Wendy has left the building, but not our hearts!

 It was about this time, six years ago, that I visited Wendy Hicks in her beautifully appointed apartment at Tollendale Village. Things were in a turmoil as Wendy was selecting the few items she was taking with her to her new, smaller life in Victoria, B.C.

She was moving to Sunrise, an assisted living home in Victoria, to be near her son, Tim, her daughter in law, Jane and her grandchildren Graham and Marianne. Using her signature determination and organization, she was tracking the tremendous decisions around a major move with sticky notes and ‘to-do’s’ in every room. She was distilling her life to the core of what mattered. Her memory was failing her and it was time to unite with family.

My column then remains a testament to a life incredibly, fully, successfully lived.

Wendy died last Saturday, in her room at Sunrise, after six years of steady companionship with her first family.

Every alzheimers victim has his or her own way of managing a depleting memory. Wendy would recognize a face, but not have the details that went with it. She would light up at the presence of a well loved person, but not be able to ask about their family. She charmed every single caregiver at Sunrise and many residents as well. And living in British-centred Victoria, B.C. allowed full range of her English-ness.

Wendy’s son, Tim (the only child of Wendy and Dr John Hicks) has fashioned a splendid online tribute to his mother. http://www.trh.bc.ca/wendy/  It’s all there… her fabulous independence, her remarkable creativity on and off stage, in garden, at podium, with a child’s story book… and I don’t need to repeat it here.

What I think is worth noting is that Barrie has lost a favoured daughter. And feminism has lost a founder. Wendy wasn’t marching in parades, or writing books but in the 1960’s when women were foundering between having what was assigned to them and wanting more. Wendy was just out there, doing it.

She told me back in the early 1970’s that the secret of her marriage to a busy doctor was that he did his ‘thing’ and she did hers and they celebrated together when occasions permitted.

As you’ll see by Tim’s tribute, Wendy’s ‘thing’ was enormous. She was held back by no one and people loved her.

People loved her at Sunrise, too. At first, she enjoyed her beautifully decorated room, distilled to a few pieces of furniture that she truly loved. She would sit at the table she and John had made for them and do her crossword puzzles and mountains of written correspondence. And she’d sit in her favourite easy chair to watch a favourite TV show. For awhile she remembered her life in Barrie and her friends here.

When puzzles and correspondence ceased, she would bundle a book and a small blanket and perch in the home’s spacious reception area, choosing a comfortable chair so she could watch the comings and goings of active human life at her home. In fact, it became ‘Wendy’s chair’ at Sunrise. It reminds me of the street sign Renny deBoer had made for her at Tollendale, Wendy’s Garden.

As her health deteriorated, she was moved to a floor with a higher level of care. And though the connectedness of people-places-things had taken flight, so much of Wendy’s ‘self’ remained, right to the end. During one discussion with staff over her bed, she quipped, “You can go off people, you know!”

To another she said, “you’re not too old to smack.”

And perhaps the most meaningful… in her final days, someone was cradling her head, helping her eat, saying “can you take a sip of this?” And Wendy answered, “yes, mother!” And those were her final words, as she headed home.

We have so many thoughts when a soul takes flight. Wendy Hicks’ soul flitted about in England, in Winnipeg, in Barrie, and lastly in Victoria. She’s flying now and she counted her 80th birthday as the best living funeral a person could have. She told Tim at the time she wanted nothing else. And so her ashes will join those of her husband John next month at Barrie Union Cemetery. And we are left with our memories of a British accent, a signature beehive hairdo, a woman remrkably ahead of her time with a quick response to just about anything.

Thanks, Wendy. Fly well!