Hello, friends.

I am sorry to pass on to you an odd counterpoint to Nancy's journey, as we nearly reach the end. Her father, Richard Jones, passed away early this morning at the age of 89.

Dick was ready to go, in a lot of discomfort the last couple of years, and grieving the loss of his wife a year ago, and Nancy, of course. He was a US Army Air Corps pilot in the Flying Tigers in WW II, flew P-40's, P-51's, then all the early jet aircraft as a test pilot. His name is in some history books, his stories were amazing, he was a fierce, tidy, disciplined man. He was a full colonel when he retired, then had another full career teaching, and working for CAL-OSHA.

I remember him talking about practicing delivery of big nuclear weapons in the early '50's using F-86 Sabre fighter jets, about flying a B-26, a P-61, all kinds of amazing planes, about building ICBM silos in the California and Arizona desert, about the time a hot pilot landed too close behind him and chopped his P-51 fighter in half, detonating all the fuel and munitions and burning the magnesium bits in a fireworks display that lasted for an hour. About shooting up Japanese troop trains in China in 1943, about parachuting out of a burning P-40 and getting back to the base with a lot of underground help, just in time to keep his stuff from getting given away. The man was damn lucky he was never killed in action, and saw more adventure in his life than anyone else I know.

Dick, we all love you, and Nancy loved you. May the Tara prayer hold you in your transition to the light.

So sad that he had to see his daughter pass away first. But it's also true that Nancy never lost her father. The light and the dark are ever in balance. See you tomorrow.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Building a house together (day 46)

Good morning, friends.

I have more stories to share, perhaps too large to share fully. Building a house and home with Nancy was perhaps the greatest thing I've ever done. I know it was her deep life-long desire to build her own home. I think I can share some of the bits now. Especially since my last story was about a time when I showed her I was 'right'. Building our home, she was mostly 'right'.

It was her idea, after all.

As we entered the project, working with the architects and contractors, she had a firm idea of what needed to be done, and so did I. Our battles were legion, and we evolved a set of rules that allowed us to express what we knew, in relationship.
  1. Anything concerning the design or appearance of any element of the house, Nancy needed to be involved.
  2. Anything involving the functionality or energy-efficiency of the house, I needed to be involved.
  3. We each had complete veto power.
This forced us to treat each other as clients, to enroll each other in things we believed strongly.

Sooo...the stories. The best part of doing this together was how we accumulated things for the house even before we broke ground.

The Faucet

Once we'd gotten our building permit, I started shopping on Craigslist, and soon found our kitchen faucet (brushed nickel Grohe, modern single hole design, pullout-style) for $120. I showed her the photo, she said, "Sure, that looks great. What is this?" I explained CraigsList, and she scoffed. So a couple of days later, on our way to another event, we stopped at a nice house in Burlingame, and I bought our $700 kitchen fixture for $120 cash. Brand new, full installation instructions, all the accessory bits. I set it in her lap, she looked it over carefully, and said, "OK, how did you do this?" Later in the day, I showed her how to search Craigslist, and OMG, I created a monster.

Within a month, she found a Toto toilet for half-price, our Roche-Bobois couch for less than half price, the kitchen sink (fer crissake!) at half price, and discount outlets for La Cava & Kohler bathroom fixtures, lighting, god knows what else. It became a cash flow problem, as we were buying these things out of our paychecks for cash. Within a year, she had ordered solid douglas fir doors in British Colombia, the EcoSmart alcohol fireplace from Australia, the stove backsplash (a birthday present, just what every growing boy wants :) and every single sink and vanity in the bathrooms in the house, all at great prices. In the meantime, I got our stove vent, dishwasher, refrigerator, bathtub, and two other Toto toilets at great prices.

We were a killer shopping team. She knew what to look for, I knew how to find it.

The Kitchen Light Fixture

During foundation construction, a huge cardboard box showed up at our apartment one day, about 3x3x5 feet. I opened it, and found the ugliest lamp shade, about 2x2x4', I had ever seen. We engaged in a heated discussion, under rule (3) above.

