Remembering Wendy

Okay. I said I would make the blog to be more of a window on my life, even though I remain dubious about the interest value of the view. Sure enough, I’m opening with an obituary. So here we go:

I first met Wendy Buckner in the kitchen of her parent’s place in Ottawa. I was sixteen, shaggy-haired, denim-clad and rather carefree in those days, much like now… sans the carefree part, perhaps. (And certainly not sixteen anymore!) I was there for a round of Dungeons and Dragons with her brother Brent and other like-minded misfits, all of whom preferred it if I smoked my Players cigarettes in the kitchen. So Wendy and I sat and talked and smoked. She was just five years older than me, but youth is sensitive to subtle differences in age, so she seemed much older and very intimidating.

(It all seems kind of bright, those times – sun-washed. The depression, stress, angst, despair and desperation that must have existed then seems to have faded to sepia softness.)

Wendy liked her brother’s misfit friends and our geeky leanings, so I got to see more of her as the years went on, and we became good friends. If geeks have anti-social leanings, then Wendy was the antidote. A social group arose around the enthusiasms of movies in general, science fiction and fantasy television and literature, and Vietnamese food. It lasted, I suppose, for about 10 years, until the summer of 1992 when an exodus of  bodies left Ottawa in search of education, work and, in my own case, a life. From those times, many people remember the blossoming of her artistic sensibility and her utterly bedazzling calligraphic paintings, but I also remember her innate skill as a designer working for the United Way.

During this time, Wendy’s life changed in an instance, surviving a hit-and-run encounter with a truck in downtown Ottawa. During the 1990s, she struggled with constant chronic pain, but she continued to work for a time. She threw herself into creative endeavors: calligraphy, bookbinding, paper-making, jewellery and semi-precious gems, and photography amongst other explorations. In truth, her recovery never ended, but once the lengthy litigation with the insurance company brought her some closure, and a back operation some freedom from pain, she really seemed to blossom. She swam competitively, and built a dynamic social network on the world wide web, via her blog and Facebook. She seemed indomitable.

Holly and I are grateful to Wendy for many things. But mostly for giving us each other.

Through the late 1980s, I had gone down to Ad Astra, the annual science fiction convention in Toronto, with Brent and DAK. By July of 1991, I had had it up to the flashing light atop the USS Enterprise with science fiction geekdom. My life was pretty much in tatters, barely employed at a variety of odd jobs and not much to encourage optimism. Brent talked me into going, saying it would be the last year the Con Suite would offer free beer. He and I had staggered through previous conventions thanks to this traditional largess. Wendy was along for trip that year; she mentioned a friend would be joining us on the Saturday but that didn’t really register. As it turned out, the presence of Wendy and her friend Holly had a civilizing effect on me, as women so often do on men, and I don’t think I visited the Con Suite much that weekend.

(Recently, having rediscovered my inner geek, I’ve been lobbying Holly to consider Ad Astra next year, 20 years on since Wendy introduced us.)

Two days ago Wendy swam a race in the Cayman Islands. Not a feat that would over-tax her normally, she came out of the water blue-lipped and short of breath. Cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where she died. She was only 50 years.

After learning the news, Holly and I spent yesterday morning in shock and profound sadness, then latched onto routine and went like automatons through the walk of minutes and hours. I drank a coffee. Read a newspaper. Tidied the press room. Had lunch. Decided not to do the dishes. Edited images for the auction I covered on Saturday. Dozens, hundreds of tiny, mundane acts, every one delivering a core-rending shock, brutally, unmercifully reminding me that life does indeed go on. But not for Wendy.

Having read this over, I can’t say it is particularly great prose. Wendy deserves better, an elegy… something beyond me. My poor words are fraught and over-wrought but honest, and if only for myself alone, they must do.

What I’m experiencing is a mere fraction of the pain felt by her brother and parents. For them, I reserve my deepest regrets and sympathy. I hope they can find solace.

Wendy blogged and posted on Facebook prior to her last race. Her Facebook post read: “And now, for a swim in the sea!” And that’s where I want to leave it.

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13 Comments on “Remembering Wendy”

  1. Iain Says:

    Well put – so many things that could be said, I wouldn’t know where to start.


  2. I just found out. Thanks for posting this. I only got to spend one weekend hanging out with Wendy in person – at IMWI a couple of years ago. But we’ve stayed in touch, and I will miss her greatly.

  3. Deb Says:

    That’s a lovely tribute to a fantastic person. Well done!

  4. Jenny Says:

    She was indomitable! Thanks for this piece. You know, I met Brent through Wendy also – if asked, I will say that I met him in the comments of her blog…

  5. Brent Buckner Says:

    Thanks for posting.

  6. Marie Says:

    Thank you Larry. It’s a beautiful eulogy.

  7. Andrea M Says:

    Thank you so much Larry.

    I’ve found myself thinking about those days in the late ’80s and early 90’s. Wendy and I wandering off to multiple weekend movies at the Bytown where they conveniently had AC when neither of us did. Then meeting up with the gang on Somerset Street for food and laughter. And maybe another movie – why not?

    I’m lucky enough to have examples of Wendy’s artistic skills in the form of calligraphy, birthday cards and “shiny things”. They are now more precious than ever.

  8. Roy Amodeo Says:

    That was wonderful Larry. Thanks for expressing many of the things I was thinking, but wasn’t sure how to say.

  9. Sylvie Deliencourt Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these memorable moments with Wendy.

    I have known Wendy for the last few years through Technosport. We have swam and coached together at times and she was a very determined person. My last moments with Wendy was at the Canadian Masters Swimming championship in Nanaimo, BC last May. I will allways remember the beautiful 1500 meters she swam. She was so at ease with it. We will miss her lots at the pool and at social events but she will always be a source of inspiration to us swimmers.
    sylvie

  10. Lisa Says:

    I have not seen Brent or Wendy in years and just received the news from a dear old friend in Ottawa. I found this blog on a search and it was nice to read your post and discover that she was still the great girl she was when I knew her 30 some years ago. It was a nice read and a lovely dedication. My thoughts are with Brent and the family.

  11. steph Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. Thinking of you and Holly.

  12. Jason Murphy Says:

    I’m shocked… Wendy and I swam together on many Sunday nights at Plant. She got me out swimming open water last summer at Meech Lake..

    She was always friendly and welcoming, and one of the first swimmers I met when I moved to Ottawa 3 years ago.

    I, like many others will miss her

  13. Doug Says:

    Larry,

    Thank you. While you have captured the sadness we feel for Brent and the family, you also brought a smile from happy memories…thanks to your remarkably clear recollection of those times we were together as a group enjoying the company of friends.

    Wendy touched us all in her unique way.


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