Obituary of Wendell Hyde
Wendell’s internment and celebration of life will be Sunday June 20th, Time: 1:00 p.m, in the St. Andrews East Protestant Cemetery in St. Andre d’Argenteuil, Quebec. Please do not bring food or alcohol, just a cherished memory you might want to share.
A Short Bio of Wendell Hamilton Hyde, June 2, 1943-June 9, 2021
Wendell was a true renaissance man, equally at ease in his kitchen preparing preserves, his woodworking shop building beautiful objects, or sitting around a table talking philosophy and politics. He was a maker of beautiful things, from the magnificent cutting boards still treasured by many, to the huge butternut desk, or etched windows he made for our house in Rivington, and of course, the crowning glory that was the 2,000 square foot log home, with its dovetailed corners and cathedral ceiling.
Wendell grew up in the little village of St. Andrews East, Quebec and had a childhood that seemed to span two centuries. There was the grist mill run by his grandfather that would bring horse drawn wagons to fill up with grain, the huge garden his father had that supplied much of their food, and the fishing and hunting Wendell did to augment the family food supply. It was both idyllic and deeply rooted in nature’s cycles. But inside this small-town boy, there lay the seeds of an adventurer, an explorer, a philosopher, and a master craftsman. The vehicle that enabled him to see beyond the borders of his almost mythically innocent childhood was books. They expanded his horizons and fed his intense curiosity and wide-ranging interests.
By 1971 Wendell had become a world traveller. He drove overland from Europe to India in a VW van which he outfitted for “the grand adventure.” But he knew intuitively that it is not how far you go, or how many countries you visit, it’s about how deep you go into the culture and history of a people. After some months living in the Pfelzerval forest of Germany, making money off the American GIs, he fixed up the van and headed towards Crete. It was on that ferry boat, from Athens to Crete that he met me, the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life.
Together, we spent another seven months exploring the entire island of Crete. Then after a brief visit to Israel, we headed east to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, which turned out to be Wendell’s favourite country. We lived for two months beside a nomadic village in Band-e Amir, before heading up to Mazar-i-sharif to see the historic remains of Alexander the Great’s passage, and then we had to hunker down for quite a while in Kabul so that Wendell could recover from typhoid fever and hepatitis. Altogether we lived there for nine months, long enough to experience the dignity, power and beauty of the Afghan people at that time, to witness their culture, enjoy their incredible rabab music, and see the magnificent Bamiyan Buddhas before the Taliban destroyed them. Then, as the snows started creeping down the Hindu Kush mountains, we headed out through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, and on to India. It was at the Sikh temple that we had our first “marriage.” After they hung the marigold necklaces around our necks and blessed our union, the head monk turned to Wendell and said, “May your name be known in the world of men.” And then without quite realizing it, we began to slowly head home, back to Canada, to a culture that had changed so much in the two and half years we’d been gone. He was already dreaming about building his own log home out of squared timbers. As one door closed in his life, another one opened.
In Wendell’s life, as in all of ours, it is often the very things we label a curse or misfortune, that also turn out to be the greatest gifts. When Wendell got Legg Perthes at the age of 11, he had to spend nine months in a rigid cast from his sternum to his knees, unable to attend school or hang out with his friends. But his beloved Aunt Gladys fed him a steady diet of books that she’d bring back every week on the train from the Montreal. It opened the world to him and gifted him with one of his greatest joys in life: reading.
Many decades later, in 2006, he experienced another huge loss. It came to him in the form of macular degeneration, an eye disease that robbed him of what he’d so dreamed of doing in his retirement: rereading the collected works of Jung, and some of the many history and science books that he had collected. But this tragedy also contained a gift, though it was impossible to recognize, except in hindsight. Nothing less than the loss of his sight would have been sufficient to cause him to leave the home he’d built on “the land” where we were married in ’78, raised our son Matt, hosted huge annual seders, and had our own private swimming hole on the Maskinonge River. We had spent 40 years living in “god’s country,” but now we had no choice but to leave. By the end of 2011 we found ourselves, by accident or design, in a small bungalow in the village of Vankleek Hill, Ontario. It was a tough transition for both of us, but especially for Wendell. Gone were the clear night skies of Rivington, all filled with stars and silence. Gone were the deer in the front yard who he loved to feed all winter. And gone was the transcendentally beautiful home he’d built with so much craftsmanship that even the building inspector pronounced it one of the most well-built homes he’d ever seen. What else was there to do but make the best of it. So, he turned to what he knew best and began to renovate, first the interim house, and then he completely rebuilt the house on Jay Street that became our next beautiful home. There were also internal changes occurring in him, propelled by the move and the need for rebirth.