She simply told me, "Trust me, this is going to make our great room look great." I was dubious, and finally said "OK, honey, I trust you." She was right. Here is a pic, most of you have seen this, the expen$ive copper hanging shade totally makes the room, especially when lit. I'm sitting under it now, writing this, praising her vision. Imagine this room without it, ech, flat. By the way, the Grohe kitchen faucet is visible, our first purchase for our home.

Of course, our electricians cursed the choice, because they had to fabricate custom cables of differing lengths, and install it Perfectly Level as hung from a sloping ceiling. I think it took two guys a full day -- and a lot of scaffolding -- to do it. But it looks Fabulous.

The Artwork Purchase

The green artwork visible in this photo was purchased while we were pouring the foundation. Unfortunately, we were (1) selling everything we owned to cover the cost, and (2) Nancy did not ask me before spending $4000 on it. She actually hid it under a blanket in our storage unit, so I wouldn't see it. In the mean time, I sold my dearly-beloved BMW M5 and M-Roadster to cover our construction bills. 

I love the artwork, and keep it up in the house now. But it was a huge trust violation. For me, this piece of art represents one of the worst moments in our relationship. She regarded money as something to be used, while I'm more cautious, a saver. We had a great partnership, as long as we made our decisions in partnership.

Slate Floors

Nancy had specified an Italian porcelain tile for our floors, designed to look like slate, at $8 per square foot. And our dear friend Bill DeCarion had told us repeatedly to come check out his place, Import Tile in Berkeley. Finally we dropped by one weekend, and in 45 minutes, Nancy had thrown out her entire concept, chose Brazilian Black Slate for the floor at something under $3 per square foot, glass tile for a bathroom, travertine for the entryway, black granite counters, and Crema Marfil for our master bath. We placed a $9000 order with our delighted sales person in less than an hour. Nancy said "trust me", and after a short heated discussion, I did. This single shopping trip probably saved us $8000.

Her decisiveness was a one of her great virtues. And a great teaching for me, as I tend to gather data and think for days before making this kind of decision. I got to see how well things turned out when she felt into what was correct or most perfect, and just chose without hesitation.

The Glass Railing

While I'm looking at this pic, I remember what it took to make the glass railing safe (seen here around the top of the stairwell). Nancy was insistent on glass and metal. But the far left end Could Not Be Anchored To The Wall, That Would Be Ugly. So we had the end overlap the soffit on the wall of the stairwell, so that anyone leaning heavily against it would push the top against the soffit. Our building inspector agreed that it was safe, mostly because I was able to talk about the flexibility and strength of glass materials as an MIT engineer.

1 + 1 = 4. We were far more than the sum of our parts.

The Dishwasher

This pic also reminds me that we avoided a dishwasher vent on top of the counter. The counter top is elegant and clean, with only the Grohe faucet sticking through it. I enrolled our building inspector into letting us install a Miele dishwasher without the vent, as Miele's have an internal system to handle it.) So Nancy wanted it that way, and I found a way to make it happen

Maybe 1 + 1 = 5.

Christmas in July

We finally got our occupancy permit in July, 2008, and I started bringing over all the stuff we'd accumulated in storage. Bar stools for the kitchen island in their shipping boxes, Tibetan carpets, the Roche-Bobois couch, the new dining table chairs (and her marble dining table, which I had never seen), artwork, her nice dishes, decorative pillows, thangkas...and it was like a month-long Christmas experience. Nancy knew exactly where everything should go, and our move into our new home was rapid and transformative. We went from life in a 1BR apartment to life in an amazing custom space in the period of just a couple of weeks.

I can honestly report that I was stunned as it all unfolded. It looked Great, and still does. She was matter-of-fact, she knew what it was going to look like. I don't remember her ever expressing pleasure at our achievement, but she was quite satisfied.

The oddest part of the whole thing was that she was off on a trip with family when we actually moved in, so I occupied our home by myself at first, without her. It was also my 50th birthday, which she missed. Now I'm alone in our home again, the end of our relationship with this house together is just as it began. I wonder what that is all she was the one who wanted to build a home together. But I now have the pleasure of living in this beautiful space that she designed.


Friday, February 3, 2012

A Backpacking Story (day 44)

Hi, everyone.

