Monday, May 31, 2010
Buchi Eihei In pacem
Jeanne Robinson left this life at about 4:45 Sunday afternoon, a gentle smile on her face. Her departure was quite peaceful and she was in no pain at all.
Because her Palliative Care doctor, Paul Sugar, was able to forecast her passing almost to the hour, her daughter Terri, son-in-law Heron and granddaughter Marisa flew back from NYC just in time, and were with me at her side when Jeanne died; and her mother Dorothy and sister Laurie arrived from Massachusetts only a couple of hours later, after Terri had had time to expertly make Jeanne look better than she had for days. Zen priests Michael and Kate Newton were also present per Jeanne’s wishes, as were our oldest friends in this part of the world, Greg McKinnon, Anya Coveney-Hughes and Stevie McDowell. Over the next few hours more sangha buddies arrived, and chanting of the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra was done. Her body was then bathed and dressed in her hand-sewn rakasu as per Zen tradition.
In accordance with her wishes she will be cremated. Half her ashes will be scattered off this coast, and half will be taken back to her childhood home, Cape Cod, so that her East Coast family will have a place to go and visit her.
Only moments after Jeanne had passed, Terri put little Marisa down on Jeanne’s breast and told her to give Nana a hug. Marisa did, one of the boneless-sprawl, cheek-rubbing, no-hurry hugs we’ve all come to know means she really loves and trusts whoever she’s hugging. And then she raised herself up on one arm, looked at Jeanne’s face....I swear this is true.....and waved bye-bye. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
If you’re in the Vancouver/North Vancouver area, you should receive a second message later, as soon as I know when her services will be held, at Cates Hill Chapel here on Bowen Island. At this point I don’t even know when or where she’ll be cremated: her social-worker sister Laurie O’Neil is, with characteristic kindness, fielding such practical matters for me and Terri.
One thing I can report: Jeanne, a lay-ordained Soto Zen monk, always yearned to become a full Buddhist priest.....but the five-year-period of intensive practice and fulltime study in the monastery required was logistically difficult for us, among other things, and we kept putting it off. In a recent farewell phone conversation, she told her personal teacher Tenshin Reb Anderson Zenki that her biggest regret was that she had never been able to find a way to study to become a priest. Reb (who gave her both her Dharma name, Buchi Eihei—”dancing wisdom; eternal peace”—and her nickname in the Zen community, “Wired Buddha”) immediately told her he would come to her funeral, and ordain her a priest on the spot. That brought her deep joy—and will, I have no doubt, assist her greatly in her travels through the bardos.
The only dying wish she missed was to be driven down to Seattle in a few weeks, to see/hear Crosby, Stills and Nash. I should probably go myself...but I doubt I’ll have the heart, that soon.
I cannot praise highly enough Dr. Paul Sugar and the entire staff of the Palliative Care Wing of North Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Hospital. All nurses and nursing aides are heros, but those who work exclusively with the dying are a breed apart. (as are those who work Burn Units.) These boddhisattvas—over a dozen of them in the course of a week—were without exception willing to accede to absolutely any reasonable request by a family member, and any unreasonable request by a heavily drugged patient—with infinite patience, competence and compassion. They ignored regulations that were unreasonable, and enforced the important ones with firm kindness. Visiting hours are 24-7. They actively encourage the playing of instruments and singing, raucous laughter, and the sound of crying babies. They are not stingy with the dilaudid. When your loved one enters endgame, they offer you blankets, pillows and a special chair which can effortlessly become a startlingly comfortable bed, so you can stay at the bedside all night, for as many nights as necessary. If you’d rather get a nearby hotel or B&B, they’ll find one for you and get you a rate.
Maybe this will shorthand it. One of the nurses assigned to Jeanne got chatting with her as she worked, learned a bit of Jeanne’s story. Then, completely on her own initiative, she went to one of the computers in the nurse’s station, Googled up both our websites, found and printed out the best photos of Jeanne dancing, solo and with her company, and also driving across America in a red, white and blue VW microbus with her first husband Daniel Corrigan, and winning a Hugo Award in Phoenix with me—and then she taped them all those photos up to the closet door beside Jeanne’s bed. As James Taylor sang, “Whatcha gonna do with folks like that?”
I have lost my best friend, teacher, partner, lover and co-grandparent—seemingly forever as I understand that word. But by chance, on this same day, two different people emailed me links to a letter written by Robert A. Heinlein to Forrest J. Ackerman near the end of World War Two, consoling Forry on the loss of his brother in combat. In the middle of it, he suddenly wrote, “Forry, I have not a belief, not a conviction, but personal knowledge of survival after death. You will see your brother again.”
If that’s true—and who am I to doubt Robert Heinlein on a matter so important?—then all I have to do is find her again. I’ll simply track her across the universes and through the dimensions like Kimball Kinnison and his Clarissa, or Alexander Hergensheimer chasing his Margrethe to Hell itself, if I have to. Shit, for a minute there, I thought I had a problem. Merely a tedious delay. Have a lot to tell her about when we finally do find each other. Try to spend the downtime becoming a better, kinder man.
I believe the Tibetan Buddhist tradition says a dead person’s soul takes 49 days to get its act together and fully depart this plane of existence. So please keep an eye out for Jeanne, and continue to toss out an occasional prayer or good thought for her—at least until July 16 or so.
Thank you for being her friend and mine. I must sleep now, if that is possible.