by Roger C.
I first met Wayne in the rooms of AA.
Mind you, these were not traditional AA rooms. Wayne would have nothing to do with the “God bit” in AA and so his home group pretty much since it was founded in the fall of 2009 was an agnostic AA group called “Beyond Belief.”
I would see him there every Thursday evening in downtown Toronto. Coming directly from his job as an access counsellor at Renascent, he was always dressed up in a tie and jacket. He never told anyone that he worked at a treatment centre for alcoholics, though: he didn’t want people to think that he thought he knew more about alcoholism than anyone else in the rooms because of where he worked.
Wayne would share at these meetings. His message was often quite simple: “Don’t pick up the first drink.” And he would talk about how he had failed at that himself, many, many times over the years. He would deliver the message with a strange combination of grumpiness and congeniality. Maybe grumpy because it had taken him so long to heed his own message, and definitely congenial because he cared about the other alcoholics in the room, and hoped they wouldn’t make the same mistake.
In February of 2013, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to his hip and made it difficult for him to walk. It was at that time that I decided to try something new for me: I offered to help him out, however and whenever I could.
Both of us had isolated as alcoholics. We weren’t very good at relationships and had trashed any number of them in our years as drunks. In the Big Book of AA, Bill Wilson writes: “The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being.” Wayne and I talked about that quote. We understood it.
So over the last year of his life I took Wayne to the hospital for cat scans, and tests and chemotherapy, when it wasn’t being done by the Cancer Society. Sometimes we would take a cab and other times I would rent a car. I ran errands and picked up groceries for him. We talked and talked.
Most importantly for both of us, I would show up every Thursday to help Wayne get to our AA meeting. At first I always brought him a Timmy’s coffee and a cinnamon roll but eventually that graduated to a Starbucks coffee and a cinnamon brioche. I can’t stand Timmy’s and eventually Wayne came to prefer Starbucks. Or at least that’s what he said.
He died on a Friday, March 21. Ten days earlier I had taken him to Mount Sinai for chemotherapy and it had been downhill ever since. And he knew it. He told me that when he had first been diagnosed with cancer he was told he only had six months to a year to live and, well, his time was up. Wayne didn’t avoid any topics.
I was with him on the Thursday prior to his death. I knew he couldn’t go to the meeting but I dropped in on my way to it with a Starbucks coffee and a cinnamon brioche. He couldn’t talk, really. His throat was bad, and he was waiting for an IV. We hung out for an hour. We were both appalled at how much weight he had lost. The next day we texted back and forth until the early afternoon. At around nine in the evening I got a call and was told that he had been found dead.
Not a surprise, but still…
I was numb for a few days. Non-functional.
But then that changed. Wayne had resolved not to die a drunk and he hadn’t. And we both, to the best of my knowledge, had gotten something precious and unexpected in our recovery that had escaped us in the depths of our alcoholism.
We had over the last year of his life become friends. In spite of our inadequacies in so many other areas, we had been able to form what Bill Wilson had called a “true partnership.”
These days I am mostly grateful to have known Wayne, and that he and I had been friends.