It was our last day in Bangkok and one very important thing was still to be done – we had to set free the ashes that had been blessed in the ceremony in Kathmandu. As we sat in the hotel’s Executive Club having breakfast, Mayor Shaun and I formulated our plan. We would take Rebecca to an area she loved, rent a boat and send her off on her new travels.
The Thai people in Bangkok have a spot that they use for this specific purpose. It’s in the center of the city, about a half a mile downriver from our little restaurant on the water and directly in front of Wat Arun, (The Temple of the Dawn), a 17th Century Buddhist temple on the riverbank. I decided that this was the right place. After all, Rebecca loved to do as the locals do.
I had honestly been getting more and more anxious as we approached the time to do this. I was nervous that we had left it for the last day and worried that we might have trouble organizing a way to do it right. I was worried about my ability to do her justice and honor her properly. I was worried about the weather, which was threatening rain. But, mostly, I didn’t want to let her go again.
I had been having a harder time in the last few days than I expected. As we visited the places Rebecca loved so much, I couldn’t help but feel like I was saying goodbye to her over and over and like I was losing her again and again with each goodbye. The catharsis I sought was eluding me. Instead, I was in pain and unable to find any sense of peace.
We got in a taxi and made our way back over to the Wat Pho area and walked through the bustling local food market to the dock area and located the lady selling floral offerings. We bought whatever flowers she had left and headed for the dock. After a bit of confusion, we found our way to the information booth where the locals buy ferry tickets. One of the attendants spoke English and, after learning what we needed, arranged a private “long-tail” boat to take us out into the river.
The water was very rough and there were a lot of boats making it even choppier so just getting from the pier into the boat was a bit tricky. But, we made it in safely and set off for the short ride to Wat Arun.
We had been instructed by the Lama in Kathmandu that these ashes were to go into a sacred river for a reason. By placing them into the river, the waters, currents and tides would carry her to all parts of the world and she would become a part of all lands. Both Shaun and I felt very good about that idea because there were so many places Rebecca wanted to visit that she never got the chance to and we loved the idea that we could help to send her off on that eternal journey. But….that also meant saying goodbye to her again and neither of us were particularly ready for that.
Our boat driver spoke no English but had been told what we needed to do and, using sign language, offered to say a traditional local blessing and to place a traditional offering wreath on the bow of his boat in Rebecca’s honor. We gratefully accepted and he joined his hands, said the prayer and placed the flowers where they belonged. We were then ready.
We again said our own prayers and spoke to Rebecca of our love for her. We told her how much we missed her and how we hoped that she was at peace. We asked God to take care of her and to give her peace. When all the prayers were said, the messages delivered and we had finished saying what we came to say, we tossed the flowers into the water and released her on her eternal journey around the world.
We lingered for a while as if we had dropped her at the airport and were waiting to make sure she got checked in. We watched the current take the flowers away as we held each other in the long-tail boat and shouted out to her how much we love her. Our driver smiled to assure us we had done things properly and we could see her being taken away to travel just as the Lama had said. It was done.
We made it back to the dock, thanked our driver and walked back to the street feeling every emotion possible. In many ways, it was so hard but there is no doubt that it feels very fitting and right.
Rebecca is once again doing what she loved most - traveling the world. She is free from the fear and pain. She carries with her the immense love of some amazing family and friends and leaves behind in the physical world a legacy of kindness, decency, fearlessness, adventure, beauty, and inspiration. She again has her mane of flowing red hair and is at God’s side. I can only hope to someday again be at hers.
Shaun turned to me and said, “If Rebecca was here, she would want a massage and a beer now”, and he couldn’t have been more right. It’s exactly what she would have wanted. So, we went back over to Wat Pho Massage and had an hour-long traditional Thai massage before returning to Uren Urai for the beers and more of their incredible food.
We spent our last night re-visiting the bars of Silom and enjoying our final hours in this amazing city. By Midnight we were done and still needed to pack so, we said our goodbyes, for now, and made the tuk tuk ride back to the hotel. Our mission was complete, our journey had come to an end and we had been forever changed by the experience. Shaun was by now one of my closest friends and one I will forever cherish as Rebecca always had. And Rebecca….well, she is doing what she loved most by traveling the world. I’m sure she is watching over us and I pray that she is proud of the way we tried to honor her. I have no idea what comes next, so please don’t ask.
