In late January, our family found ourselves at the hospital for two significant reasons on the opposite ends of the life spectrum.
Standing at a still point – awake, observant – we can recognize and celebrate sacred moments of transition that happen in each of our lives. This was such a moment for us. Two knights cleanly passed one another over the rainbow bridge. I’ve been looking forward to telling you this heartening tale.
Our daughter-in-love DD was braving the last week or two of her pregnancy, planning for delivery at the Santa Barbara hospital.
At the same time, our dear, irascible Grandpa Bob – about whom you may have read before (links: Bob is Back and Eeyore Surprises Me) – had been admitted to the Santa Barbara hospital after a couple falls and various maladies at age 95.
Still & Moving Center is in a way observing its own renewal at this time, sacred to Spring’s rebirth and Easter. More on that at the end of this story.
Now, Grandpa Bob’s full name was Robert Knight Hassler. And after caretaking Grandpa Bob for the last five years, DD, our son Shankar, and big sister Coral were planning to name the new little tyke Toby Knight Tillotson when he was born.
As feisty as Grandpa Bob could be, especially in his last year, he has held a very special place in their hearts.
Over the years, Bob told me various goals, watershed dates, that he wanted to live long enough to enjoy, and always had managed to do.
A few days before he landed in the hospital, he told me in our weekly Sunday morning phone call as I was driving into work: “I want to stay alive until that new little baby gets born!”
“Oh, you mean your great-grandson that Shankar and DD are naming after you?” I ask.
“Yes, well that’s pretty nice,” he replies.
When our son called us later that week to say Grandpa Bob had stopped eating and drinking, our daughter Sandhya and I each got on planes and flew to Santa Barbara, for what turned out to be some of the most precious few days of our lives.
Grandpa Bob transitioned from the hospital to a gracious hospice facility appropriately named Serenity House. There Sandhya and I stationed ourselves to be with him around the clock. He was barely able to speak when we arrived, and lost that ability soon. Yet we were always aware of his conscious presence.
We came to communicate with him via his feet! Even when he could no longer open his eyes, we could watch his bright yellow hospital socks moving in response to our inquiries about his needs. Funny little detail!
Sandhya and I had attended a retreat together last summer about ceremonially observing life transitions and didn’t realize at the time how soon or how well we would put our learning into practice.
Sandhya set up a beautiful little altar of special items on a small table in his hospice room, including a photo of Bob and his beloved wife Sue, who was our kids’ grandmother.
Meanwhile, Shankar took care of a hundred details, including getting Grandpa Bob’s belongings moved out of his senior living apartment and also watched their active four-year-old Coral while DD rested up for her upcoming C-section for baby Toby.
One of the most meaningful aspects of my last times with Bob were the nights, when I would awaken on the little pull-out bed in the room, hearing his sounds of agitation or struggle with breathing. Facing one’s quickly approaching death could strike fear into almost anyone. And I knew Bob would find no solace in standard books of religion. I felt myself welcoming in sacred science meditations for a non-believer.
Through the wee hours of the night in his Serenity House room, I would let these meditations come through – kind of Einsteinian – such as imaging oneself riding upon a beam of light. They would last until I heard Bob’s anxious breathing gentle back down and felt his clenched muscles release.
Little Toby was meanwhile letting DD know that he was definitely getting ready to come out to greet the world.
But would Grandpa Bob last that long? The Serenity House nurses had been telling us since Wednesday that they weren’t sure he would last another 24 hours. Bob was still with us on Thursday when Shankar came by Serenity House. He tenderly gave Granpa Bob his final shave, after which Bob’s vintage electric shaver promptly fell to pieces. Telling.
On Friday, we wheeled Grandpa Bob’s bed half way out of his room into the sunshine he loved so well. DD – about to pop – arrived with Shankar, and we reminisced around his bed on all the special moments with Bob over the years. A time of weeping and laughing – about equal parts.
On Saturday late afternoon, February 4, Toby Knight made his way into the world … and Grandpa Bob was still alive. Yes!
At the recommendation of Bob’s best friend, we called in a harpist to play truly heavenly music on what turned out to be Bob’s last evening with us. That set an exquisite tone for Bob’s imminent departure… and celebrated little Toby’s arrival.
On Sunday afternoon, \ we held the phone up to Bob’s ear so that Shankar could announce the baby’s birth and let Bob hear the baby’s little gurgles and coos. Bob had made his final goal!
Two hours later, on February 5, 2023, at 3:37 pm, our dear Grandpa Bob passed.
As we watched Bob lying there at Serenity House, his yellow-stocking’d feet no longer signaling to us, Sandhya and I noticed a serene golden glow from the upper portion of his face, lingering long after his last breath. The lean strength that I saw in his jawline reminded me indeed of a noble knight who had completed his final duties in life. I felt I had come to understand this somewhat inscrutable man better in his final week than I had in all the forty years I had known him.
That last night, Sandhya and I both stayed in the room where Bob’s form lay “in state” until being picked up for cremation the next morning. Through her dreams, at about 3 am, Sandhya heard a voice that she knew to be Grandpa Bob’s, speaking to the family. He said, “Thank you for taking such good care of me. I’m leaving now.”
At our celebration of life the next month, Shankar gave a tribute to Grandpa Bob, recalling that he was “never in a hurry, always on time”. Perfect timing to the very end. It’s important when people pass to celebrate their strong points.
At Still & Moving Center, we’ve seen many changes, some people going and many people coming.
We are making our first major renovations since our opening 12 years ago, which will be beautiful when the dust settles.
We remember fondly those who have left and all that they contributed to life at the Center. And we happily welcome many new faces and friends into the space.
Bob Knight left along the same path as our baby Toby Knight had just entered. Two Knights passing on their way over the rainbow bridge. And we fortunate ones were there to observe and honor their crossing.
When we pause, center ourselves, and observe, we see: A transitional time. A sacred moment.
A time to celebrate new beginnings!
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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