I've been thinking of my own Nancy stories for weeks, of course, and here is a good one that includes pictures. Nancy and I went camping a few times in the summer of 2005, and in September, she was ready and willing to try backpacking with me. So one lovely clear Saturday morning, we headed for my favorite backpacking site in Portola Redwoods State Park, in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's a nice drive, we have brunch on the way, get to the park, and spend a few minutes putting on our boots, getting our packs nicely adjusted, and we walk about a half mile to the trail head.

The first part of the hike is a 600-foot climb that takes about 35 minutes.  I think we are about 3 minutes on the uphill trail when Nancy starts complaining. The first picture below is taken about ten minutes in, when she is starting to really bitch.  Pretty soon she's telling me that "this is worst idea you've ever had", "this is just a forest, what's so special", "I hate this", and then the abuse really starts. I'm reminding her that the climb is all at the beginning, I'm carrying all the heavy stuff, that we will be up at the top in fifteen minutes, etc. etc.  We are both out of breath, she is as angry as she ever gets, we're getting deep into a fight...when we reach the top and sit on a log for a few minutes to drink water and catch our breath. She is still pissed, and I have to talk her into continuing, when we put our packs back on, and start the hour-long stroll along the ridge through a stunning, pristine redwood forest.

It's silent as we walk.  After about ten minutes, she stops and turns around and says, "this is really beautiful". After another half hour, she apologizes for all the things she said.  The second photo shows our camp site, before I put dinner together. We have the entire forest to ourselves. That night, as we're snuggling into our zipped-together sleeping bags, after a meal of steaks, red wine and all the trimmings, she admitted to me that this was a wonderful trip, and she is having one of the best times of her life.

With her, I learned how much fun it is to be spontaneous, and to this day, spontaneous adventure is one of my favorite things.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The boiler is out (day 42)

Hello, everyone, six weeks after we've lost her.

As Doug Adams said, the Answer to the Question About Life, The Universe And Everything Is...Is....42. And here we are, six weeks after she is gone. On one level, nothing is happening, and on another, much.

Metaphysically, I believe Nancy has moved on. I've not felt her in ten days, so the NancyJonesUpdate journey is becoming quiet. I finally have nothing to report about Nancy.

Oh, ouch, I just get to finally feel my complete loss. I've been gifted with ongoing contact with her spirit, easing my transition into my new life, but now she's gone, gone. I pray she's found bliss.

The outer dream of my life mirrors this loss. The entire heating system for the house we built failed yesterday. A Munchkin boiler provides all heating and hot water for our energy-efficient home. Yes this is funny -- was Nancy a Munchkin boiler? And — get this, mystery scholars — the ignitor failed. I awoke to a cold home yesterday, and all is repaired now. But it's still amusing. Especially because the pressure-relief valve on the system also needed replacement too :-)

If Nancy was anything, she was an ignitor. All the stories I hear, all the impact she had on Pathways workshop participants, co-workers, family, and me...all were related to her ability to bring fire, to pop something, to light something. When it came to pressure relief, well, many of us delighted in how much fun she was with a few tablespoons or glasses of wine she had consumed. I'm seeing her life in a somewhat different way today, the pattern of high internal pressure, flipping to pressure relief.

No wonder we were together. I don't polarize like that, I'm pretty steady, a good balancing force for her. Although I must share with you, I found an "archetype test" that she did a few years ago, put myself through the same set of test questions, and found that we are far more alike than different. We both key into pure energies, and have a lot of range, similar range, Warrior, Magician, Lover. Perhaps I've found the ultimate test system for finding our ideal partner, our soul mate. Hmm.

I ran into one of my neighbors and friends tonight. He mentioned how he walks by our house, and no longer sees Nancy out watering the yard in that meticulous way she did. Out come my tears. It's the little things that reconnect us all to our grief. It's all still here, moving us, and moving through us. Let her emails, her notes, your memories of her penetrate you...for our rainbow bridge to her is fading. Soon it will be gone. See you next week, at the memorial.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

An S&D workshop story (day 36)

As many of you know, Nancy (and I) coached and facilitated dozens of workshops over the last 18 years.  In August 2010, she became the west coast manager the Pathways Institute, running the core programs. &One of our friends, Heather Hafer (whom some of you know) sent me this story a few weeks ago, and gave me permission to share it. Nancy was direct and earthy, something I've always loved about her.


