By Lissa Alexander
Linda Tenney has come to terms with dying.
“I had this vision actually, of going into the darkness and then speeding off into the universe and being able to go wherever I want,” she said in her calm, upbeat manner from the front porch of her home in North Qualicum.
Tenney has terminal cancer and is preparing for the end of her life. She first learned she had cancer in 2012 when she had surgery for another matter and her pathologist found that two types of cancer had been removed from her body. At that time, she was told the cancers were at stage one, and no longer remained in her body, so no further treatment was necessary.
“I felt like I dodged a bullet,” she remembered.
Four years later, she learned that the cancer had metastasized in her lymph nodes and was basically wrapped around her aorta and left kidney; surgery wasn’t an option. She began chemotherapy in 2017 and her last treatment in June made her terribly ill, causing painful complications, and greatly diminishing her quality of life.
“I’m left with little choice except to say ‘OK. I’m done.’”
Tenney is no stranger to death. Her husband Bob also came to that ultimate decision four years ago. He died at The Gardens, after complications related to diabetes.
“He chose to die and stopped eating and refused food and water, and he was gone within a week,” she explained. They had been together for nearly 20 years.
Her first husband Colin had epilepsy and died of an aneurism.
“Yah, it’s been a life,” she said, ironically.
Tenney grew up in Toronto. She left home at age 15 to escape an uncomfortable situation. She saved up her Christmas money and took two buses and a subway to get to the area of town where she wanted to live. It was near where she had gone to school and was also close to her aunt’s house.
“So, I packed up my bags and looked in the newspaper for a room I could rent. It was $15 a week at that time in a mansion with stained glass windows and a claw-footed tub, and I moved myself that day,” she remembered.
She didn’t leave a note or tell anyone what she was doing, she just filled a couple of green garbage bags with her belongings and left. She turned 16 a few days later and was on her way home from a local store, when she ran into her aunt.
“She was so sweet, she didn’t tell my mom where I was because she understood what was going on, but she did give the landlord that I was renting from money, so every time I went out to the store she’d give me $5 or something to buy food.”
Tenney said she wished she had the foresight to finish school and go to college at that time, but she was more focused on surviving. She had good typing skills and was a fast learner, so she went to a temporary agency and was able to find work.
“I was pretty lucky,” she said. “I could have been on the streets doing drugs. I could be dead.”
When she was 19, she found out her biological father was in B.C and sent him a letter saying she would like to visit. She boarded a train headed for Vancouver, with a backup plan of going to the YWCA if he wasn’t at the train station.
“He recognized me as soon as I got off the train, and he hadn’t seen me since I was a kid,” she said, beaming.
She stayed with her father and brother until she got on her feet and ended up living in Vancouver for six years. She worked with her dad at a print shop where she learned how to do layout, typesetting and other skills she would later use.
At age 30, she had moved back to Toronto and got married. Soon after, she convinced her husband Colin to return to B.C. with her. After Colin passed away, Linda decided to stay in Vancouver. She worked as a communications co-ordinator at United Flower Growers in Burnaby, where she was able to use many of the skills her father had taught her.
Some years later, Tenney and Bob were married. The two went on a vacation to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, where they read (in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News) that there was a bookstore in Qualicum Bay. They headed off for a visit.
“We decided to buy it and within six weeks we had sold our condo in Vancouver, moved over to the Island, and opened the bookstore.”
Four months later, Tenney decided to start a magazine called The Beacon, which later became EyesOnBC Magazine. It was the wrong time to be trying to run a used bookstore, Tenney said, so they closed the store, but the magazine remained.
In its 16th year of publication, Tenney has suspended publication of EyesOnBC.
“It’s sad because it’s 16 years of legacy,” she said. “This market is difficult for publications and it’s the kinds of thing you need a backup income of some sort.”
Linda fondest memories in the area have been when she’s out in nature. She got choked up thinking of kayaking with her friend, Marcella Andrews.
