By Trent Ernst, Editor
Al Durand on a scouting trip to Kinuseo Falls
Al Durand is dying.
This isn’t the first time he’s been in this situation, but this is going to be the last.
The last time he went in for a cancer operation, his doctors didn’t expect him to make it, but he fought back and won a few more years.
This time, though, there is little chance of him pulling through. His body is slowly wasting away.
Al has been writing for Tumbler Ridge News for many years, and it was with much trepidation that we asked him if he’d be willing to comment on his experiences and share what he’s going through and how he is getting through it with us, and by extension with you, to get his thoughts on dying, in the hopes that his story might help someone else out there who might be going through the same thing, or who is watching a loved one slowly fade away.
This is for everyone who is afflicted with that most fatal of human conditions: mortality.
I’m not afraid of dying. I‘m looking forward to it. It’s just another step in who I am as a soul…a spirit… a consciousness…moving forward to the next level of my evolution, if you want to call it that. I believe that I came from somewhere, spent so many years in this body. Had some difficult times, had some wonderful moments, loved and lost, and at the end of it, none of that’s for nothing. There’s some point to it. Going back to where you came from, or to someplace better, you carry that with you.
People in Asia believe in things that people in North America scoff at and mock, but we’re very new here. We’re young and immature and reckless and wild and stupid. These older cultures are more established. They’re not so focused on self. A lot of it is just the opposite: how can I help you?
You look at a lot of Asian cultures, Indian culture, aboriginal culture, North American Indian culture, South American culture…they’re all on the same belief system. It’s this North American Island of insanity that causes so much agony for ourselves and the rest of the world. We think we’re it.
I went to an experimental retreat with my son Ryan at Nakoda Lodge, just outside of Canmore. We went through several days of intense sharing. Most of the day is contemplation and sharing. And the question you’re asking your partner all day long is ‘Who am I? Who is this ONE that is experiencing this life? Am I my hand? Well, clearly I could lose my hand and still be me. Am I my brain? No, I’m not any of my parts. Well then who am I? And where am I located?
Or we can talk of the millions of people who have near-death experiences and leave their bodies and can still see their bodies. I know that guy. That’s supposed to me, but I’m here. So who is that laying down there?
Sometimes you get granted a gift of a a bigger perspective. We’re all living in a very limited box here, by design. If you work really hard, or sometimes with no effort, you can be granted an insight into something much, much bigger. It’s like all of a sudden, a little window to heaven opens up and someone allows you to take a peek, just for a moment, at something that is so vast and spectacular and you can’t explain it. And then the door closes right away. It’s almost instantaneous, but in that split moment, you are gifted with something so phenomenal that you can never go back to the way you were. And that’s what happened to me.
My experience was simply this. I was walking through the forest one October evening, a full moon in the sky. I was going through this amazing spiritual process, and my body was buzzing and something was happening, I didn’t know what it was. Then out of nowhere, without any effort, I was blasted by what I would call a ‘divine love.’ Love so staggeringly huge that words fail at every level. It was love and acceptance beyond all rhyme or reason, you can’t even come close to describing it. It put me to my knees with my hands in the air. It just happened, it was that big. And a lot of things happened in that moment. I was feeling this intense, warm, love, that you can’t even imagine. It’s the wrong word for it, because we think “I love my wife, I love my kid, I love my car…”no no, it ain’t that. It’s immensely bigger than that. I could feel there was an intelligence behind it. I didn’t see anything, it was just this powerful “knowingness” that this … thing, this being-ness, this consciousness …God if you will…loved me infinitely big and infinitely wide. And it loved us all. Wasn’t just me. I knew we were all loved to that extent. Unconditionally. It didn’t matter what bad things we had done, none of that mattered. It was this phenomenal amount of love and acceptance, and it was powerful.
And at the same moment, I had this…it’s hard to describe, but I felt like I was in two places at once. I was still there, in this physical reality, but at the same moment I was in this other…place, that was way, way, way more “real.”
And you say, ‘what can be more real than this, Al” (slaps his hand). “I mean, this is it.” And I’m telling you, that from this more real place, I looked through this thin space, like a veil. You’ve heard of the veil that separates different dimensions…I’m using words to describe things I cannot describe. But I was on the other side of this thin veil for just a moment, where everything was true, and everything was real, and everything was right and I looked through this veil back at this, where we live. And it occurred to me how illusory this is. There was a truth and a knowingness that I just can’t describe.
So here I am in this other reality looking back through this veil which is very thin, like a sheer curtain, looking back at this, and I thought “my God, it’s all a joke. Everyone takes it so seriously, but it’s just an illusion. It’s just a game.”
And it dovetails in to what the aborigines in Australia said, that we’re living in a dreamtime. And then the Mayans…Maya means ‘illusion’. So if you look into the old traditions, they’re telling us we live in a dream, although it doesn’t feel like it. Einstein, I think, said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Then I was back, and I wasn’t the same again.
So now I am going through the process of dying. My physical body is decaying. My muscle mass is being lost. I’ve got pains, I’m weak. I’m coming to my end of time in this physical world, so what do I do with that? Well, I cry. I have cried. A lot. Because I am attached to this world. My children, myself, missed opportunities, missed pleasures in life. Of course. That’s human, that’s reality here. But is that the ultimate reality, or is that just the reality that I’m in at the moment?
Because of that gift I just described to you, now I know there is something much truer, much more real, far more grand and loving and accepting and all these wonderful things that could ever be imagined here.
So the thing is, how much suffering am I going to be doing now that I’m dying? If I am going to what I know is a much better place, where I’ll be healthier and happier, and I’m not going to lose one moment of consciousness. One day soon, I’m going to slip out of my body and into a new, higher, better, reality. I believe. So why would I fight to stay here? Why would a King fight to stay in the slums, when he could go back to being the King? It’s sort of like that.
That experience helps me deal with dying. If I didn’t have that, and if I didn’t have a strong religious background to fall back on, then I’d be in big trouble, because this would be it. And I would suffer a lot, and I would struggle to stay here as long as possible. I would cling with fangs deeply embedded, because this is all I know. I am so thankful that I don’t have to do that. Some days are more difficult than others, but it’s usually not about ‘I’m dying,” usually it’s about ‘damn, I’m still here.’ He smiles wryly.
Of the five stages of acceptance of death, I’m fully at the far end of the acceptance stage. I’m so ready to go. I just have a few matters to resolve, and a few things to tidy up, but that’s just for the people left behind.
For me, I’m ready 100%. I know my connection with this entity that loves me beyond all knowing is still there. I have no questions about the truth of that. I know that’s where I’ll be going to, and everyone will go there. I know that.
People tell me I’m dealing with this well. I’m just dealing with it the best that I have available to me. I’ve just been gifted with something pretty amazing in order to deal with this in a better way, or a different way. And if I can share that with somebody, they may think I’m completely loopy. They may think ‘Wow, that makes a lot of sense. That helps put all my struggles in life in a different perspective.’ Then at least it’s out there to help someone.
As the days roll on, and as the weeks roll on, I realize that all the things that I had attached myself to over the years, money, prestige, other people’s thoughts of me, relationships, businesses, investments…almost everything has now fallen away. At the end of the day I am proudest that I struggled a lot in this life and as a result I believe I became a much better man, father and businessman.
Al is the owner of the TR Room ‘N House Connection which this year found accommodations for over 60 out-of-town workers and generated over $300,000 in rental income to local families. His children and staff plan on continuing to operate the business after his passing.