Wendell, the long professed “friendly hermit,” began to morph into a social butterfly. With the help of new friends, like Nick Goursky, he found his way up the street to the Windsor Tavern. The men he met there every Thursday became his close and much-loved companions over the next ten years. One of the highlights of those early years was when Nick asked him to help him out in his woodworking shop. Wendell was eager but also a little apprehensive because he could no longer read the tape measure by then. Nonetheless he said yes, and soon discovered that even though his eyes could no longer see, his hands still remembered. What a joy those days in the shop were for him. To feel useful again and be able to pass on his knowledge, to Nick or his assistants meant so much to him. Wendell was a born teacher, long after he retired from his two years at Laurentian Regional High School as the shop teacher in the late 70’s. Passing on his knowledge gave him great pleasure.
Meanwhile, I became deeply involved with Arbor Gallery, and slowly began bringing Wendell into the fold. Soon, he was happily making his spaghetti sauce for the Murder Mystery plays, his “world famous” ribs for 80 people at the Ribs and Rock and Roll fundraiser, and so much more. Then there was the music. The town was alive with it, and he loved it all, from the monthly Blues on Tues, to Wednesday nights at The Blueberry Bistro, to the great music concerts at Knox Presbyterian. He never missed a beat.
As the social butterfly spread his wings, we created the “Happy Everything Party” an annual open house in December that brought forty or more of the most interesting people we knew together in the magnificent open living room, kitchen, dining room that he’d envisioned and built. Having so many people around to hear his stories, so many different foods to sample, so much wine, and laughter…it didn’t get better than that for Wendell.
When Covid came it stole much of that from him, and from all of us, but he continued to enjoy his garden, help Matt every year wash his growing garlic crop, and he continued to make dozens of jars of pickles, preserves, jams and jellies which he loved to give away.
Also, as much as possible, he continued his daily walks with his beloved dog, Kizzie. By then, nearly everyone in town knew Wendell. He was the old guy who looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Indiana Jones, walking his absolutely adorable little dog around the village. They made each other famous. He finally achieved the status of being a true “character,” who loved to talk to new people in town, often inviting them to our next party so he could introduce them to the other great characters living in Vankleek Hill. He loved his frequent visits to the bank, never forgetting to bring along Kizzie’s cookies so that the women at the Bank of Nova Scotia could enjoy feeding her. She was as much their emotional support dog, as his.
Anyone who has known Wendell would no doubt agree that he was a man of strongly held opinions and he liked to be in control of things. This trait, which often became a bit much for family and friends, stood him well in the final months of his life. When we got the diagnosis on March 10th, that he had terminal, inoperable brain cancer with only three to six months to live, he acknowledged it, embraced it, and began to choose with great clarity, not only how he wanted to die, but most of all how he wanted to live in the precious time that was left to him. Days after the surgery we went to his doctor’s office to begin preparing the papers to have Medical Assistance in Dying. If at all possible, he wanted to leave with dignity, no pain, and full consciousness.
Joseph Campbell, an author Wendell loved, once wrote, “If you’re falling, dive. We’re in freefall into the future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. All you have to do to transform your hell into paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a…shift of perspective, that’s all it is…Joyful participation in the sorrows…and everything changes.”
And so, in those final months he, Matt, and I embraced what could have been hell, and turned it into a kind of paradise, full of love, and so much healing, listening, reminiscing, and honouring. Wendell was never more of a father to Matt than at the end, and never more of a “true companion” husband for me than in those final three months. Just like the Legg Perthes that brought him to reading, and the macular generation that brought him to a place of community and belonging, the cancer too brought him a great gift. It woke him up from the trance that perhaps we all live in, the distracting fog of complaints, anger, disappointment, and frustration that blind us to the beauty and love that’s all around us. Within weeks of the surgery, life took on a preciousness that almost instantly turned his glass from half empty, to overflowing. He told the oncologist that he didn’t want the chemo they were offering. “I’m nearly 78 years old,” he said. “I’ve lived a good life, had the grand adventure, met the woman of my dreams, built a house, a business, helped many young people over the years, and had a wonderful son who I’m proud of. It’s enough.”
