It was the ultimate family celebration. A time for all of us in the tribe to count our myriad blessings. We weren't smug about it or anything; we knew how fortunate we were. We just didn't realize how tenuous our hold on happiness really was. But can you blame us? All four members of the Ladner-Beaudry clan were healthy, happy and looked to the future with nothing but optimism and good will. We were a typical 21 st century middle-class family. We had our issues, sure. But nothing that was insurmountable.
Indeed, life looked entirely bright. The girls were growing up into thoughtful and productive adults, Wendy had a busy and fulfilling career going on, and I... well, I was having a heck of a lot of fun writing and telling stories.
Christmas '08 was great that way. We celebrated the day with our annual Whistler Mountain family ski-around - saw all our old friends and acquaintances - and closed out the Yule festivities with a big turkey dinner and lots of toasts to our good health and fortune. Little did we know how much our life would change in the intervening 12 months.
Maybe it's because I just celebrated my 55 th birthday. Maybe it's because the Christmas season has always featured such a strong family theme for me. Whatever. I miss Wendy more this week than I have in a long time. And though my daughters try valiantly to mask their emotions, I know they feel exactly the same way I do...
It's been eight months since my lovely wife was stolen from our lives. Eight long, difficult months in which we three survivors have done what we can to rebuild our shattered existence. And it hasn't been easy. Our home is full of ghosts. The ghost of Wendy's smiling face in the morning; her quiet insistence that we "think of our next astern" when we got too me-focused; her laughter at my stupid jokes; her calmness in a storm; her warmth; her friendship; her unqualified love.
She was the glue that held the family together. The steady hand at the helm. And while I gallivanted around the world searching out good stories to tell, she remained at home and kept the hearth fire burning.
And yet she never complained. Mostly she took what life handed to her in stride. "It's all part of the job," Wendy would say with just a hint of irony in her smile. And though she would voice her frustration with my domestic ineptitude from time-to-time, as long as I made an effort she was happy.
But it's not like she restricted herself to the domestic front. In the outpouring of public grief that resulted from her untimely passing, one theme ran clear among her friends and colleagues. Everyone who had dealings with her - from her co-directors on the board of the B.C. Games Society, to the women working with her at Legacies Now to the gals on her field hockey team to the parent volunteers at her daughters' sports clubs - though they benefited from 100 per cent of Wendy's time and effort.
Amazing, isn't it? Sometimes it's the busiest people who make life look easy. "My goodness," one of her work colleagues told me recently, "I never realized just how busy her life was. Anytime I called her up for help, she always seemed available. Mostly, she made me feel like she had nothing better to do than to assist me with my problems. Now I know she just made it sound that way..."
And the posthumous honours have been stacking up. Wendy was recently inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in the "In Her Footsteps" category. Celebrated in a surprisingly emotional ceremony at B.C. Place "in recognition of her inspirational achievements on behalf of women in sport," Wendy's story will now endure in perpetuity.
On the local front, Peter Bossinger (VANOC's alpine venue boss) told me a few weeks ago that one of the jumps on the new women's Olympic downhill course would be named in her honour. He even suggested a moniker: Ladner's Roll . How appropriate I thought. So many Wendy memories on that particular hill. So many runs together back to the valley...
No question. Wendy was a one-off, a uniquely talented individual who could make the impossible merely look difficult. And now that she's gone, a growing number of us are beginning to understand just how powerful a role model she really was.
And still is.
"I think about her so much," says her close friend Cathy Jewett. "I think of all the lessons she taught me - without making them sound like lessons. She had so much to give. She had such a great spirit. I miss her all the time..."
I do too. And never more than right now. But this story isn't about missing Wendy. It's about dealing with the social trappings of Christmas Week when things aren't going so well. I mean, the Ladner-Beaudrys aren't the only ones in this valley struggling with new and difficult circumstances. Whether managing rocky finances or having to endure a loved one's battle with cancer, handling a daughter's untimely death or facing the loss of a job or even the loss of one's physical mobility, there are countless Whistlerites out there who have a legitimate reason for being unhappy on Christmas Day.
And yet. And yet...
There is still so much to be thankful for. I look at my two daughters - strong and confident and competent and cheerful (and so much a reflection of their mom) - and I can't help but smile. Sure, dealing with the grief of Wendy's passing has been just as hard for them as it's been for me. But they seem so much more resilient than their old man. In so many ways, they've already moved on with their lives. And I couldn't be prouder of them.
Or more thankful for the love that they've shown me during this Annus Horribilis. A hug from Maya, a smile from Jenna - even sharing a meal together on Sunday night - what I once considered the "little" things of daily life go a long way in soothing my tortured soul.
That said, my daughters' growing happiness is just one of the many blessings bestowed upon me. Take my friends. I don't know what I would have done without them. Whether it was Rob Boyd phoning me up from Europe to check up on my sanity, or Binty and Cheryl Massey opening their house up to me when I was at my most vulnerable, or Bob Daniels finding me an apartment for the winter, or David Patterson making sure I got out of the woods in one piece during November's monster snow cycle, the efforts made by my buddies on my behalf have rendered the last few months more than just tolerable.
This, to me, is what community is all about. And although few of them would ever take credit for it, they have brought much joy to my life.
And don't forget the mountains. I'm taking personal credit for our early snow this year. I don't care how the weather forecasters explain it. Don't care that it benefited a lot of other people at Whistler. I've convinced myself that the mountain gods wanted to make me happy last month.
And happy I certainly was. Whether it was skiing mid-winter lines in belly-deep snow or sitting at the top of Whistler Peak and watching the sun set on one horizon and the moon rise on the other - and then skiing all the way to the valley in full darkness - these last few weeks on the mountain have been nothing short of phenomenal. For minutes at a time I've been able to shut down the incessant monologue running through my head and just appreciate the moment.
So what if my knees are so battered that I can barely make it though a day of skiing before I have to hobble away in defeat? So what if my mountain of problems is still with me when I kick my boots off? Or that I remain all alone at the end of the day? I'm still a very lucky guy. And I remind myself of that every time I can.
So Merry Merry everybody. And make sure you count your blessings! More importantly, make sure you tell the ones you love just how important they are in your life. Hug your spouse for no reason. Give your kids a squeeze. Call up your parents. Send an e-mail to a friend just to say hello.
And if you are going through bad times this particular Christmas, stop for a moment and reflect on the good things you've got and how fortunate you are for living in such magical surroundings. It could always be worse.
I know. I know. I've said all this before. But believe me - given what I've been through these last few months, I figure this is a message that bears repeating.