This is my absolute favorite memory of Nancy:

We were at the ropes course - it was the start of the "Stand & Deliver Round That Shall Not Be Named". We were in southern San Francisco; and it was a very brisk day. It was a new group so we were all still getting to know one another. It was a day full of thick observation and introspection as we mentored our participants towards self revelation, discovery and teamwork. And...I had to pee. As I mentioned, it was a brisk day, Nancy and I were standing so close to each other that we were actually overlapping. We were huddled together as the following conversation occurred.

Heather: Man, I have to pee!

Nancy looks all the way around their surroundings and opens her hand as if to showcase that nearly the entire universe is readily available, and proceeds in a matter of fact, yet simultaneously slightly befuddled, tone.

Nancy: Well go. There are a thousand trees to choose from.

Heather looks around skeptically, and gives a slight grimace of doubt.

Heather: I don't know...

Nancy rifles through her jacket pockets and hands over a tissue that looks as though it had already been used four...possibly five...times already.

Nancy: Here (hands over the tissue).

Heather (takes it politely, still looks around): I don't know, there's people around. Maybe I can hold it.

Nancy (at this point somewhat angrily): Heather, what are you afraid they're going to see?!

Heather: Um, my big fat white ass!

Even re-reading it I'm not sure if it was actually that funny, all I can say is that Nancy and I laughed hysterically for at least a half an hour. We were both in tears, and then we still continued to laugh occasionally throughout the rest of the day. We had to stop looking at each other because every time we did the laughing would continue. It still cracks me up every time I think of it. I'll always have that memory and it will always cheer me up. I am grateful. 

I'm also grateful that with Nancy as my mentor, I did eventually pee, in public, with questionable tissue - laughing the entire time - and not caring at that point who saw what.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some of the learning (day 35)

Hello, friends.

Five weeks now, and I'm starting to see where I've been changed and developed by Nancy's loss. She seems to be doing well also.

My sense of her is that she is detaching from us, returning to more essential form, and doing what she needs to do. Contact is only once every four or five days now, and when I do feel her, she is more ethereal, less personal.  When she dropped completely out of contact a week ago, I was plunged into the fullness of my loss, and had a long, painful night alone. God, my tears are endless.  Little things crack the dam every day...I heard "Hollywood Swinging" by Kool & The Gang on the radio last week, thought about Nancy discoing in LA listening to that song thirty years ago, and had to pull over in my car to cry it out.  My home is empty, my heart has a hole in it, and it takes all my discipline to avoid pouring too much wine on my sadness, or seeking endless distraction.

I also realize that I've lost nearly all my lingering fear of death. I've had such a solid sense of Nancy's spirit at times, I cannot deny it, and however little I know about experience after dying, I am completely reassured that it exists. I've also felt Nancy in safe, secure, blissful places, and Palden-la told me last week that she believed Nancy was in the Land of the Taras. I don't know much about what that would be, but resting in a place that full of compassion and resource must be wonderful.

I have more information about our memorial service on February 8th.

- the correct name of the church is Sei Ko Kai Christ Church

One of my friends tells me that this is a gathering place for Japanese who spent time in our internment camps during World War II, and that they have a wonderful community.

- Please plan to arrive at 6:45pm. The service will begin promptly at 7:00pm.

- Please let me know by Friday if you plan to attend. We are trying to get an idea of how many to expect.

- The service should not last more than an hour.

I would still love to hear more Nancy stories! One of our friends confirmed Tina Pfeil's sailboat story, and also mentioned how Nancy used to power-nap under his desk at Walker in the early '80's, perfect hair, elegant clothes and all.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Memorial service info (day 28)

Hi, everyone.

