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My Father’s Passing

A note to my family, students, clients, community, tribe.

I have been receiving emails and texts from many of you asking where Heather and I have been the last couple weeks.

On November 17th at around 5pm, my loving father, Terry Thomas Mills, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, a few weeks before his 75th birthday at his home in Helena, Montana.

Those of you who know me well already know that Terry was not only my father, he was also one of my greatest spiritual teachers and my best friend.

The influence of my parents, Terry, Lorna and Joy, has shaped and informed my teaching, my practice, and my life both intentionally and subconsciously in such profound ways, and I am eternally grateful to them.

My dear wife (who lost her own father tragically many years ago), and my close friends have been offering incredible, amazing support while we have been in Montana.

As you can imagine the loss of my father’s physical form has forever transformed me and has up to now, left me quite speechless. As I described to a long time student and friend this morning, “I’ve been through some sort of undefinable, indescribable transformation. At this point, I am simply moving forward moment by moment watching the world pass through these strange new eyes.”

My father like all human beings was complex. He had many facets that made up his personality. Rather than sharing all of them, since this platform was created for the teachings of yoga and wellness, I will leave you with 5 drops of wisdom my father left to me both in his life and in his passing.

1. To be compassionate but not to pity

Compassion is a far greater and wiser thing than pity. Pity has its roots in fear, the ego, and often stems from a sense of arrogance, condescension, and separateness. Compassion comes from heart wisdom.

When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain it becomes compassion.

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2. Practice, discipline, and leading by example

My father used to tell me pain was his friend. Amidst chronic pain, he stated that pain kept him in line, on track, and disciplined to do his practice and to care for his body temple. It was in my 30s, and now 40s, dealing with my own chronic pain, that I can see the gift and grace that can be found within the suffering of pain.

My father “the mountain yogi” walked the same path up the mountain behind his house for the last 25 years (a practice he started with his Buddhist teacher in his 20s). Being a lover of animals, he fed the next door horses the apples from his tree along the way. He was often followed up the mountain by a pack of neighborhood dogs and even his loyal cat.

No matter if it was sunny or sub zero weather, no matter if he was well or sick, or in a good mood or a bad one, he got up and walked his path up the mountain.

A neighbor who had lost her 18-year-old daughter in a tragic auto accident wrote my family and said, “There were days I didn’t think I could leave the house. I couldn’t face the world. Then, I would see Terry walking up that mountain path in the morning and think ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ He gave me strength.”

3. Service, humor, and generosity without expectation

My father showed love through acts of service. He was always doing little things behind the scenes like a hidden house elf. You’d come to visit him and somehow he would have taken your car to get it serviced or fixed something that was broken. (And, these were only the things we noticed. I am sure there was so much more we didn’t.)

My father found humor to be both uplifting and medicinal and would, even in somber and serious occasions (including during his own cremation), find a way to make us laugh.  

After his passing, there were so many stories of people from all around the world who shared similar experiences of his acts of service, generosity, and humor.

4. Time

One of the things my dad used to quote is that most people’s damaging illusion is “we think we have time.”

In his passing, I found this quote marked in one of his worn, weathered books: “The machine driven time clock of modern man has not made him a master but a slave of time. The more man tries to ‘save time’ the less of it he/she possesses.”

5. Death 

My father always said to keep death like a healthy friend on your shoulder, not in a morbid way or to encourage hedonism, but to remind us that our personal story of  “I will do ‘X’ when…” is born out of ignorance. The only moment we can do anything about is now, and now… and now. The only time to finish that creative project is now, the only time to have that important conversation you haven’t had is now, the only time to find connection to your personal relationship to “god” is now.

Last week, I was cleaning out my father’s dental tech business of 46 years. While going through numerous drawers, I was regretfully, and perhaps indulgently, wishing I would have called him the day he passed like I initially was planning to but got too busy to do. At that instant, in one of his drawers, I found one of his old Reiki business cards and written on the back, ironically in “permanent marker”, were these words:

“Without grasping at anything transcend all concepts… Death can come at any moment.”

Days later I randomly opened one of his personal books to this quote by one of my father’s greatest teachers, Paramahansa Yogananda:

“The sorrow of separation causes most men to cry for awhile; then they forget. But the wise feel impelled to seek their vanished dear ones in the heart of the Eternal. What spiritual devotees lose in finite life, they find again in the infinite.”

We are all unique individual sparks of divine creation, and my father was definitely no exception to that uniqueness.

I don’t expect to come across another person quite like him in this lifetime. As one of his friends said, “He was so good at unapologetically being Terry.” His physical presence on this earth will be immeasurably missed.

On Friday, November 23rd, my immediate family and a small group of my father’s close friends went to the Helena crematorium and watched as they turned my father’s body to ashes. We had the unique privilege of being able to decorate his delivery vessel the three days before the cremation.

