When I was 19 and at NYU, I wrote a poem called “To My Father, After His Death”.
On Saturday morning, someone who I referred to as my brother and whom I had a connection with that could never be explained in words, passed away in his sleep. He was 48. Steve Bridges was the kindest and the funniest man I had ever known. Besides my own dad Mel, who, to this day if you go to Philadelphia and say the name Melvin Pastiloff people who sigh and say ” Mel was the funniest human being I had ever known. Still. To this day. And he died in 1983.”
My dad was 38 when he died. Steve was 48.
These past few days have been filled with new grief on top of old grief.
Yesterday I taught my Sunday morning class at Equinox, lovingly dubbed “Yoga Church” by the yogis who show up every Sunday. The theme was gratitude. I asked them to pick a person they felt grateful for, alive or passed on. Someone who helped them be who they are today, someone who guided them, who taught them, who loved them.
When the hands came to prayer, as they do so often in my class, the mantra was to be “Thank you __________.” That person’s name being the blank.
Mine was “Thank you Steve”. I told my students all about this funny man who did impersonations of the presidents. My class always has laughter but yesterday I told them I needed more laughter than normal. They delivered.
When I played ” Your Song” by Elton John, everyone sang on cue.
It was truly church. I kept thinking I don’t know how I’ll make it through. I had to turn my back at least 6 times as I wept. I turned back to the class and wiped my tears and saw a roomful of the most connected and alive people I have ever seen.
That’s how I made it through.
Thank you, my tribe. Thank you.
And in getting the following email from someone who had never taken my class before, I realized how powerful and needed yesterday’s class was indeed. How human an experience it was, and how it was not just about sadness and death at all, but life.
“Dear Jen, I mentioned that I had been moved to tears several times. Something happened today that I hope will continue for the rest of my life! The person I chose to be grateful for was actually myself. I spend a lot time judging and criticising myself and I’m trying to change (which is what brought me to yoga today), so I thought I’d try some self love. I think I cried every time we did a sequence on our own to the music. When you asked us to think of that person holding us up, I pictured a few versions of myself dancing around me on my mat and lifting me up at different times. It was so beautiful. I thanked myself for being a mom, wife, daughter, friend, sister, aunt, etc. I found myself calling me all the nicknames I have for everyone else I love. I “hiya’d” and kicked the shit out of that negative voice, diets, and melanoma. I’ve always felt at war with my body and I don’t think I can live another day in that mind set. I feel so blessed to have stumbled into your class today. Your energy and philosophy were exactly what I needed to feel and hear. I felt a shift take place and I am so grateful and so inspired. I feel like I could go on and on here but hopefully I’ll see you on Tuesday and I’ll thank you again in person.”
By now you know the Divine experience ( and I do not use the word Divine lightly here) I shared in Mexico on my last retreat. It was a smaller retreat and we bonded in a spectacular way that continued way past the trip’s finale. We wrote emails to each other starting with ” Dear Fabulous 13″ daily.
Although Steve came with me on the last 3 retreats I hosted, it was in Mexico that I realized how much I loved this man. In my life, I have yet to experience feeling this way about another. It is not romantic or sexual.
After my class yesterday I came home to emails from the Fab 13. They had written letters to Steve after his death. Immediately I thought of my poem I wrote as a teenager to my dad.
I wanted to share those letters with you because in them you will get a glimpse of the love we shared, you will get a glimpse of who Steve Bridges really was, and, trust me on this: even a glimpse of Steve is enough. He was love.
Steve, buddy –
I only knew you for a few days in Mexico.
I spoke to you at length only a few times.
So why is there a hole in my heart?
Is it because I watched you bring light and laughter to our whole Xinalani family?
Or because I saw your gentle soul shine through in little kindnesses?
Or because I watched the joy bubble out of you and all of us around you, our cup truly running over?
Or is it because our new-found family is just that, new-found, and already we have lost a brother?
Yes, all of these.
But also: I regret not talking to you more.
I regret not going for that one last beer.
Most of all, I regret that I will not see you the next time we are in LA, nor have
All those future times and lost conversations.
When I met you, I had “Gratitude” written on my arm.
And you had Joy on written on your face.