My friend Val Syzmanski has confirmed the location for Nancy's memorial service. It will be held on February 8th, at 7pm, at Skeikokai Christ Church, 2140 Pierce Street, San Francisco. Her organization,, uses this location for their zen buddhist meditation and meeting space, and it sounds like it will be spacious and delightful. I look forward to seeing you there. You can see a map at

Today is our 28th day of mourning for Nancy, the fourth of seven weeks, more than halfway through. The shock of her death is wearing off, finally, and I'm now getting hit by the full force of her loss. I have depressed days, and know that I just need to open and let my feelings flow through me. When I do, the depression fades...and my feelings of sadness and tragedy can be overwhelming. I found her hair last weekend, the hair we removed last February when she was getting chemotherapy for leukemia...and I just lost it completely for a while. Sometimes, it's really hard to get anything done. But most of the time, I'm able to focus.

I'm getting stuff handled, cleaning out drawers, throwing away things, consolidating shoes and clothes, starting to tackle paperwork. One thing at a time, so I don't get overwhelmed. I have a roommate possibility, and I'll have to get to work on clearing the second floor of the house, one garage, and getting some finish details in the house taken care of. My list seems endless, but I'm just doing one thing at a time, and there is steady progress.

I've been learning more about the 49 days of mourning, and the theology from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There is a remarkable Viking/Penguin edition of this book, with an introduction by HH The Dalai Lama, that is frankly blowing my mind. The introduction alone is a dense and very informative introduction to buddhist practice.

A friend suggested that I keep open to my intuitions about Nancy's passage, and indeed I am experiencing some strange feelings when I reach out to her that don't seem to be mine. Yesterday morning I felt very agitated, and had to go off for a few minutes at work to practice a tonglen meditation to transform fear into the heart-wisdom and love of Tara. It seemed to help. And I also have a strong sense that others are helping as well. She does feel more ethereal to me, the last time we connected. Perhaps I'm feeling more of my loss because indeed she is farther and farther away.

More stories! Send me your stories, and let me know if I can share them on this list!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Remembrance, by Tina Pfeil (day 22)

A Remembrance of Nancy A. Jones
January 2, 1952 – December 22, 2011

I first met Nancy sometime in 1980, when she joined Walker Associates Inc in Los Angeles as an interior designer. I had been employed there as a graphic designer for six months or less when she arrived. She became my "girl crush" before she became my friend. (As defined by various internet sources, this is an attraction to qualities one envies or admires in another woman…)

Nancy was physically petite like me, and only one year older. Yet, she carried about her an authority and maturity beyond her years. She expected her opinions and performance to be valued, and clearly didn't appreciate it when she felt she was being slighted or ignored. Even when she was riled up, her righteous indignation was somehow endearing.

Whereas I would spend my first minutes at the office each day putting on my makeup, filing down my bitten nails, and trying to make my hair conform to any kind of shape, it seemed to me that Nancy always arrived perfectly put together. Her hair was coiffed in a neat poodle cut, and her polished nails and shoes often coordinated with her clothing. She dressed in a manner both professional and boldly feminine. Lots of color. Nancy wasn't the only woman at WAI to raise the appearance bar for me. I learned, and stepped up my game, but never quite achieved making it look effortless, like Nancy did. There was a palpable amount of shoe envy going on at WAI amongst those of us with the XX chromosomes. In one of the two photos I recently posted, it is possible that Nancy is casting her eyes downward in a moment of reflection. Equally plausible to me, is that she is eyeing and complimenting (coveting) Clara Igonda's shoes.

One Thanksgiving weekend in New York City, I survived a killer cold, bundled up in Nancy's fuzzy, 3/4 length coat, which she had loaned me when my own (favorite) coat was stolen from my car at work. 

As opinionated as Nancy was about her work life, she extended her own personal brand of unconditional warmth and acceptance towards me as a friend. Throughout the years, as we'd lose track of one another, then reconnect, I recall receiving a bit of loving advice from Nancy here and there, but never one ounce of comparison or judgment. A favor I returned, I like to think. It was the quality of the time we spent together, rather than the quantity. She had such a capacity, that I feel certain many of Nancy's friends have felt similarly nurtured by her. The thing I enjoy recalling the most about Nancy in our days of yore, was her voice and laughter—and this unique talent she had. She could chuckle and speak whole sentences at the same time.

