I’ve been writing in the blog, mostly about Living Bridges from my travel adventures. But here is a most extraordinary Living Bridge I had the great honor to be part of. I am sharing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the soulful connection among living adults from many different walks of life. We all had one thing in common: We were in close relationship with one married couple: Nancy McCarthy and Bruce Herzog. They were both only children and were childless.
They chose to leave this planet with love, generosity, practicality and no waste.
Here is the Reader’s Digest version:
I met Nancy in 1994 in a photography class at International Center of Photography, NYC. My life was enhanced and changed significantly by our friendship. I even relocated to Bucks County as a result of this relationship. Not only did we create photo images in joint projects together in our many classes, we invited each other into our lives outside the classroom. As a result I knew Bruce, Nancy’s husband, and ultimately about 99% of all the other peeps in their lives. And there were many.
I speak in past tense because both of these dear friends succumbed to Multiple Myeloma. Upon Nancy’s death 3 years ago, all of us friends and family were invited to celebrate Nancy’s life at their home in PA, a home they lovingly and carefully designed from ground up. It was intended to house their many guests and provide a peaceful retreat. And it did just that. And more.
I can write a book about Nancy and her extraordinary life but my goal here is to share an experience both she and Bruce created for themselves and for all their friends and family. With great and precise detail during their simultaneous illnesses, a plan was created and eventually unveiled to us after Nancy passed. We were invited to the house to celebrate Nancy’s life and to choose from her huge collection of apparel and accessories purchased on their many trips abroad. Nancy lives on in our closets, in our hearts and on our bodies!
In 2019, three years after Nancy passed, Bruce died. Once again, we were all invited to their home in PA to honor these two outstanding human beings. We celebrated Bruce’s remarkable life with five friends storytelling with laughter and tears on Friday night. Impossible to talk about one without the other. Their lives were entwined in the best way. Sad and happy, we gave a befitting going away party to two veteran party-throwers. Not only were these two remarkable in their individual and collective ways, but the people with whom they surrounded themselves, extended family for decades, are remarkable as well.
So much community, love and support during their health struggles over the past few years was itself a testament to their humanity, but the ongoing, authentic friendships over the years was something I personally haven’t seen elsewhere in my adult life. We all attended parties celebrating every holiday, birthday, and life changing event at the McCarthy/Herzog home. Always playful and meaningful, these extraordinary events were the mainstay in everyone’s lives.
Back to Bruce’s memorial: After anecdotes were shared, we were presented with a bowl and a spoon. Combined together in the bowl were both their ashes. This was so befitting their devotion to each other; we were invited to take a spoon of the ashes and spread wherever we chose on the 12 acre property. This, to me, was the most awe inspiring action I could never have even imagined. To think that they so clearly expressed this request prior to passing was and remains for me a true lesson in divinity. The sacredness of life, a shared life.
On Saturday morning those of us invited to partake in the distribution of household possessions each chose a number from a hat. Bruce had written: “Have good food, reminisce about those acquisitive characters, Nancy and Bruce, and have a good time while looking over goods.”
I was #6 and thrilled to acquire a puma sculpture, an amazing piece of art which hangs in my house. It was the only thing I really wanted but with so many exquisite items in the house I inevitably ended up with Zulu baskets from their Africa trips. We continued the process of choosing starting with #1 and going to #40, choosing only one item each time. Then backwards from #40 to #1. We did this for 2 days till 5pm on Sunday. Whatever was left was to be donated to charities. We worked within the constraints of the estate’s executor, PNC Bank, which designed this event according to Nancy and Bruce’s wishes and with the assistance of several friends.
While this may sound rather strange to some, most of us felt this was the best way they could have chosen to utilize their many collections for the greater good. We all now have extensions of our dear Bruce and Nancy in our homes both for every day, practical use and for sentimental reasons. I feel their presence in my home daily with the happiest of memories. Losing them both has been a very difficult adjustment for all the tribe. They were the glue holding the family of choice together.
I was honored to be part of this unusual “family of friends”. And I loved this unusual process.
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.