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.