I asked Shaun to write some final thoughts for this blog and what follows are those thoughts and I think they are beautifully expressed. My extraordinary wife chose her friends well and I am sure that he has spoken for them all with this……
We're currently in our third hour flying from Hong Kong to New York and I am overwhelmed with emotion. Dade is sitting next to me watching a movie, and thanks to the wonders of the Business Class cocoons we're in, he can't see me in my current state. I think the gravity of the past 2 weeks is settling in. See, Rebecca was one of my best friends. She wasn't just one in a million; she truly was one of a kind. She was astoundingly beautiful, incredibly smart, hilarious, graceful and wise well beyond her years. Her passing has had a profound impact on me, and I am fully aware I am not alone.
I have never used the word profound as much as I have since her passing - the profound sadness, a profound sense of loss and most important the profound love I have for her. I met Rebecca back in Boston. We both went to Emerson and lived in the same dorm. The first time I saw her; I was immediately drawn to her and yet intimidated by her. This tall, gorgeous, confident redhead would walk by and I could sense that she was different. We quickly became friends. In fact, we became inseparable. And the impact she had on me was... Well, profound. She introduced me to new things, news ways of thought and opened my eyes to a whole new world. Most importantly, Rebecca loved me for who I was and all that I was before I even loved myself. To lose something like that has been incredibly devastating.
Rebecca was one of the few people who I felt like I could share my inner most secrets with - the details of my life. I could just be me. No judgments, no disappointments. She loved me for me and gave me honest advice. Rebecca was one of a very select few who I felt allowed me to be me. Even after we lost touch for years after college, when we finally reconnected it was if no time had passed. We picked up right where we had left off, although she was then married, living in Miami and had at that point been diagnosed. But there was a natural ease, I think she made me feel as comfortable and normal as I did her.
This trip has been incredibly moving, humbling, inspiring and life changing. I can't express in words how much it means to me to have gone to the places Rebecca loved so much in the world. To sit in her spot looking out at the Himalayas, to eat at the restaurants she and Dade loved, to drink at her favorite bar, to walk through the markets she loved so much. I felt connected to her during those times. I loved to walk around and explore with wonder the things she came to hold so dear. And I think that's one of the things that saddens me the most. Last year Bec and I started to make plans to go on a trip together. We both suffered from insatiable wanderlust and yet had never traveled together. Well that was to change in 2012. She told me she had made a deal with Dade and we were going to plan an adventure of our own. We didn't really care where we went; we just wanted to have that experience together. We even joked about putting a map on the wall and throwing darts to decide where we would go. Unfortunately we never went on that trip together. Instead, I traveled with Dade around the world - literally - to help spread her ashes. And that's a big reason why this trip meant as much to me as I hope it did Dade. I wanted to have an adventure with her.
Dade has been emotional during the course of our journey because of the overwhelming outpouring of love and support from friends of him and Bec's. He felt like he could never repay the love and generosity of those around him. He said he felt like he owed me something for joining him on this journey. I told him now is the time to let friends and family surround him with love and support. This was a time to embrace that outpouring. We're all here because we love and care for him. Rebecca is one of the people I love most in the world, and since Dade was the person she loved most in the world my love extends to him. I would do anything for Dade at the drop of the hat. I know Bec would have done the same for me.
Dade shared with me conversations Rebecca had with him about me. She wanted the best for me in all aspects of life. She wanted me to find someone who loved me as much as I loved them. Hearing these words broke my heart. To have missed Bec and Dade's wedding and know she would never see me find that love one day, to not be at my wedding if I were to ever have one, breaks my heart. To hear her words through Dade about the kind of man she thought I was and the hopes she had for me makes me both proud and sad.
But this isn't about the sadness. It's about the overwhelming pride and love I have for Rebecca. The grace and bravery she showed up until the very end is astonishing. Rebecca was an incredible force in this world. She touched those whom she met and impacted lives in ways I don't think she fully understood. The world won't be the same without Rebecca, but it is a better place because she lived in it. And while there is a void in my life and heart because her light went out, I am filled with joy and pride and grateful for having experienced her love in the first place.
Rebecca, I thank you for helping make me the man I am today. I know you'll always be here with me in spirit and I can only hope to make you half as proud of me as I am of you. I will continue to travel and go on adventures and know you'll be there with me. It's never goodbye, it's bye for now.
I love you more than words can express.
This is a short video of the events at the river and a little tribute to beautiful Rebecca. Thanks, Justin, for doing such a wonderful job and for creating such a moving tribute.