On Wednesday I found out that a sangha friend, three years younger than I am, passed away. I was emailed his obituary from our local Dharma Teacher. His name was Scott, and while he hadn’t recently been sitting with our Monday night meditation group, Be Here Now, he had been part of our sangha for the past couple of years or so and sat with us on and off during that period. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago walking by McCormick Park as I was driving by on Orange Street. He was walking alongside someone, talking and smiling. I remember thinking at the time, “I’m so glad to see him! He looks good…happy.”
Scott was bipolar, and often fluctuated back and forth between having a reliable place to stay and being homeless. His obituary listed no cause of death. Our assumption is he committed suicide. My heart swelled with sadness when I read of his passing.
While Scott was part of our mindfulness community, and has been to my house for sangha potlucks and gatherings, I didn’t know much about the conventional aspects of his life: where he was born, where he went to school, where he grew up, how many brothers and sisters he had, and the like. This isn’t unusual, for me, in relation to other casual sangha friends. Part of what I love about my sangha community is how connected I feel to people based on simply sharing our meditation practice together, sharing silence, and sharing mindful intention. While I may not know people’s last names or where they were born and raised, I feel an inherent closeness to them as a fellow sangha member.
Reading Scott’s obituary gave me a lot of the conventional information I hadn’t known, or really even thought about before. And it put me in touch with wanting to write my own obituary, which is nothing new in the world of writing-prompt ideas, for those who enjoy the art of the written word. So, here goes:
PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT a real obituary. This is a writing exercise.
Nicole Michelle Dunn passed away in Missoula, Montana on _________. Nicole was born on July 3rd, 1979 in Abington, Pennsylvania. She moved to Missoula, transferring to the University of Montana from Bucks County Community College, in 1998.
Montana called to her ever since vacationing at Glacier and Yellowstone in high school. Soon after moving to Missoula she met the love of her life: her husband, and native Montanan, Mike Dunn. They were married on March 9th, 2000, when Nicole was 20-years-old. Mike and Nicole liked to think she was so strongly drawn to Montana so they could meet and marry one another :)
Nicole was a proud stepmom to her stepson Jaden Burrell and loved being actively involved in his schools as a volunteer. She felt very privileged to have the unique opportunity be his stepmom since he was a baby, so she could help support and love him from the very beginning.
Nicole was the director of the Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula and received clerical ordination into the Order of Interbeing, a mindfulness community in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in 2007. She founded, and was program director, of the Be Here Now Sangha, which has been meeting every Monday night at Open Way since 2002. Her sangha community and service work was a great joy to her. She loved hosting potlucks, coordinating volunteers for sangha projects and events, helping direct local retreats, organizing kids programming, offering teaching talks, serving on local and statewide boards, and interfacing as a representative with the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative. Nicole loved to organize, so many of the roles she filled were a natural fit. Even as a child she’d organize her dolls and toys accordingly. Though many of us may wonder how that was a good time, Nicole loved her abilities and affinity for organizing!
As an avid writer and musician Nicole’s interests included blogging, spoken word poetry, playing guitar, singing, dancing to electronic and hip hip music, African drumming and dancing, and working on a book entitled: Get Ur Joy On. She loved to ride her 1976 Honda motorcycle, spend time with children, volunteer, cultivate community, and attend annual retreats at Deer Park Monastery in southern, California. Nicole was a volunteer with Partner’s Hospice for almost 15 years and saw it as a great honor to be able to meet with those on hospice care for weekly, social visits. She felt one’s presence, in any and all situations and encounters, was the greatest gift to get and receive. She took as the aim of her mindfulness practice to cultivate and strengthen her ability to be fully present, with herself, others, and her surroundings.
She is survived by her familial tribe: her wonderful husband Mike and equally wonderful stepson Jaden, her supportive and loving parents Jeanne Carlson (mother), Mike Cookson (father), Davida Cookson (stepmother), and Steve Cutting (stepfather), and many aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. She is also survived by her sangha community, both near and far, as it continues to ripple wonderfully into the future.
“Walk softly, breathe deeply, and know that you are beautifully alive.” – Nicole Dunn
(PLEASE NOTE AGAIN: This is NOT a real obituary. This is a writing exercise.)
P.S. If you’re interested in doing this writing prompt, this website may prove helpful: https://www.obituaryhelp.net/
May you rest in peace Scott. I will miss your smile and presence.