EVERYONE’S BEST FRIEND – REMEMBERING CRAIG. . .

diamondIt’s a rare quality for someone to have, but he had it: He was everyone’s best friend. The image of a diamond with many sparkling facets comes to my mind; each facet containing a need to be met, a need in others to meet, and a quality to be expressed. Every one of his relationships was unique; all were special, and his interests and talents were vast.

A brainiac who loved to work hard and get dirty, he generously volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He made manuals and videos of all his creations and experiments as if these would somehow unlock the door to our understanding of how they worked or, at the very least, show us the correct way to repair them. Ha.

He was a seeker of truth. As a Buddhist, he explored the depths of the nature of all phenomena. Spending a day with a friend solving math problems worked for him. He took dance classes with friends and learned to tango and do the salsa. He loved dressing up in costumes and was a flamboyant showman. Once an aspiring gymnast, he did his turn as a street juggler while getting his doctorate in physics.

He was also a first responder – bag in hand – proactive, ready to leap wherever there was a need. You could count on him to take you to the doctor and take care of you when you were sick. His heart and generosity were enormous and legendary, and he seemed happiest when he was helping others.

He was free with his compliments; you felt attractive around him. He had a way of being with you that left you feeling certain that YOU were his best friend.  And in that moment, you were. He showed up. You were seen and heard and never judged. And right there is where the magic happened. He could look beyond our stories and confusion and reflect back a greater truth – that underneath all the messiness we were absolutely perfect, just as we were. He was a rock; you were safe with him. No wonder we are mourning our loss of this man so deeply.

A friend and I traveled to his memorial in Southern California last weekend. We met his colleagues and friends from his life as a professional scientist. They were, and are, the brightest and the best. Their stories from those days revealed that their love and reverence for him had never diminished. We had known that he was a pretty smart guy, but we learned from them that he was absolutely brilliant. Who knew; he was always so humble. Only once did I hear him allude to his intellectual capacity. One day he said to me, shaking his head after a particularly frustrating day with his high school students, “They have absolutely no idea who they have here. If they were a swim team, I am like an Olympic coach.”

The world has lost a loving giant and we weep. But he left us bigger, because, for a brief time, we got to borrow him and stand in the light of his grace.

 

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SPENDING EARTH DAY WITH CRAIG

2014-04-22 15.41.58I  walked into the crematorium office yesterday to claim his remains. It was a surreal moment. His once vibrant, intact body was now reduced to compacted ash inside the brown, plastic box that rested on the bare wooden desk in front of me. I felt a throbbing in my temples. I reminded myself to breathe, as I scribbled my name on the paper in front of me so he could be released to my custody.

I picked up the container; he was heavier than I thought. I placed him carefully on the passenger’s seat, resisting the urge to buckle him in and drove home slowly, my right hand instinctually resting on top of the box, like one does with a child, thinking that you can somehow protect them from harm that way.

I carried him into the house, locked my front door, and pulled the curtains open as a light rain began to fall. Sitting in the chair I gripped tightly to what was left of him, staring in disbelief at his picture on the wall. Then I reluctantly placed the box on top of the bed where he once slept. A rogue wave struck and knocked me to the ground. I was swept away by the brutal tsunami of despair. I began to sob. He had trusted me to care for him, and I felt I had failed, feeling if I had done my job properly, he wouldn’t be in this box.

He had prepared in the Buddhist tradition for the eventuality of death, and I had been assured by many wisdom teachers that he had “passed well.”  For that, I truly rejoice. But comfort eludes me right now because I am contracted around my own sorrow; I miss him. This is called grief. It comes with the territory when you love people and then they leave you.

Two dear friends came over this afternoon, and we hiked together in our Community Redwood Forest. We took a glass container that held a portion of his ashes, placing some of them inside dead stumps that still miraculously bore life, some under moist green ferns at the base of towering old-growth trees, and the rest around moss-covered rocks. It was Earth Day, a perfect time to carry out his final wishes: to scatter his ashes in the forest.

Walking under the canopy of these majestic trees with the sun filtering through their lacy boughs, inhaling the musty odor of the fertile earth, I could feel the weight on my chest release. Here, as one of my friends said, was the forest… “foresting.” An endless, ongoing dance of death and coming back into life—over and over again. I closed my eyes as we held hands and whispered our prayers of God Speed. I felt my mind relax and open. I smiled as we made our way back down the trail, imagining he might be thinking… This is good.

THE PASSING OF A FRIEND – STORY #1

retreat photo w:flowersSix days ago my beloved soul mate, my kindred spirit and devoted friend passed away in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. His journey from diagnosis to death took just ten days.

Walking alone out into the parking lot the night he died, I stumbled to the ground as I tried to find my car in the dark. From my throat came wailing sounds like a wild animal. I sobbed so hard I felt that my flesh had ripped open, and that if I looked down, I would find that my guts had spilled out of a gaping hole in my abdomen. My anguish was raw, primal and fierce. It shocked me.

I crept slowly home in my car back to an empty house. Why didn’t I have someone waiting? What was I thinking – because there he was – everywhere. The cozy bed I had made for him in the living room with his special blanket scrunched up at the foot of the sheets. His tiger towel on the bathroom door. His leather shaving kit. The paper graphs on the table he had created to record his fevers and declining weight. Eight bottles of blueberry juice lined up on the shelf, because for a while that was all he wanted to drink. The precision high-speed thermometer that he loved. A barf bucket on the floor. His clothes folded carefully on the bookshelf.

I was his designated health care person and am a nurse, so when he got sick he moved to my home so I could care for him. Without question… I was in. I took a leave of absence from my job so my attention would not be divided. My love did not come with conditions; I was going to be at his side for however long it would take for him to get his health back. He had an enormous support team ready to leap into action, waiting in the wings. He wasn’t supposed to die. Living life without him was not on the plan.

A few days after he passed I realized I needed to leave for a while. It was too painful to be where he had been. For the past three days I have been resting at a friend’s vacant cabin overlooking the redwoods on the Mendocino coast – trying to find my way in the midst of what has felt to be crippling grief. It is peaceful here, and in the stillness, I can find him. It is said that when one calms the mind and stops churning the oars, blessings and clarity come. I feel him in this quietude and when I really listen, I believe he continues to tend to my heart and the hearts of all the people he loved. Today I feel less pummeled by the tsunami waves of despair. The sea is not as rough, and I did not cry all day. I am starting to return phone calls. His many other devoted friends are beginning to create a memorial celebration. Life is again stirring.

Last night I curled up on my bed and watched the lunar eclipse play out its magnificent drama above the tips of the forest outside my window. I thought of him as I watched the bright, vibrant fullness of the moon diminish, like it was being nibbled away by a mouse, until it was suddenly gone – only to be reborn again into a glowing reddish-orange orb of light.

He always loved to read my blog stories, particularly those about birth and death. During his sickness he demanded complete transparency in my reports that were broadcasted on the Caring Bridge website. “Don’t sugar coat this! Write everything.” So, write I will try and continue to do, to ground myself, and with the intention that through the telling of his story, his death will continue to bring benefit to others.