Monk Note: Dr Holly and I

Personal note from Pandit Cittasamvaro Bhikkhu

A note on the final four years of Dr Holly Dugan’s lifein Bangkok. It is not quite a full obituary,  but her sister promised to  fill in some of Holly’s earlier life for us when she gets chance.

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Yesterday we finished the funeral ceremonies for Dr Holly Dugan – the key member of our Little Bangkok Sangha. She was 70 years old.

I met Holly in 2006 at the first set of talks I did in Bangkok, at the Tara Hotel. She had been taken there by friends Alan and Audwin. The following year I decided to try and arrange talks independently of other groups and asked Audwin to join me in a trip to Baan Aree to see about using their Dhamma Hall. Holly joined us to look around. I’m sure that Holly’s presence helped strike a good image for what we were asking to do. I was nervous about taking on responsibility, and about being in public, but Holly (and several others) were very encouraging.

In fact, since 2007 she supported, encouraged and advised on every step that our Sangha took – and in Buddhism supporting other’s practise is the greatest merit you can do. She pushed me through my own many insecurities.

Since I met her Holly had always nurtured a special interest in both Buddhism and of course, psychology. Initially she’d come to Buddhism through the writings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu – a very famous Thai monk and Sangha reformist of Thailand. But her interest was always wide and inclusive.

Baan Aree hosted the talks, with us being the first group to use their new hall. We were there early, cleaning up the dust and dirt from the building work that had still not been completed at that point.

Looking back there was something in the air that month. The intention was to do 6 weeks and then disappear for a year. But from Holly and others encouragement we kept it going, and it is still going today…

We quickly became firm friends and over the last four years it was rare to go more than a couple of days without some kind of contact. Usually her sending me Psychology articles, and myself sending her cat pictures! I set up 2 computers for her all the way from shopping at Panthip computer centre to installing the operating systems. I changed numerous light bulbs and fixed wiring on my many visits.

Actually she resisted some of the computer stuff, until I showed her how to download tv series and movies. A week later I went to her house, and she’d gone nuts downloading 100 GB worth… favourites were Upstairs Downstairs, and the movie she watched a hundred times without tiring – Kung Fu Panda.

A number of people came to the funeral who said they did not know her well, but had been touched by the contact they had had. That is testimony to her nature. It is not just that she was my dearest friend – everyone liked her; everyone who met her left with respect. Fearless in front of a crowd she could stand up in front of an audience at a moments notice sans microphone, or glide effortlessly around a room greeting strangers. She would come to almost all our events, not always for her own interest, but to play her part in bringing people together.

Holly had three weeks from diagnosis of cancer, to passing away. We had discussed death several times. She’d always said she was not really afraid, but definitely did not want to suffer, or be a burden on others. As it turned out, she got her wish. “Now I ain’t no chicken” she told me on the phone the first time we spoke after her diagnosis. And she certainly wasn’t.

When I called round she looked me straight in the eye, and said how she’d appreciated knowing me and all we had done together. She gave me a couple of gifts and asked if I had a last word for her. I had to wave her off, as I was choking up somewhat, and feeling ashamed that I was the one supposed to be offering consolation…

In Buddhism, how you pass away is important. You want to be clear, mindful and prepared – with no regrets or attachments tieing you back to your old life. Holly summed it up with one word – Equanimity. A quality she was embodying with her usual aplomb. Lively and bright, it was hard to believe she was nearing the end. While she seemed to know the timetable, we thought that being so alive it would take months. I was busy sourcing experienced nurses, and budgets … when she passed away in the afternoon after a long night’s sleep. Aside from a few regular aspirin, and a few glasses of champagne, she was not on medication, and was not in pain or suffering. She died with the same  grace, joy and verve that she had lived by.

For family or friends outside of Thailand, we want you to know that Holly touched a lot of lives in the last 4 years here. You can see for yourself from the comments people left when we announced she had passed away. Many many more people left similar comments via facebook, email or in person. She was certainly shining in her last years, being very Holly for very many people.

There were 100+ friends at the final funeral. We had chanting for her each evening according to Thai custom, deftly arranged by another of her closest friends here Rubby. I had discussed the arrangements with Holly just a few days before she passed away, and we did everything according to her wishes.

There was an auspicious thunderstorm exactly between our leading her coffin around the cremation hall, and the start of the ceremonies, when the sun shone suddenly brightly again, prompting one friend to write:

You know, it rained very heavily as soon as I entered the taxi at Lumpini Park yesterday and the rain slowed down when I arrived at Wat Tadthong. Then it became a mere drizzle by the time I walked to the crematorium and met you … But even the sky shed its tears for Dr. Holly and it stopped crying so that everyone could go up the crematorium to pay their last respects for her. From these natural phenomena, Dr. Holly must have been an even greater person that I realized.

She was cremated in her favourite cat-picture duvet cover, along with some other personal items. She was nuts about those 2 cats of hers, and we still need a volunteer to take one or both of them in as they need a home.

All the pictures I have of Holly are posted in the Album here.

We will have a memorial on June 16th (details TBA), with a Dhamma talk by Steven Smith (with whose dhamma talk she was very impressed), and an open mic for anyone with a short 🙂 story to share. Topic of the talk will be Reflecting on Living and Dying, and How to Spend Your Time Wisely. There will be some food, and a few other things ….

Thanks for all the messages posted up on the announcement, and we can all be happy that we played a part in Holly’s life, as she did in ours. Jack and Heather also wanted to express thanks and gratitude for the support, good wishes, and the inspiring send off we held.

The photos of the last day will be added soon.

About Cittasamvaro

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5 Responses to Monk Note: Dr Holly and I

  1. Cittasamvaro says:

    I might mention also thanks for the contributions to the funeral expenses … it’s never nice to think about these things, but it is a practical matter. The total bill came to 49 705 baht, of which we we able to assist the family to the amount of 32 705 baht.

  2. Dara Carballo says:

    I know no two persons are alike but just hope someone turns up to take her role in promoting LittleBang. Sadhu

  3. rae gilman says:

    to pandit Cittasamvaro Bhikkhu:

  4. rae gilman says:

    To Pandit Cittasamvaro Bhikkhu:
    I have been negligent in opening the Little Bang websit since returning to Canada. I was shocked today to learn of Dr.Holly’s passing…..She gave so much to our sangha. I will always remember the love and joy she extended to all of us as well as her alert mind, and spirit of fun.During the cool season, I tutored a friend studying an internet tourism course. It required a creditable person to supervise the exam. I mentioned this to Dr.Holly. She readily volunteered and did so around the last week of March. Nuchalee,who is essentially self educated was very nervous about having a professor with a doctorate supervise her test, but Dr.Holly’s warm and caring personality put her at ease almost immidiately. It’s this warmth and caring that I will always remember when I think of Dr.Holly.

    Rae Gilman
    Prince Edward Island, Canada

  5. Cittasamvaro says:

    Thanks Rae – I thought you were on the emailing list, and so would have gotten the news (sometimes emails get spammed). It was a big loss to myself personally, as well as so many other people.

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