“The night kisses the fading day whispering to his ear,
“I am death, your mother. I am to give you fresh birth.”
- Rabindranath Tagore
This site could be described as many things. It’s a website about living and dying. It is the unfolding story of one remarkable man’s relationship to his dying. It is a recorded artifact of three curious humans trying to apprentice themselves to living and dying. It’s a journey. It’s a love story. If we lived in a time before the internet, it might be a book. Or a collection of letters, drawings, and pictures. It is a time capsule, and a reliquary.
But most of all, it is an invitation. An invitation we humbly offer to you, our visitor.
Read on below to learn about us, how we created this site, and our vision for what this might serve in your living and your dying.
An inkling that something beautiful is possible
As the person who first threw out the possibility that led all the way to this website being created, it seemed right to us—Doug, Rob and Lauren—that I (Lauren) would write our introduction.
The "Doug, Rob and Lauren conversation project," as it became named in my mind over our 2 months in dialogue began with a flash of possibility back in January 2018. I had had the great fortune to study with Doug Silsbee through his Presence Based Coaching certification training in 2016 and 2017. Rob McNamara has been my dear friend, colleague and collaborator for 10 years. All three of us have committed our lives to working with human development and transformation, in different but very parallel ways, and we are at different moments in our lives and careers. Although I knew both Doug and Rob, they only loosely knew each other as professional peers and had never really met.
In October 2017, Doug was diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced cancer. True to his innately curious, creative and expressive nature, he immediately began to chronicle and share his experience, along with his wife Walker, on their profound and touching blog, letlifelivethroughyou.wordpress.com. Doug’s life of serving others was an unstoppable river of generosity that, amidst this new context of a terminal cancer diagnosis, adapted and flowed further outward as he offered his insights of intimacy with dying for any and all to benefit from.
I followed Doug’s blog. I marveled at it. Just the spring before, I had completed a Death Doula training, and just that fall, was completing a hospice volunteer training. In my own naive and comparatively non-tragic way, I had felt the call to apprentice myself to death. In parallel, through my long and deep friendship with Rob, I knew that Rob’s life experience included an uncommon intimacy with death, and a pivotal near death experience.
One day the “flash” went through me: Connect Doug and Rob. My mind filled in the details — here are two men, both deeply committed to the work of human development, transformation and thriving. Each living an intimacy with dying that is distinct. How rare, how beautiful. How I myself would love to listen to them explore this topic together.
I reached out to Doug in January 2018 with a humble attempt to articulate this idea and see if he was interested. I didn’t hear back. It was understandable, all things considered, and I let it go.
Then, in May of 2018, I got an email from Doug. He had found my email from January and was interested to learn more. His energy had stabilized, and this was the kind of creative project that spoke to him.
On May 4th, we three had our first conversation together. We all felt the “yes”, and began recording our conversations on May 15th. Between May 15th and July 18th, our final conversation, we recorded 8 conversations and approximately 12 hours of conversation.
Our initial catalyst was the exploration of dying, and therefore, of living. We didn’t often know where things would go. We each loved the combination of the three of us, and we trusted it. Each week brought something new. As we got further along, a vision of what we would do with all of this material began to take form. Doug’s creativity was pivotal, rightly so, in painting a picture of this project as an invitation to inquiry—and we almost named the site something like that. I often preferred to refer to it as a work of art over merely a “website.”
We all agreed on the sacredness—and sometimes mundanity—of our process together. And the best way we found to describe it was as a “crucible.” Hence, the site’s final name, which was inspired by Doug’s description of our 2 month process as a “crucible of living and dying.”
As I edited our hours of conversation, I came upon this moment in one of our creative discussions about the site. Doug speaks to his vision, and what he hopes this 'work of art' will offer to the world. It’s better than anything I could say about it — so here is Doug, in his own words:
How this site is designed, and how you might explore it
How do you make 12 hours of video conversation interesting? And…manageable? Doug had a brilliant idea, which is the template for how this site is laid out.
