Friday, February 22, 2008

A Proper Sendoff

Bob, in Sedona, AZ, 1974

Who will call me "young lady" now? I wonder out loud as we drive to the mortuary in Salinas last Friday to pick up Bob's ashes. Then the elderly gentleman who greeted us said, "Just a moment, young lady." I could feel Bob nudge me, and imagined him saying, "See, not to worry, there are other kind older people in the world."

Mr. Herb Healey of Healey Mortuary got us started on some comic relief that day. When went through the paperwork process, death certificate, sign here, sign there, some practical advice, and voilá! here's the box, we said, "It's Bob in a box!" and we all shared a laugh.

As anyone will tell you whose been given one of those boxes, it's a surreal experience. Heavy duty plastic bag tied in a knot with a plastic strip serving as a lock, brass plate stamped with a number hanging from it. This inside a sturdy plastic box, which, our friend at the mortuary points out, can be used afterwards for storing nuts and bolts. Uh huh.

Traveling with the box, how ceremonious can you be? It's in a green paper bag, and starts off on the floor of the passenger seat. When we stop to buy gas I lay it down carefully on the back seat. A blast of goofiness blows into my being. I step outside the car and point to the box, saying to my husband Toby, "See, Bob's in a box in a bag on the backseat!" Try saying that three times really fast, which of course we can't do and dissolve into giggles, right there at the gas station.

And so it begins. Bob's in Bob's bereavement box in a bag on the back seat, barreling back to Big Sur. A few giddy phone calls to friends later and we've got our tongue twister: "Bob's burnt bits are in Bob's Bento bereavement box in a bag on the back seat blindly barreling back to Big Sur, blanketed with blissful love, don't blow away!"

My friend Felipe spoke with me yesterday about Bob's passing. He said, "Se despidio bien." Somehow the Spanish words are more beautiful to me. He said good-bye well. Yes, he did.

Since everyone's death is a big question mark, it's an honor to participate in a good one. Especially when the dying person sticks to their guns, putting up with discomfort, shutting out the fear, in order to be with loved ones in their own homes. To die with an old-fashioned concept of dignity.

I think Bob knew we would give him a proper send-off; and this past Sunday's "Graduation Party" was exactly that. A proper pagan send-off, that honored Bob, his gifts, his way of looking at the world, and at death. A love fest, and a sweet farewell.

Our vision, created collectively, was to make Bob's freshly swept little cabin a temple to his memory. We displayed his ceramics, and dusted off his eclectic book collection. Neighbor Mary Lu worked with Toby in the front garden, trimming back vinca, lavender, roses, honeysuckle. Bob liked it overgrown, but tidying up improves the view. We filled the house with flowers, of all kinds, many brought by neighbor Cath, who plucked a variety of blooms from Esalen's gardens, where Bob worked in the '60's.

On this cold, foggy spring Sunday, (February 17, originally our date for Bob's 90th birthday party) candles burned solemnly as dozens of Bob's friends streamed through the cabin. Pictures of Bob and his many friends adorned the walls, and filled an album assembled from photos that had been in hiding for years.

Bouquets magically appeared with guests—yellow roses, narcissus, rosemary, aloe, daisies, calendula, daffodils, bright red bottle brush and graceful calla lillies. Dr. Dawn Motkya of KUSP fame (and one of Bob's many crushes) bestowed a crowning touch by scattering orange rose petals throughout.

A slide show of Bob over the years played on our large screen computer, while his wonderful voice filled his home again, telling children's stories about rainbows, revealing mysteries of the Partington forest, and relating some of his WWII adventures. Steve Weintz, designer of Bob's web-site, filmed the whole afternoon for posterity.

In front of the assembled crowd of 40 or so, we buried a small portion of Bob's ashes next to his chair (aka "the enlightenment chair" ) overlooking the Pacific.

Next, friend and former caregiver David Champagne played "Taps" on his trumpet. He followed with this with "As the Saints go Marchin' In" and other tunes, giving a Mardi Gras flavor to our procession to the redwood grove that Bob had chosen last year for his final resting place.

Several people spoke under the redwoods, remembering Bob by sharing stories, some tender, some hilarious. Sarah Nichols read Heidi's Sutton's poignant letter to Bob about the magic of growing up in Big Sur, and 4-year old Camille Gamboa sang a song. Teresa, who grew up with Bob and his wife Rosa on the property here, told us how her family had played in the shade of this particular grove for many summers. It seems Bob was everybody's Grandpa.

Mickey Muennig told of how, 30 some years ago, Bob's frail, elderly neighbor Nick Roosevelt called him up to come see him, "right away." Bob thought he was dying but when he showed up he realized Nick was just lonely, since he invited him in for a glass of wine.

The Big Sur Health Center was represented, with Dr. Sharen Carey appreciating Bob's gentlemanly qualities as a patient. He brought them little gifts on his visits. Kelly O'Brien of KUSP Radio expressed everyone's sadness there to lose such an avid fan and contributor to the station. When the station's repeater, damaged in the last storms, is repaired, they're going to christen it the Bob Nash Memorial KUSP Tower!