Then, with his trademark clarity and control, he proceeded to meticulously put his literal and figurative house in order. He made sure that I had the furnace and air conditioning checked, ordered the firewood for the winter, went to the gardening center, in his wheelchair, so that he himself could pick out the tomatoes and other vegetables that Matt would plant for him so that we could all eat from his garden even after he was gone. He went to the tombstone maker to choose the colour and shape of his stone, took Matt and I to the cemetery to show us where he wanted that stone to be placed, narrowed down the list of final visitors including one last trip to Rivington to say goodbye to old friends. All that was left was the final party: his 78th birthday and our 50 years together anniversary. It was something he’d been looking forward to even before the cancer diagnosis. And it turned out to be a small piece of perfection in a chain of perfect moments. Even the weather that day was perfect for Wendell, not too hot or too sunny. Friends came up onto the deck to sit with him and share their final words. There was great food (a must for Wendell) and the small numbers increased the sense of intimacy and connection. Then I stood up, as he and I had planned, told our friends the story of how we’d met, and played our wedding song, “Into the Mystic.” Tears were shed, and we raised our glasses in a final toast. Did they realize that it would be the last time they’d see Wendell? Probably not, but Wendell knew, and I knew it too. The only thing that surprised us was how quickly his health degenerated after the party. It was as if the body that had given him twelve weeks of glorious, full tilt life, including the cherry-on-the-top -celebration of his 78th birthday, said to him “I’m done.” By then, all that was left was to choose the final date, and even those plans became ever changing, impossible to hold on to. But we were united in a common goal to help Wendell end his life with as little suffering and as much consciousness as could be managed.
All the way along the way he was blessed. Starting with his brilliant doctors at the Ottawa Civic Hospital and the kind nurses who looked after him following the delicate surgery. Then there were the many health care workers who came to our house to make sure that we had all of the medical knowledge and equipment to enable Wendell to remain at home to the end. And throughout the entire process we were constantly buoyed up by the support we received from friends, neighbours, and even strangers living in Vankleek Hill. I cried everyday when some new offering of food or help would appear out of the blue, a constant reminder that we were not going through this alone.
Wendell rallied on his final evening, finding enough strength to joke about it being his “last supper.” His best friend Eric was there, plus his daughter-of-the-heart Katie, Matt, and myself. He had his last double rum and ginger ale, salty snacks and chocolate chip cookies. Despite his weak body he was ebullient, playful, even humorous, as if he was thoroughly enjoying the final act of the play. There was also a clear sense of relief knowing that his physical suffering would soon be over.
The next morning, he ate brunch with the four of us and was so calm he could breathe easily without needing any mechanical assistance. His incredible mental clarity was being fed now by his courageous spirit; the fearless adventurer was almost eager to set sail into the unknown. He had done it, his way, from beginning to end. There was no need to worry, everything was unfolding exactly as it should.
We stood as one interconnected unit in what we light-heartedly referred to as “the departure room.” Eric, who had been like a brother for 63 years was there, as was Katie, the daughter he had always wanted, and Matt, his beloved son with whom he had cleared away all of the debris that stood between them, leaving nothing but pure love and admiration. And me, his beloved wife and companion sitting on the bed beside him. He was a man at peace with himself, his loved ones, and life. He departed as he wished, with his hand resting lightly on his beloved Kizzie.
What an inheritance he has left us all. Take what you will from your own experiences with the man, as well as this short biography of how he lived and how he died. No doubt, each of us comes with our own special gifts to offer the world, Wendell certainly came with his. From the time he put his feet on the road, back in 1971, he was on a path that Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey.” In myths, the reward is the grail, or something of similarly great value. In Wendell’s case it was the discovery of his own true nature. After a lifetime of searching, and getting lost, over and over again, he finally found it, right at the end. And it enabled him to walk through the final door without fear or regret. The timing was just as we had hoped. The light of the setting sun was pouring in the window of his room when he turned to his doctor and said, “I’m ready.” Moments later he was gone, sailing on to his next grand adventure.
Wendell’s internment and celebration of life will be Sunday the 20th, Time: 1:00 p.m, in the St. Andrews East Protestant Cemetery in St. Andre d’Argenteuil, Quebec. Please do not bring food or alcohol, just a cherished memory you might want to share.
If you wish to make a donation in remembrance of Wendell, The Vankleek Hill Food Bank would be deeply appreciated. Etransfer: email@example.com or by mail Box 23 Vankleek Hill, Ontario, K0B 1R0.
A Tree of Remembrance for Wendell will be planted in the McAlpine Forever Forest for more information visit www.treesofremembrance.com