By Mary Aherne Carey
My first introduction to Douglas Finlayson was at a training workshop with Cork Social and Health Education Project, facilitated by himself and Brendan Connolly of the Irish School of Awareness Therapy. I was so impressed by the way they worked and how they were in the group that I knew I wanted to learn from both of them
I completed my psychotherapy training at I.S.A.T (with Brendan Connolly and Marie Herlihy) and was delighted to be invited by Douglas Finlayson to work with him as co-facilitator working in groups at the Cork institute of Technology. There he worked in the Social Studies Department, not in the academic way, as he had done when he was a lecturer and Social Psychologist at Liverpool University, but as a Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapist, working with groups of mature students, training to become counsellors.
While Douglas had retired from his Academic career in Liverpool University many years previous, he excelled now in his work as a psychotherapist. Here the real human being, with vast life experiences and the university lecturer, with equally vast academic experience, were integrated. We worked together in CIT until 2001, when we set up our own Personal Development/Psychotherapy Group in Ballycotton. Here we co- facilitated weekend workshops in group psychotherapy, for participants who wanted to continue their personal work following training or as part of their ongoing training and personal development, until Douglas became ill last summer.
During my working association with Douglas in these groups, it was clear to me that he was a man of many skills and talents. He had what I would describe as a fantastic brain and intellect, full of information, knowledge and wisdom, he was never selfish or too proud, always willing to share, using just the right word or phrase, enabling people to be at ease. He related in a humanistic manner, person to person, not as a lecturer to student. His friendly, open and supportive presence made learning and group participation a joy for many.
Douglas had the wonderful ability of integrating his knowledge, of nature, the’ birds and the bees’, the flowers and the trees, his woodwork and his stained glass with vast knowledge of psychotherapy. He was an avid reader, and while he loved to read novels and fiction for relaxation, the vast majority of books in his library in Cork had to do with the Theory and Practice of psychotherapy. He was well read and constantly studied all aspects of psychotherapy, with real personal interest and enthusiasm. He had a person-centred-approach, using techniques of many different theories; he was lifted in the facilitation of individuals and groups, especially working with dreams, images and visualisation.
There was a spirituality about him and his work. Even he would admit sometimes that there was no knowing what to do, that he was often rendered absolutely helpless and that there has to be a higher power, greater than he present. Often he was filled with awe and moved to tears as people opened up to the beauty and the wonder of their own humanity, right before our very eyes.
The combination of Douglas’ personal life experiences together with his academic training is what made him a very special person indeed. In his work as a psychotherapist, he had the essential qualities of caring and empathy, support and understanding, strength and vulnerability, acceptance and love. The greatest of these was Love. People loved him for his inner strength and wisdom, for his gentleness and his supportive challenges, his honesty and his humility, and his ability to be real in the relationship. He was at his most compassionate when people were at their most vulnerable, and he had a strong presence of unconditional positive regard. He had a great love of life and had empathy with other human beings. This was the Douglas I grew to know and respect. We were colleagues and became friends. We were companions on a journey and became Soul Mates. We were partners in the practice of psychotherapy. We had a very good working relationship, honest, caring, challenging and supportive, with a high regard and real respect for each other, acknowledging both our similarities and differences.
On a personal note, Douglas was an extraordinary man living a very ordinary life both here in Cork, and in his home in Scotland. He was not limited by geographical boundaries. He bridged his life between Ireland and Scotland with air transport and telephone calls. My sense of him was that he had the ability to be present to the experiences of his life in both cities at the same time. He loved his home, and his family were always priority for him. He was happiest when he was working with nature, cultivating the land, growing fruit and vegetables, attending to the flower gardens, and the bees with their honey. He loved being in Cork also, working with clients and groups, spending quality time with friends and colleagues, taking in a rugby match in Henchies especially when Scotland were playing. Because of the nature of the job, self-care was all important and Douglas knew this very well. He loved to buy healthy fresh food from the various stalls at the market, and really enjoyed his interactions with people there on a regular basis. Every opportunity he had, he took a stroll along the Atlantic Pond at the Marina or along the Estuary at Rochestown, Inchydonny, his favourite beach in Ireland. Fresh air and exercise were important to him. Even the last time I spoke with him, which was to he his last good day as his family describes it, Douglas had gone to his favourite beach in Edinburgh and had been out and about in the cool crisp air of Scotland. Even in the face of death, he tried to live life to the fullest.
