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Remembering Denny Blouin

Posted 6 december 2016.

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Denny (Denault) Blouin died in Halifax on October 19, 2016. In the days leading up to his passing, he was no longer able to walk or speak or—worst of all—swallow. Most likely he died from dehydration and malnutrition.

On the evening of October 18, four men from a longstanding support group went to visit him. They had no idea that they would be the last friends to see him alive. One man reported that when they arrived, he did not seem aware of their presence. They began by talking to him, one by one, in a gentle and loving way. They stroked his head. Denny's eyelids fluttered and his breathing began to deepen. Then it was time for them to go.

At 4:15 the next morning the night nurse at the nursing home phoned Denny's wife Barbara, and told her that Denny had passed. He died without pain or struggle.

Here are two accounts from the sukhavati, held three days later at the Halifax Shambhala Centre. This send-off was awesome. Denny had asked his friend Kermit Stick to be the preceptor about four years before he died. Kermit told Denny that he'd never done a sukhavati, but he would try. According to Kermit, Denny replied, "Don't fuck it up!"

The sukhavati continued in this atmosphere: many uses of the f— word, many raunchy stories, some sad stories. Much laughter and some tears. A number of people later said it was the best sukhavati they had ever been to.

At the end of the sukhavati the coffin was carried out to the front of the building. It had been a rainy day off and on. While the coffin was waiting for the hearse to arrive the skies opened and poured rain over Denny. At the same time the sky was brilliant yellow, and several rainbows were seen. [See photos below]

Photos by Ruth Whitehead

The following are excerpts from eulogies by two of Denny's closest friends, Peter Showler and Alan Sloan.

From Peter Showler

My first memory of Denny is standing beside Kootenay Lake, surrounded by mountains, saying, with great enthusiasm while sweeping his arm in a great circular motion, "This is so fucking beautiful!" And then a crooked smile for emphasis.

Over a friendship of more than forty years, I am surprised to see that in every memory, Denny is smiling, actually, more of a big, wide-mouthed grin than a smile. This is surprising because Denny wasn't a particularly happy guy. Like most of us, he had his good and bad moments, and he was often angry.

I now realize that grin was a kind of punctuation, expressing his wonderment at the world. It had little to do with happiness. He could as easily say, with equal intensity, "You know, he really is a son of a bitch!" That was Denny: intense, intellectual, direct, and deeply aware of life's ironies.

Denny became a Buddhist in Kaslo, British Columbia, in the mid-seventies. Kaslo was an idyllic little town on the shores of Kootenay Lake, surrounded by the Kootenay mountains. Denny had come to Kaslo from Missoula, Montana, with Paul and Jenny Warwick and their three daughters, Julia, Anna, and Katie. The Warwick family were a central part of Denny's life. Despite later separations of geography, they were never far from the middle of his heart.

Before Kaslo, Denny and Paul were rambunctious and radical young professors at the University of Montana in Missoula. At the time, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War and Denny was an outspoken public opponent of the war, to the delight of his students, if not the university administration and parents. During one anti-war demonstration, the local TV station filmed Denny leaping onto a parking meter to exhort the students. In a trailer clip for the local evening news, Denny continued to leap onto that parking meter for the next six years. His self-exile from the United States on political and moral grounds was inevitable.

Denny and the Warwicks first built the "Octagon" cabin just outside of Kaslo, then later moved into town. Kaslo was a pretty town but it was also hard-scrabble rural living that depended on seasonal employment. In the following few years, Denny worked as a tree planter, carpenter, fire fighter, and any other job that paid a decent wage.

He joined Paul, Jenny, and Richard Cima in forming the Kootenay Dharmadhatu as Buddhism became an increasingly important part of his life. It was a romantic time and place to be a Buddhist. Dharmadhatu members were scattered throughout different valleys in the region. Most maintained a strong daily sitting practice and drove into Nelson for a monthly all-day sitting.

There was a crazy, twelve-hour night ride through the mountains to Vancouver in a beat-up truck with a bottle of Irish whiskey to serve as guards for His Holiness the Karmapa. There were long, crowded, twenty-four hour car rides down to Boulder for the annual December seminar given by Rinpoche, with pit stops for big western breakfasts and rolling into sleeping bags under frozen, star-filled skies. The first stop in Boulder was invariably the Salvation Army store to buy four-dollar suits and ties in a dubious effort to comply with Rinpoche's attempt to bring his unruly students back into civilization. The tie I am wearing today was given to me by Denny who clearly understood yun far earlier than I.

Eventually there were more visitors to the Kootenays as the Dharmadhatu prospered: speakers such as Alan Sloan, David Darwent, Allen Ginsberg, and eventually, Rinpoche himself, to open the new Dharmadhatu in Nelson.

In 1976 Denny's son, Matthew, was born and Denny's life changed forever. Denny was living in Kaslo with Matthew's mother, Arleta, and her daughter Bessy. During a winter of unemployment, he became Matthew's primary caregiver. The following spring Arleta left Kaslo, but there was never any doubt who would be Matthew's continuing parent. Mellowed by Buddhism and the life of a single parent, Denny returned to the United States, passing through Karma Choling and other Buddhist centres before landing in Boulder where he met and soon thereafter and married Barbara Downing. In 1981 the family moved to Halifax.

Excerpts from a eulogy by Alan Sloan

I first met Denny Blouin while on a Vajradhatu teaching tour of the Pacific Northwest in the fall of 1976. I remember standing outside in the crisp weather gazing at a majestic mountain range in the Kootenays, chatting with Denny. He struck me as one of the most intense human beings I'd ever met. Over the next forty years, that first impression continued to hold true, but with a slight refinement. Denny was not just an intense human being, he was intensely human, and he lived his life with as much focus, determination, loyalty, irritation and honesty as humanly possible.

With an almost perpetual scowl, it took me a while to realize that Denny wasn't actually angry with me. He was just angry, kind of like some people are just sweet or intellectual or playful. Denny's basic anger manifested as a prickliness, an edginess that you couldn't help but feel as well as see. He was angry without necessarily being angry at something or someone. It had a purity to it.

The amazing thing, however, was that Denny's anger did not define him. It was more like an ornament. He had this amazing capacity for what we now call, "deep listening." I could talk with Denny about any challenge or problem or confusion that I was experiencing, and he would take the time to listen without judgment, bias or interference. When listening, he only spoke to ask me clarifying questions — not leading, loaded questions, and never with the intention of offering advice. His questions always led to greater clarity and heart, giving me new insights, courage and humor. Angry people are often impatient, and Denny could be terribly impatient. But never while listening to and caring for his friends.

This is, I think, the greatest gift a friend can give — to help you find your way without pointing to the direction himself. He was eloquent, kind, gentle and humble ... while still slightly angry. I think Denny was a true protector of the dharma, like the statues of Fudo, the wrathful protectors in Japanese temples. Within his friendships, Denny's anger was a mirror, reflecting clearly, accurately, unashamedly, and compassionately whatever was there to see within oneself.

Denny, you have taught me how to look without cowardice, but with kindness, at my confusion and limitations. The mirror you held up is now securely anchored in my heart. Please, continue on your journey, old friend, and don't worry about us, your family and friends. We will be fine. That's our inheritance from knowing you.


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