And if I only sit in my sadness, and feel loss, and regret, and pain,
Then it’s just all about me again.
What kind of Gratitude is that?
If meeting you meant something,
If the hole in my heart means someone wonderful was here, then
I must return to Gratitude
I must look at the shape of that hole and say “Wow!
How lucky am I to have met this guy?
How improbably fortunate!”
Of course I am sad and bewildered
That you have left us so suddenly.
But if that is all I feel then I have missed the point.
I have missed your point, and the point of what we all
Discovered together in Mexico.
All of us are comforted in sadness
And strengthened in Gratitude
By the Fabulous 13
(And so we remain, though we are
Down a good man)
For you helped define us
And you remain in our hearts.
For some reason, it was time for you to go.
I don’t begin to understand, but
I am so very grateful
To be one of your last new friends.
Thank you. Love, Gregg.
Wow… All I can say is that you have profoundly affected my life.
Especially the day after I precariously fell down the stairs backwards. You said to me, “Amy Jo, you are our miracle. You’ve reminded us that life is so precious and it can be over in an instant. Thank you.”
Especially when I stared into your eyes for three amazing minutes during yoga, and what I wrote down afterwards was: Steve= powerful, being, creator of love, confidence, kindness, strong… Power… I felt my power in his: The next day I said to you “ Steve, All I saw was power. It was amazing. I saw no fear.” And you looked at me with those brilliant blues and kindly said “Thank you”.
The entire seven days I spent with you are seven of the most magical, precious, healing days of my life. Thank you for your honest, humble, hilarious, kind presence within them. I will cherish those moments forever.
I’ve had a few very close people in my life pass away and always during and after their death there is a magical doorway that opens to the cosmos, a magical gift of enlightenment. And now in hindsight I can see that that doorway is also open and present before a soul passes, because in Mexico we all shared that light. We all bathed in your departure. Thank you, we have been gifted by your journey.
Love, light, peace, happiness, and god speed my friend. You will be dearly missed.
There are more letters. I will add them in a second post. Please add yours to the bottom in the comment section.
Steve told me that Mexico was the best time of his entire life. I believe in some way he was meant to experience this love and this family we created, before his passing. His greatest wish was to have a child and a family.
I believe he got a taste of that.
I am heartbroken beyond words but looking at the photos and videos makes me laugh with tears in my eyes. Let’s continue to honor the man I knew as my brother.
Now, before you do anything. Before it slips into a cliche again, stop and close your eyes and get present to the fact that life is really precious. That you never know what will happen and that each moment is a gift. Before it turns back into a cliche, get up and go hug the person in the next room. Go tell someone how much you appreciate them. Go let yourself feel, and fall in love, and be vulnerable. Go say YES! Spend a day with someone you want to spend the day with. Laugh out loud, even at a dumb joke. Sing. Dance. For God’s sake, go live your life.
I love you.
I love you Steve Bridges. I do not understand your passing but I understand you taught me things I am still comprehending. You taught me to be joy. And to feel joy. As you did.
You taught me to be ME. The MOST ME.
I will keep you all posted on a memorial. I spent the day with his parents yesterday and I can safely say that seeing his father weep was enough to crack my heart open. We went to church and the minister who knew Steve well got us into a huddle, like we were about to play football, and said a beautiful prayer for Steve, as we all cried and hugged. We stayed for the service which was all about love and being kind to ourselves. This same minister will deliver Steve’s memorial per Tom Bridges request ( I can see why) and as soon as I know details I will pass them on.
TO MY FATHER, AFTER HIS DEATH (written age 19)I knew that you weren’t really dead.
That if I kept looking, kept driving,
I’d find you.
Didn’t think it would be here though,
that you’d be pumping gas
in Kansas.You still smoke.
I can tell.
The way your shoulders hunch over
gives you away.
When you push nozzles into canals,
into the backs of cars,
you heave, your shoulders roll.
Your stomach reaches closer to your back,
toward smooth pink scars.
You look smaller,
shirking into yourself like that.
Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally,
I watch you from the shoulder of I-70
I see you still
Quiet as ash,
The moment you noticed me
But you know I can’t come any closer.
I can’t pull into the station,
~jen pastiloff 1994