I knew him as a responsible, capable man, never neglecting chores or duties. He was committed fully to everything and everybody he was associated with. He approached work, rest and play with openness, fun and enthusiasm with willingness, never procrastinating, living in the now, focussing on the task and getting the job well done. In Ireland, as he didn’t have a garden to attend to, he learned the ability to do nothing, to be still, to meditate, to enjoy his own company, and to occupy his spare lime listening to music and developing his stained-glass hobby. He lived a healthy life full of energy and vitality. Getting old and becoming seriously ill were not on the agenda for him. Unfortunately, in July last year he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was forced to face the changes in his life that this reality brought about.
The pain of letting go of his psychotherapy practice and group work was difficult for him to bear, but also liberating in the sense that he gave himself permission to be ill and gave himself the time without the pressure to get well. Alas, this was not meant to be. We all knew, including Douglas himself that his death was imminent, but we had no idea when. While we were reluctantly watching and waiting for the inevitable, it took us by surprise in the end, when we least expected it. That’s what death does isn’t it; it takes us by surprise, even though it is right there in front of us.
When I was recovering from my own close encounter with cancer a few years ago the spiritual, emotional and physical pain was too much for me, I turned to books in search for the meaning and understanding of death. I did not find it. When Douglas was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I searched and searched again, looking for words and meaning that would make it all go away, make it all better. Alas, I did not find the solution this time either, a solution to human suffering and death. The only solution I guess is acceptance; that big word many of us human beings have difficulty with. Douglas and I often talked about and explored what death and dying meant to each of us. To be honest, the only conclusion we came to, is that there is no knowing, until we come to experience death ourselves. Douglas is one step ahead of us now; he knows what it is like to die. It is my true belief that he died in peace and harmony with himself and others. He had the warm and loving support of his family around him. He is gone to his new home now and final resting place. I have no doubt but he will live on in the hearts, minds, and souls of those of us who loved and valued him while he was here on earth.
Douglas died on the 4th of November following a short stay in hospital in Edinburgh. He passed away ‘between one breath and the next’ his family told me. How fitting for Douglas who used breath and breathing as a central part of his work, a central part of his life, and finally a central part of his death.
On the 6th of December, Cork Social and Health Education Project held a commemoration service for Douglas at Bessborough Spiritual Centre. This gave people in Ireland an opportunity to come together in a group, to acknowledge the importance of Douglas in their lives, to have an opportunity to give and receive support, and to sympathise with members of Douglas’ family, who came to Cork for the service. It was a very sad and moving experience attended by family, friends, colleagues and clients, who took the opportunity to share memories, to bring symbols, to speak a few words or just be silent-just to be present, together, in our loss. In my preparation for this special occasion, my fear and anxiety urged me to turn my attention once more to books, looking for real words of wisdom, and found none this time either, none I could call my own. So in my own wisdom I resorted to turning my attention inward, to connect with my own heart and soul, to trust my own words to come to me in my attempt to honour and pay my last respects to my friend and colleague, Douglas Finlayson.
And so we have had to bid Douglas farewell. May he rest in peace. May his family, friends, and those of us who mourn him, cope with our grief in a gentle, caring, loving way. May we accept our helplessness over his departing from us and fill ourselves with joy and gratitude for the presence of him in our lives, Douglas will always be with us in Spirit. With time, we must learn to let him go, with Love in our hearts, to let him rest in Peace, AMEN my ANAM CARA, MY Friend and colleague, Douglas Finlayson.