To the vessel, we added photos, tapestries, many quotes, favorite chants, drawings, and even some dad jokes (also ironically in permanent marker) to the final rendering. We also put his passport inside stamped and ready for his journey.

Most importantly perhaps, at the foot of his vessel were written these simple words:
“You have left all of us better for knowing you. Thank you.”

Thank you for caring for us Dad. We are eternally grateful.

20 thoughts on “My Father’s Passing

  1. Really beautiful, Nathan. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Nathan,

    I have been thinking of you and this loss of your beloved father ever since I learned it. I was very moved reading your post above about him and what you have all learned from him, about him, and will carry of him in you for the rest of your life.

    I’m going through a health crisis of my own right now, and also my own parents had a serious car accident last week, and it was helpful to read what you wrote. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for writing and sharing Marcia.
      Wishing you and your family well during this challenging time.
      ❤️ Nathan

  3. Nathan,
    Thank you so much for sharing some of your father’s wisdom with us. He sounds like a truly beautiful soul. He will live on in the lives of all those he touched.

  4. Thank you for sharing Nathan, beautifully written. Sending you love all the way from Australia. It sounds like your father was a very special man – he will be with you forever.
    X clare

  5. Very beautifully written, Nathan. Thank you for writing this. So many folks had that loving perception of your dad.

  6. Nathan,

    So very sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved Father. He sounds like a truly beautiful person. This is a surreal and life changing time. I hope you find comfort in your memories of him.

  7. Dearest Nathan,
    What a beautiful tribute to your dad. How hard it must be going through his belongings—touching his things and wishing he would come back to you. I am not surprised after reading about your dad and seeing his picture (you are twins!) that you are as special a person as YOU are. I am so glad you have Heather to help you through this uncharted territory.
    Much love to you both and to your family,
    Nancy

  8. Dearest Nathan,

    Beyond Beautiful, Love Mom

  9. Nathan, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your Dad. They touch that deep place of sadness, observation and joy that marks a passing. My heart is with you….Stacey

  10. Dearest Nathan,
    What an incredibly beautiful tribute to your precious father! It made me cry! I talk to him every day now, as I used to pray for him, and all your family, every day. Somehow time and space seem less of an impediment now, and I feel his love.
    With you in Spirit,
    Kathleen

  11. Dear Nathan,
    While I am a former student of yours, I am still a supporter of the work you do. Your tribute to your father is uplifting, even as it is telling us of your loss. I have shed a few tears while reading it. This is December 5; the first thing I thought of this morning when I woke was it was 41 years ago today that my father died suddenly at age 62. He too had a teaching, loving influence on all around him. I feel he is always with me. That is the new realm for you… not being able to see the physical form of your father, but still feeling him, and your love for each other. Thank you for this reminder about the only time we really have, right now.
    My best to you and your family.
    Lynn

  12. Nathan – I am so sorry for your loss and so grateful that you shared this story with us all. Your father was (I am quite sure) a remarkable person and a warm, connecting soul. I heard your love for him through your words and hope to hear more as you are moved to share. I see you and I hear you. Stay well.

  13. The tribute to your father left me in tears and I’m so glad you published your very personal thoughts. What a reminder that every day is a gift.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s passing Nathan. He sounds like an extraordinary man who touched the lives of many. Much love to you and Heather.

  15. Nathan,
    Thanks for your heartfelt thoughts and teachings from your Dad. He was so kind and sincere. What a blessing to have a dad like him!

  16. Hello Nathan, I’m so deeply touched by your beautiful expression of love and appreciation for your dad. Thank you for sharing a few drops of his wisdom…he is a remarkable soul with a perspective on life that I will always treasure. Sending thoughts of comfort and peace to you and your family at this very tender time…along with steady prayers. Carol (friend of Joy)

  17. Dear Nathan,
    I did not know your father, but he seemed like an extraordinary man.
    My thoughts will be with you and your family at this sad time.

    Big hug,

    Camille

  18. Nathan,
    Your father sounds like an amazing individual. The wisdom that he shared throughout his life, the example he set through how he lived, and the messages you came across that were quotes meaningful to him; these things all must bring you a great sense of comfort in a time that could be so much more difficult.
    I enjoyed reading this and am so glad Heather shared it with me. His 5 drops of wisdom will ripple, as if in a pool, and spread to all of us who read this; and in turn part of what made him so special will live on in people like me who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him. Thank you for sharing.
    Much love
    Your cousin Aimee

  19. I read this very slowly because I had to digest each morsel of wisdom before I could move onto the next paragraph. I am so grateful to you, Nathan, for sharing your dad with us. Now I, too, can continue to grow with his nurturing. Terry clearly lived his spiritual practice; it wasn’t words or concepts to him, it was a way of life and truth. I look forward to living these principles in my life… thank you Terry! ✨

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