Learning to live without

Many years ago, in one of the idiosyncrasies of journalism school, we spent a day writing obituaries. The instructor talked about not making them too flowery, as had been the fashion decades earlier. He talked about newspapers routinely interviewing prominent people so their files were up to date when those prominent people died. And, this being in the days before digital photos and e-mail, he talked about the "dirty" task of knocking on the door of a grieving family and asking for a photo of their deceased loved one.

There wasn't any discussion about how to handle obituaries of personal friends and family members. For that training, they could have sent students to Whistler.

Two weeks ago it was Shane McConkey, son of Whistler legend Jim McConkey, step brother of Whistler's George McConkey, friend and inspiration to many, both here and around the world.

Last weekend we lost Wendy Ladner-Beaudry, Stu Archer and Grant "Max" McLellan.

Shane's death, in a ski-base jumping accident, generated lots of media attention and refueled the debate about athletes calculating risks in attempting extraordinary feats, and the consequences of miscalculation. The Globe and Mail dedicated an entire page to it last Saturday.

Stu Archer was found dead in his apartment, apparently of natural causes. His family is all in Ontario. The friends he worked with and made through hockey, softball, golf and nearly 30 years living in Whistler will pay their respects Monday at the conference centre and Merlin's.

"Max" was remembered Sunday night at Tapley's. His death has not generated the sort of media attention that Shane's or Wendy's has. His death falls under the euphemistic category of "lifestyle-related." He didn't have family members nearby, only those friends who saw him regularly about the village.

Wendy's murder, in the middle of the day last Friday in Vancouver, is most shocking. Sister of Whistler's Jinny Ladner, partner of Pique columnist Michel Beaudry, mother of Maya and Jenna and tireless advocate for women and for sports, Wendy's death sparks a different debate than Shane's. It boils down to a far more basic question: Why? In the absence of a satisfactory answer we are left with despair.

Despair and another huge void. If every life is a voice, the loss of one marks a piercing silence amidst what is often a cacophony of noise.

Wendy's voice was strong and pure. Her work with Kidsport, with immigrant mothers and with the B.C. Games Society were manifestations of the values she held so strongly: empowering others, using sport as a vehicle to build self esteem and achieve goals.

While Stu and "Max" were Whistler residents, Whistler was very much a part of Shane and Wendy's lives. Indeed, their families played huge roles in Whistler's history. Wendy's father, Tom Ladner, was one of the original investors in Garibaldi Lifts. Shane's father, Jim, as head of the ski school and owner of the ski shop, was the face of Whistler Mountain for more than 20 years.

Four deaths, under four very different circumstances. All four gone much too soon. Each one makes us look at ourselves and try to make sense of the world we thought we knew. Their passing creates private hells for their loved ones.

And what do we learn from these deaths, other than a renewed appreciation of the time we have? Mostly we spend months and years learning what it means to live without these friends and family members.

They didn't teach that at journalism school.

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