My favorite story about Nancy:

The project managers at Walker Associates were encouraged to recognize and reward their teams (which typically consisted of the manager, one designer and two draftsmen) for their work. One Monday, this story circulated: Nancy's project manager had taken his team out for a meal and a late afternoon sail in a rented sailboat/dinghy from Marina Del Rey. After too much fine drink and food, the manager became incapacitated, unable to pilot the boat. Nancy took command of the tiller and sail and sailed the boat, the ailing manager, and two extremely nervous draftsmen safely back into the harbor just as dusk closed in. When pressed, Nancy graciously soft-pedaled her manager's impairment but confirmed the other facts. It intrigued me to learn yet another facet of Nancy. Underneath her toy poodle-miniature pinscher exterior, was a less domestic sort of animal altogether. She, of the fire engine-red fingernails and stiletto heels, had grown up rowing summer provisions across a lake to the family cabin, and had sailed a sailboat or two. I now had an expanded picture of her, growing up a sometimes-outdoorsy girl, and daughter of a career military man, who could perform under pressure as required. 

Two years ago, I felt inspired to google Nancy and pick up the phone. A somewhat courageous act when a half-dozen or more years had elapsed. That impulse allowed me the opportunity to fill in more color between the lines… e.g., when Nancy spontaneously shared her high school yearbooks and memories with me. I was so not surprised to learn she had excelled at just about everything one can excel at in high school, including popularity and leadership. But didn't peak there. I also got to experience the peaceful elegance of the home which Nancy and Tom built together, which reflects so much of Nancy's taste and style. As she said, after years of creating beautiful spaces for others, she was at last able to create one for herself.

Nancy and I had lunch together at the end of September 2011, the week before my high school reunion in Los Angeles. We spoke of our shared days at Walker Associates so long ago, and tossed around Nancy's idea for a little pilgrimage we could make to LA, together. Nancy was very thin, and her graft-host reaction presented itself as a first degree burn all over her skin. Yet, her personality and spirit seemed so undaunted by what she'd already undergone this past year, 'twas as though it was ordained that she would survive. I couldn't imagine otherwise.

I will always be grateful that we each took time out for a two-hour lunch. My sole regret: that my daughter Kit never got to re-meet Nancy, as a young adult. Nancy's parting words to me were, I want to hear all about your reunion—and tell your daughter I want to see her when she's home at Christmas. I know they would've hit it off famously and found much to talk about.
At the end, I came to know that Nancy had the heart of a tigress. In my minds eye, she is still/ever rowing (deftly) across the lake to her family cabin, laughing her inimitable Nancy laugh, wearing a red windbreaker, with the wind ruffling her wavy hair. Although it was a tough ride, I thank her husband, Tom, for allowing her friends and family to participate in her final days on this earth through his email updates. To paraphrase an old proverb/adage: friendship doubles our joy, and divides our grief in half.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who's releasing who? (day 21)

Good morning, on this 21st day since her passing. Hard to believe.

The Tara prayer has been having a remarkable impact. It took me a couple of weeks to realize that it's about me as much as about Nancy, and that the intention created by the prayer is for us to release each other.

Here is the prayer again. Notice how it is all about transformation into a form that must be released. It's hard for me to cling to brilliant spheres of light!

From Tara's heart, rainbow light shines forth throughout the six realms and the bardo,
Enveloping the deceased one, Nancy Jones, wherever she is,
Purifying her karma, and infusing her with Tara's radiant blessing.
Her form becomes brilliant spheres of light, and dissolve into Tara's heart-mind,
A realm beyond the cycles of suffering, a realm of absolute purity and bliss.

Of course, it could all be experience of feeling Nancy transform could just be all about me, and there is no spirit out there moving through the realms and the bardo. But I and others have had powerful dream experiences upon the death of loved ones, without knowing they're gone until after the dream happens. I choose to believe that Nancy's spirit is out there somewhere, moving and transforming, loving and feeling loved, releasing us all in her own time.

My actual sense of her is becoming more ethereal. Where she would drop into my meditations like a solid presence two weeks ago, now my connection to her is more tenuous. She seems farther away, more detached, less personal. Perhaps that is exactly what should be happening, I don't know. It just is. My restless mind wonders if it's important for her reincarnation for me to release her? Does it matter? Ah, so, it just is.