Instead of asking you to watch 12 hours of consecutive conversation, we have curated our conversations, according to the deep and most repeated inquiries we realized, afterwards, that we were in. We gathered the set of inquiry questions that seemed to come up most often, and edited our conversations into several digestible clips per question, that reveal how we were living that inquiry together.
You’ll see a drop-down menu under “conversations”. Each of the pages shown there contains one inquiry question, and several videos that explore that question.
All of the videos are dated. So it is worth noting that one could also track our conversational themes linearly - and as the editor, I happen to find that pathway quite moving, as it reveals the subtle changes in each of us over our 2 months, something I only fully appreciated once I was immersed in the editing process.
Our conversation timeline was:
May 15 - Conversation 1
June 1 - Conversation 2
June 14 - Conversation 3
June 22 - Conversation 4
June 29 - Conversation 5
Jul 5 - Conversation 6
Jul 13 - Conversation 7
Jul 18 - Conversation 8
All but conversation 8 are spread across our various inquiry questions. But our final conversation is the sole exemplar for our last inquiry question, "What does it mean to complete a life?" Artistically and emotionally, I simply couldn't find it in me to cut up that final conversation. In its entirety, it presents a quality of "goodbye"—and of grief, and conclusion. It stands on it's own, so it is presented that way. (I would advise watching it once you've gotten to know us through other clips a bit, so that the full flavor lands in a more contextualized way.)
You'll also see that we have a tab called "epilogue." This wasn't something we imagined with Doug; it emerged spontaneously after his death. Both Rob and I felt that our conclusion of this project required a video with just us, processing Doug's passing. I was then moved to reach out to Doug's wife, Walker. We spoke with Walker 2 months after Doug's death, and she shared with us the story of Doug's dying time. This is the final video on the epilogue page.
Truth be told, the questions and our inquiries were often interwoven. We didn’t set out to create the “comprehensive FAQ on dying” or “10 tips for dying well”, though we often joked about that. The site is made to be non-linear. You can start anywhere, and stop anywhere.
Doug’s vision was that the site would invite you into your own inquiry—whether you are living with an imminent terminal diagnosis, supporting someone who is, or are living amidst the luxurious denial of death that we non-diagnosed people are free to revel in. Wherever and whoever you are, you are invited into our inquiry, and to allow it to stimulate your own. It is an inquiry about dying, and it is about loving. It is about letting go, holding on, intimacy and separation. It is an inquiry about living.
As you take this into your life, we hope you’ll take time to consider the questions we wrote at the bottom of each of the conversation pages. These inquiry questions were Doug’s idea, and his suggestion for how to help you, our visitor, make this project something alive for you. In the end, Rob and I wrote these questions without Doug, as he had died by the time this site was completed.
It’s worth saying a bit more about that sequence of events: In a way, I believe none of the three of us really expected Doug would die before we finished this. In many of our conversations, including our last (which we did not seemingly recognize as our last), we reveled in the creative process of what we were making together, and we looked forward to more. In my own projection of Doug’s dying out into some other future time, I always imagined it would come after we had had a chance to put some final touches on this together, or at least, come close.
As I watch our final conversation on July 18, it now seems obvious to me that it was our last time together. On one hand, that naïveté seems to be yet another expression of the "ingenuity" of the denial of death we spoke about repeatedly together. But I also treasure the innocence of how we all planned for more, even on that day, and how we were graced with a wave of confidence that we’d see each other again. There is something so beautiful to me about that innocence, the innocence of life roaring full tilt forward in ignorance of ending.
Yet, as you'll see, that same inquiry of what it means to live fully—with dying in view—sits deep in the heart of this whole project. In one moment, life fully lived appears as the white-knuckle holding on to all we love with everything we have. In another, it shows up as the fullest possible participation with the radical liberation of our own ending. Neither is better, neither is the goal.
I cherish how doggedly we three wrestled with this inquiry, and how sublimely unresolvable it was, and is. Now, at the culmination of the whole endeavor, I also cherish how undone the project is—how many conversations with Doug and Rob there still are in my heart, unfinished. Today I see that holding on of life and longing not merely as blind ignorance, but as a measure of our love and appreciation for what we had become together.