It was a most unusual obituary.

Instead of mentioning career highlights, it paid tribute to a poet who “loved people, hated people, was bewildered by them yet had a deep understanding of them. Loved until it hurt, distanced himself, held grudges, forgave completely.”

Alyson McLaughlin of Brunswick wrote the obit for her brother, Doug “Digs” McLaughlin, who died Nov. 9 of an apparent heart attack after battling a terminal illness for 3½ years. Published Nov. 16 in the Portland Press Herald, the obituary eschewed the traditional listing of schools, work history and personal interests. What’s left is the essence of a man.

Doug “Digs” McLaughlin died of an apparent heart attack. “The man could dance. He was a writer, a poet. His words had meaning and depth,” said his sister. Photo courtesy Alyson McLaughlin

“That’s what I wanted to get across – the soul of him, the feel of him,” his sister said. “He wasn’t his body of work. None of us are. I feel that’s what we get boiled down to in a lot of obituaries – what we did, not who we are. It’s not what drives us. It’s not what hurts us.”

The poetic, blunt obit conveyed his greatest strengths and deepest flaws.

“He sucked the marrow out of life … every last bit,” his sister said. “He felt, I’m going to experience it. I’m going to feel it except when I’m not going to feel it. Then I’m going to shove it somewhere.”

A LIFE FILLED WITH POETRY

McLaughlin grew up in Falmouth. He worked in restaurants as a waiter for much of his life.

He was a coffee snob who drove crappy cars. He smoked Winstons and sparked conversations about politics, philosophy and sports. He liked to debate people, engage people.

McLaughlin read works by the author Andre Dubus II. He appreciated goofball cartoons and Japanese films by Hayao Miyazaki. He loved watching them with his nephew, Blake Knox.

“They watched ‘Twin Peaks’ and listened to music. There was a lot of Rush. God, he loved Rush and Alice in Chains,” his sister said.

The obituary read: “The man could dance. He was a writer, a poet. His words had meaning and depth.”

McLaughlin said her brother started writing poetry when he was 6 years old. When the principal at his school died suddenly, Doug wrote a poem about him.

“Doug wrote this poem that sounded like it came out of a 30-year-old man,” she said.

McLaughlin wrote a lot about his struggle with alcohol during his 20s. He sought treatment and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He went on medication, attended 12-step meetings and stayed sober for at least a decade.

Writing gave him an outlet to heal during the years he wrestled with his demons.

“He wrote amazing things, gut-wrenching things,” his sister said. ” ‘Here’s my raw emotion vomited on the page.’ His poetry was amazing. It was scathing at times … real. There were absolutely no rose-colored glasses ever worn with his writing.”

His life was defined by incredible love and devastating losses.

On April 28, 2008, his father, Jim, was killed in an accident when the limo he was driving was struck by a drunken driver. He was 65.

Alyson recalled the day she drove to Conway, New Hampshire, to tell her brother their father had been killed.

“Doug had been calling dad all morning,” she said. “As we pulled in the driveway, Doug was outside under the hood of his car. He just crumbled. Doug crumbled.”

Two years before that, on June 18, 2006, McLaughlin’s best friend and cousin, Andy Loeffler, 35, died from complications of injuries he had suffered after being struck by a drunken driver in 2000.

“That was more crushing,” his sister said. “Doug lost a lot when he lost Andy.”

CHERISHED RELATIONSHIPS

McLaughlin loved being with his girlfriend, Ashley Marshall, and her 1-year-old, Ruby Jean Marshall. He treated Ruby as though she were his own daughter and got to see her take her first steps before he died.

Marshall said she and McLaughlin were together from March 2011, with some breaks. They lived in Fryeburg and, before that, Gorham.

“I loved his truth, the honest look in his eyes and his uncanny ability to always know just what I was thinking,” Marshall wrote in a Facebook message. “He was otherworldly in his beauty and his brains. He was so soft and yet so sharp in his body, mind and temperament.”

Marshall said Ruby loved him. She said the sound of his voice almost always calmed Ruby.

“She would snuggle up to his chest and kiss his face with a gentle snuggle on his chest towards the end,” Marshall wrote. “She was too heavy for him to carry or hold really, and she always wanted him to pick her up. … I think he really wished he could have been healthy just for her. So much love.”

‘LOVE, LOVE, LOVE’

In February 2014, McLaughlin came down with a flu-like virus. His sister said he lay in bed for five days. He had no health insurance. His coughing persisted for a few weeks, she said.

One night while at work, McLaughlin’s fingers and lips turned blue. He went to the emergency room in North Conway, New Hampshire, but left without treatment.

Three day later, McLaughlin met with a pulmonologist at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Doctors found that blood clots in his legs had moved to his lungs and caused damage to his heart.

In June 2014, McLaughlin went to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was diagnosed with chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, which is caused by blood clots in the lungs. Doctors said his only option was a double lung and heart transplant, his sister said. He declined.

“He didn’t want to run around with someone’s heart and lungs in his body,” she said.

McLaughlin lived with his sister for a year after he was diagnosed. She reflected on the reality of her brother facing his own death and the will of strength it took to live each day.

“Even toward the end when he physically couldn’t do much, he woke up every morning to be with Ashley and little Ruby,” his sister said. “He loved her fiercely. The joy on his face when he looked at Ruby was vast.”

A week ago, about 70 people gathered at Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland to celebrate McLaughlin’s life. Each table had several pictures of him with family and friends.

The last line of McLaughlin’s obituary read: “In lieu of flowers, just send love, love, love.” It was a phrase he said often. Two days before his service, his sister had “love, love, love” tattooed on her wrist.

“He loved me, and I was better for it, without a doubt,” she said. “I’m an incredibly lucky person to have had that amazing soul be part of me.”

 

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