From 6 months old to 80+, the full range of life was represented at the memorial. For the younger children it was their first experience of a human death ceremony. After Toby poured the ashes into the moist earth we added daffodils, a photo of Bob, and a dash of champagne. Many of us, including several young children, put handfuls of dirt into the grave, a gesture that looms large in our collective consciousness.

As Toby lifted the bag of ashes high above his head, a shaft of sunlight entered the grove, giving Bob one last kiss of the sun.


A man of mystery,
born of Wyoming
educated in the war

very sensitive
, a little fanatic,
always open
searching for the secret of his own being,
timid, full of confidence --
an enigma, what! January 8, 1959 Henry Miller
Bob Nash was a young man. A young man born under a lucky Western star. He was full of possibility, full of himself, for the whole, long ride of his life. In the decade that we knew him, he was never disillusioned, bitter or even angry; a dreamer and a romantic throughout his 80's.

Yes, he was afflicted with what he called, "Antiquity," but the person we were privileged to know was as youthful as a Spring morning. As fresh and gentle as the Spring morning that he passed away.

Bob humorously accepted the shit of old age and grabbed the brass ring of contentment whenever he could—with peppermint ice cream, his loving cat, the laughter of little girls, conversations with friends old and new.

"I'm not afraid of dying," he said, "I'm just not in any hurry." Bob enriched us by sharing his sense of aliveness with us. He showed us how to slow down, to relish the simpler things in life.

How many times did he say, "Sit with me for a minute," and we would chat about the day, our lives, the world. We'd follow this with a cup of tea and a long read of Sherlock Holmes, or a whimsical story told from a child's point of view.

Bob was a secular man, who believed that the dead are like these fallen leaves around us on the ground. So, instead of a religious text, I'd like to share these words (which Bob enjoyed) from Erich Fromm's "Art of Loving" —
"Whoever is capable of giving of himself is rich. The most important sphere of giving, is not that of material things, but lies in the specifically human realm.

What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. He gives of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, his humor, his sadness, of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him.

In the act of giving something is born, and both persons involved are grateful for the life that is born for both of them. In this way we see that Love is a power that produces Love."

Like a very young person, Bob was present in each moment, so in a way he almost didn't expect or worry about his death. His last days were sweet, filled with friends, and good care. The evening before he was peaceful, and received a lot of love. He died believing in life, and looking forward to tomorrow.

Let us now, in honor of Bob's epic life and gentle presence,
renew ourselves. Let's renew our devotion to living in the moment, to loving ourselves, and each other, soulfully. And when we really enjoy a sunset, a hug, a dish of ice cream, or anything simple and delicious, let's say, Thanks Bob!
Are you ready? On the count of three: 1, 2, 3, Thanks Bob!

For those of you who persevered to the end of this post, a special treat, which I'm so happy to be able to share:

(memorial photos by Jon Bailiff)


oakland heidi said...

That is the best video clip Linda. How beautiful. I love you.

N. Steven said...

Although I know nothing about Bob, nor you yourself, it sounds like Bob was a great, loved man. I wish I knew him. More than that, I wish I could have that appreciation and celebration in life.

However, I feel like I know what I would like to be done when I pass away. Like Bob, I hope to live a life to wide to be buried in a box.

And I'm only 20 years old!

Anyways, I was just passing through.

Mariah said...

How beautiful! I only wish I could have been there...

lindarosewood said...

Linda, I read this again, in May, months after. I hope in the future I remember your posts about Bob Nash as I am now, tonight, feeling a little hurt, a little blue, and my tender heart tempted to reach for a glass of bitterness. ..

... instead of tea. After reading this eulogy, I remember to renew myself, to love myself, and my friends, soulfully. And enjoy this day that I have been given, enjoying each moment, though tears come, some bitter, but mostly tears thankful for friends like you and toby.

Cynthia Cole said...

Thank you so much for putting the information about Bob's death and memorial on the internet. While a student at UC Berkeley, I worked as a cook and waitress at Deetjen's during the summers of 1964 and 1965. Bob came in for coffee every morning and was happy to share what he knew of life after 45 years with me, who had only 20 years under her belt. He let me know that he was looking for a wife so he could have a family. Did I know anyone who might be interested? I assured him that I could not be the wife he sought as I was already engaged. I have always thought of him as a dear friend, and wished that life had brought him his own children.

I learned of his death today (June 27) on the internet when I looked for more information about the fires and what has been lost. I dreaded the possibility of finding that his and Rosa's cabin was burned and he was homeless. Like Susie Bright, I am so glad that he moved on before the fire.

Lisa G. said...

I didn't know Bob, but I love knowing him through you. Thank you for showing me both of your beautiful selves with your words and love.

a. nakas said...

thank you for posting this about bob nash..i had the great fortune to meet bob in the mid late 70's through a mutual friend on partington ridge (judith hunt)..he drove what he called he poor mans jeep.. a vw bug..and took pride in the way it went up the hill to his place...he was living with ex nun and a great person...i remember him eating ketchup on ice was a hoot..i'm sure he will be missed by all his friends in big sur and beyond! om bob..