Tonight is the end of the third week, and I will be adding the sukhavati practices I mentioned in my last note to my 7pm prayer tonight.

On a more personal level, I'm still swept by big waves of grief several times a day. There is no shortage of tears, in fact, they are here now. Again.  But I can function, and it's felt good to return to work and be productive in that way. I've augmented my prayer practice by starting to attend buddhist teachings at Sukhasiddhi and Spirit Rock, including a ritual this morning of taking the three refuges and the five precepts.

Lastly, I have a request. I would like to find a roommate.  I don't think I can keep our home without the financial help of someone sharing the space with me. I'm offering the entire second floor of our house, two large bedrooms with 12' ceilings, a beautiful private bathroom, shared use of the great room, decks, kitchen and dining area, plus a garage if needed, for $2000 to $2500 per month.  The price will depend on details like garage requirements, pets, etc. I already have three cats :-)

Many of you know how lovely our house is, on open space on the west side of Fairfax, very quiet and peaceful. If you or anyone you know might be interested, please get in touch with me soon.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Deepening practices (day 14)

Hello, everyone!

Thank you all who could come to our home on Monday.  There must have been at least sixty people, and there was a steady flow of you all from 2pm until about 10pm.  During that time, I heard great stories, some amazing dreams about Nancy since her passing, and met many of you from her life that I did not know well (or at all) before. If you were not there at 7pm, I shared my prayer ritual as it has been, and we had a few minutes of silence.  Then the stories started coming out, and we had a gathering much like the Jewish practice of "sitting shiva", where I spoke of my grief, and some of my regrets about our relationship, and others spoke of Nancy's impact and way of being in the world. It was absolutely wonderful, and we wrapped it up by singing Happy Birthday to her, and lighting candles. Some of the best rituals are the unplanned ones.

Lily, Tina and Karla, let me thank you again publicly for the insight and contribution you offered on this day.

I'm very grateful for all the spontaneous support that has shown up, bringing prayer and ritual to this 49-day mourning period. Now, in addition to my Soto Zen friend, Meiren Valerie Szymanski, and Lama Palden and so many of you praying for Nancy, Pearl Ubungen of the Shambhala Center in Boulder, Colorado is holding a sukhavati ceremony according to their Tibetan buddhist tradition.  This ceremony is generally held every seven days during the 49-day mourning, and we will have one tonight during the 7pm prayer period. She mentioned to me,

the practice of Sukhavati is connected to Amitabha Buddha and goes well, i think, with your daily Tara practice...there is a short (ten minutes) tonglen practice (sending and taking) where i will practice focusing on taking in whatever  nancy might be experiencing in terms of attachment to this life, fear, or any sense of not being able to let go and transition....then sending her a sense of openness, letting go, and confidence to move forward. then i will extend this tonglen practice to include all of nancy's family, friends, communities with the intention of supporting their letting go of nancy.

I've needed a bit of hand-holding to connect my practices to my mourning, and this is a real gift. A tonglen is a meditation where one inhales something they wish to transform, and exhales the transformation. For example, I can meditate to bring in the agony of the victims of a natural disaster, and exhale compassion and resource.  The special gift here is the reminder that my Tara prayer is about transformation, that I can pray for Nancy's spirit to let go of any remaining attachment to this life of hers, any fear she may have of moving forward.

Lastly, I'd like to share an image and comments I received from one of Nancy's mystery school friends.

The image on the right I took on Thanksgiving day and as I looked though the lens to take the picture my thoughts and feelings were of Nancy.  The image on the left is the image I had selected for Nancy as part of my Mystery School gift.  I have placed it adjacent to the recent photo image as I sense the recent photo on the right as a continuum of the earlier  image.  I have not tried to analyze or place context to the photo, other than to say while at the surface a stillness seems to appear on both sides of the log, below the surface, there is a very powerful flow that continues.

I completely agree that there is flow beneath the surface, both in the images, and in the movement of Nancy's spirit through our hearts, the realms and the bardo. My practice continues.

With love and gratitude,