“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
– Norman Cousins
This is a departure from the usual ‘Happier Aging’ theme. Quite the opposite in some sense. A dose in reality pertaining to (un)fairness in life. Yet with a silver lining. Highlighting one of the finest people that has ever resided in the Cowichan Valley. My friend, Wendy Bowen.
After I graduated university years ago, I worked in Port Alberni for 18 months in a physiotherapy clinic. I was keen to move back to the south island and a friend arranged for me to get an interview at a clinic in Duncan. I was interviewed by a couple of keen, young physiotherapists — one of whom was Wendy Bowen. Over the next five years while co-workers, I not only made a friend, I found my first professional mentor — even though I didn’t consciously realize it at the time. Wendy was so gifted in many areas. I immediately looked up to her. I grew up playing hockey. So did she. I grew up with a passion for sport and competing. So did she. I grew up wanting to work around active, motivated people. So did she. I love helping people. So did she. I enjoy learning. So did she. As a matter of fact, a lifelong commitment to helping others and to learning and growing as a person – she taught me that connecting with that is truly foundational. She modeled that for me. She taught me so much without me even knowing it at the time.
Last year, Wendy was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. These last few weeks she endured a lot of pain, as her liver got devoured and cancer spread through her body. She took on the challenge like a true champ. If you’ve seen any of her blog posts on her Facebook page, you know that she posted regularly about her journey through the disease, and kept on going with such grace and courage. The same grace and courage and spirit that she has shown her whole life that I’ve known her. Some would say she did it fearlessly. That’s an indication of her courage.
Seeing her post on Facebook the day before her scheduled transition, and the resultant posts by hundreds and hundreds of people whose lives she touched, was truly touching. Heartbreaking and yet beautiful. And what’s more — Wendy invited all who read her post to raise a glass to salute her at 6 p.m. Monday, in her brave transition over. You see, this past Monday was the day Wendy picked for her medically assisted death. Monday around 6 p.m. Wendy received a series of painless injections that allowed her to peacefully transition to her next journey. In homes around the valley, and beyond, people accepted Wendy’s invite to raise a glass to her. On their own, or gathered in small groups, people lovingly took time Monday evening to honour her request, to honour their emotions and memories of Wendy, and to honour this great soul who lived life fully.
As if by grace, the days of torrential downpour prior to Wendy’s departure ceased and the most peaceful clear blue skies arrived Monday afternoon, and continued the following day, allowing unobstructed passage and a clear view of the heavens above.
So incredibly touching also was how Wendy was able to see, before she left, the hundreds of comments acknowledging and responding to her Facebook announcement, sending her love and wishes for peace. And astonishingly, that she acknowledged and ‘Liked’ every single one of the hundreds of Facebook comments to her says even more about her presence, grace, courage and love. It’s unique that someone gets to see their words of condolences before their end here. It’s strange and beautiful at the same time. I’ve personally never witnessed such an outpouring of love like this. It’s an indication of the love Wendy shared with each of us who met her. And as much, an indication of the love she’ll take with her in her soul as she transitions beyond humanity. Wendy’s chosen profession as a Physiotherapist saw her use the touch of her hands to help others recover and heal. And yet she touched people in a way without using her hands that created even more benefit — she touched people’s hearts with her own. She touched your spirit with hers. When you were with Wendy, you felt like you were the only person in the world that mattered to her at that moment. Her knowledge combined with her spirit left you feeling lighter and better at the end of every single visit. Her beautiful combination of humility, talent, knowledge, and care, combined with her compassionate soul, left you feeling like she was doing exactly what she was sent here to do. When you saw Wendy, you knew it was different. Everyone knew. That’s what built her stellar reputation. Wendy’s care possessed a love of every being. Of every soul.
It’s not lost on us who knew her that she touched so many lives using her hands and her heart, and yet the collective hands and hearts that love her — too many to name — were feeling helpless to return the favour. We all learn at some point that life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s even bloody cruel. And that’s a reality here, when those who represent the very best of us are taken much too soon.
Wendy continued to learn every day. For several years, right up until Monday night, she sought deeper spiritual understanding. She applied this to her career as well as in her writings and teachings. One conversation with Wendy and so many interesting doors of learning would appear. She’s one of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever known. She used it for good. For others. Wendy’s legacy will shine bright. No one who knew Wendy will ever forget her. She’s the shining light we all aspire to be. The amazingly compassionate soul we wish to know and be in the company of. A true inspiration that breathes continued courage and compassion into our own lives as we move forward.
Wendy lived her life fully. She didn’t take a week off from life, ever.
There are so many wise lessons we can learn from Wendy, not the least of which is to live life fully, each day. And to be present and care for others more than we ever did before. We miss you, Wendy.
We love you. And thank you.
“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – J.K. Rowling