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Douglas Dying

David Lang

When Bill left a voicemail message on Christmas Day saying Douglas was dying, I called Catherine and then flew from California to stay with her and Douglas for a week. Douglas was in bed and seemed to be sleeping most of the time, but occasionally he would wake and participate in short conversations. Once, he opened his eyes and said in a quiet voice, "It is very interesting to die.” His words indicated that at least some of the time that he appeared to be sleeping, he was instead resting in Being and paying attention to what was happening to him.

As I was sitting with him one afternoon, I remembered that Seeing was catching, so I thought that I could be of use to him simply by seeing who I was. Perhaps it would help him stay conscious of Being. So I sat there just seeing who I was. It was very easy to do. But it was not long before I recollected that the catchiness of Seeing worked both ways, and that perhaps it was easy for me because I was catching it from him. From then on, in fact, it felt like I was doing nothing at all, but that a strong wind of Being, eventually a hurricane, was blowing from Douglas, even though all the time he was quietly and peacefully lying in bed with his eyes closed, apparently sleeping. Even when I was in the next room lying on the bed, having caught a cold from some other visitors, it felt like a gale was blowing right through the wall. It was as if my hair was streaming out behind me and I had to hold onto the bed to stop being lifted off, so strong was the sense of Being emanating from Douglas.

For the last few years I have been thinking a lot about death, for middle age has become a reality, and old age, along with sickness and death, is a reality on the horizon. I've been trying to understand what death is, why I don't like the idea of it, and how I arrange my life as a way of denying it. When I left home to see Douglas and Catherine, I wasn't thinking about these ideas in particular, but I was feeling the heaviness of death and wanted to say one more thank you and the final goodbye before Douglas died. Yet when I was with him, his experience of dying was so obviously so much more about Being than about nonbeing, and he shared it so clearly and strongly, that I came away not with a sense of loss but with a sense of Life—one more gift from Douglas, and a big one, that I will value until I also find myself discovering, I hope, how interesting it is to die.

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