“I took to it like a duck in water,” she said. “That feeling when you’re out in the middle of the bay and looking back at Qualicum Beach, it’s just ‘wow’ — calming and peaceful and just so wonderful to be there.”
Tenney said Andrews coaxed her into doing it.
“I guess it was me who inspired her to be in and on the water,” Andrews admitted. “She loved it, she SO loved it, just being out there on the water.”
About three years ago Andrews and Tenney were both dealing with health issues and became fairly reclusive, said Andrews.
“When we did socialize it became Linda and I, and she became my best friend.”
When they were feeling well, they went on photo expeditions and mini adventures like whale watching. When they weren’t feeling well, they would sit and watch the birds, enjoying a cup of coffee.
Andrews said Tenney is consistently kind, gentle and generous, which is evident in the way she cared for her husband Bob, sleeping in a chair in his room night after night. She puts friends first and is worried about Andrews and her social life after she goes.
“She’s worried about me, honestly, after she’s gone,” said Andrews.
Andrews is one of Tenney’s main palliative care helpers. Another one of her friends on the care team is Kerry Mason. Mason visited Tenney’s bookstore many years ago, took ads out in her magazine and got to know her well over the years.
“She is open and kind and intelligent,” said Mason, adding that Tenney is a wonderful writer and one of the best researchers she knows. Kerry has taken nature walks with Tenney at the Lighthouse Country Trail, and noted Linda is a keen observer, and in her element in the outdoors.
“I would be trying to speed-walk to the end and get back, but not Linda, she would be stopping and reading every single sign and admiring the mushrooms and the flowers and things that I didn’t see,” Mason laughed. “I just kept pushing on, and she just kept slowing down and looking at the beauty that was around her.”
Dave Graham had a similar trip with Tenney. The morning radio host at 88.5 The Beach, Graham said Tenney has been his longest-standing regular. “I gave her a title and everything,” Graham smiled, “’Lighthouse Country Correspondent.’ She’s the perfect person to talk to, and one of the focal points of that community.”
They became close friends and have attended many plays, music and art shows together over the years. One time they headed out on a photography trip to the West Coast with fellow friend and photographer Randy Hall.
“We picked a day that did not stop raining, not for a moment, and we all did our best to make the most of it,” Graham explained.
Although he had layers of clothes on, he was soaked through by mid-afternoon and wanting to retreat, he said.
“But Linda was indefatigable,” he said. “It didn’t faze her at all.”
Jean Young, owner of Arbutus Fashions in Qualicum Beach, got to know Linda through her business, as an advertiser. Young said that beyond being a talented photographer and writer, Tenney has been wonderful to do business with.
“Her talent is unique, and her personality is soft, and mild mannered,” she said. “She’s a wonderful person to know and every time she comes in the store, I love her to bits, and she gives me this energy.”
Graham said there are lots of things he will miss about Linda, her smile and her laugh; but mostly, her authenticity.
“A lot of us are happy with keeping it light generally between people, but with Linda, she is never anything but her authentic self.”
Andrews said she’ll miss Tenney’s unwavering kindness and the laughter they continue to share, even in her last days.
Mason said she would like people to know how much time and effort Tenney put in to supporting the Lighthouse Community. “And I hope she feels all of the love from all the people that love and care for her.”
Young said she’s akin to an Angel.
“I think Linda is already an angel to all of us and she doesn’t need to travel up above us to be our angel.”
Tenney said that after her husband died, she returned home and was sitting quietly in the living room, when she smelled his cologne. He hadn’t worn that cologne in four years.
It wasn’t the first time she believes she was visited by someone after their death. She believes that we may just get that chance. And after her vision of speeding off into the universe, she imagines she will be reincarnated. And if she gets her way, we may indeed she her traveling above us, or perhaps resting on a kayak in the bay.
“Maybe I’ll come back as a dragonfly,” she said, with a reassuring smile.