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How Linda Died

by Frank Davey
288 pages,
ISBN: 1550224972


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The Passing of Linda
by Clara Thomas

HOW LINDA DIED is unique. A story of approaching death, it is a triumphant testimonial to life and love. The downward curve which would seem to be inevitable swings upward and the end brings affirmation, not despair. If you do not shrink from the title, I challenge you to open the book and read a few pages. Many people have told me that they quickly found themselves totally engrossed, to the point of carrying it around in an almost talismanic way until they had finished the final page, Linda's Globe and Mail death notice: "Linda Davey, nee McCartney. At home [in London] after a lengthy illness, June 9, 2000...."

In the spring of Š99,Linda was increasingly reluctant to drive or shop or talk to her friends or the colleagues and clients in her law practice. She spent most of her time in her room, even bringing a book to the family dinner table. For five or six hours a day she played computer games in her room¨ "I wonder if she is depressed, but she doesn't otherwise act depressed. It feels bizarre to be watching her, to be almost spying, to be making these notes on her, but I don't know what else to do." Frank Davey began his journal of Linda's illness in March, 1999, though he had begun to notice her strange behavior shortly after Christmas. A malignant brain tumour killed her in fifteen months.

Throughout all that time, Frank and their son, Mike, cared for Linda with total devotion, joined by daughter Sara on weekends when she came to London from Toronto where she was working. Their task was much harder and their total commitment more astonishing because early in her illness Linda had required them to promise that her condition would remain a family secret. For months, they loyally honoured the promise while Frank managed his full-time work load at Western, working in lectures, meetings, essays, exams and marking somehow while looking after Linda at home and accompanying her to the scores of medical appointments that were increasingly scheduled. Fortunately, Mike, a Biology graduate, was still in the process of finding the kind of laboratory work he wanted; even more fortunately, in fact miraculously, he was totally willing to join his father in dealing with the ultimate family crisis¨the terminal illness that was recognized and diagnosed early in May.

She had driven herself to her appointment with a neurologist at University Hospital and after x-rays and examination by several doctors, she was told that she had a tumour deep in her thalamus, inoperable because it was too remote to get at. It was causing her speech difficulties which over several months had become steadily more marked. It was also affecting the peripheral vision in her right eye and causing weakness in her right side. She drove herself home. It was the last time she would drive. "You need to know" she said matter-of-factly to Frank, "I may have less than a year to live."

At that time he had just returned from a dog-show in Pennsylvania, where he was showing their Great Dane, Seizer. The Daveys' adventures in the world of breeding show-dogs is an important and an engrossing diversion throughout the book, one of several sub-texts that cut through the central story. Begun several years earlier as one of Linda's intense and lasting enthusiasms, Frank too had become involved. A window on a micro-world, the stories of their dogs, their successes and failures, judges, handlers and breeders, alleviated the tensions in their day by day, hour by hour lives as they become increasingly bound up in the steadily encroaching malignancy.

Linda's life from childhood is another sub-text, affectionately woven into the text to build up the portrait of a strong, brilliant and passionately independent woman whose remarkable achievements had stemmed from a radical mix of talents and interests. At the end, we have been privileged to know and marvel at a Linda McCartney Davey who combined maternal, professional, artistic and social concerns in her compelling many-faceted personality.

"Who is Linda? How far back does one go in imagining her? The Linda we thought we knew had for the past thirty years displayed intense bursts of energy interspersed with equally intense periods of passivity, relative inactivity, seeming depression. The periods of energy could last for months, even years, as could the periods of inaction. During one period of energy she went to Law School, graduated, completed the bar admission course and began a law career. During another she journeyed to Belize, collected and catalogued the remaining papers of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, interviewed his widow, Joan; journeyed alone to the Mayan ruins ...; returned and sold the Roberts papers to Queen's University."

Linda had began to practice Law in 1980, working with a group of independent practitioners and specializing in art law, in social justice issues and in civil litigation. When, in 1990, Frank moved from York University to Western she had remained working in Toronto, sharing a small apartment with daughter Sara, at that time a university student. Finally, in 1994 she had terminated her Toronto practice and moved full-time to London, though keeping up with various clients. She had taken over the housekeeping, especially the cooking, from Frank with the boundless enthusiasm that was her particular gift. She had also embarked on the assembling of a wine cellar, buying and storing some 1000 bottles in a temperature-controlled basement room that Frank and Mike built to her specifications. Her cooking was the last of her skills to be relinquished. Very close to the end Linda was still turning out gourmet dishes, eagerly directing the choice of wines to go with them, though increasingly clumsy and unsure of herself in the kitchen.

Stage by stage and treatment by treatment we are told of the contemporary understanding of the disease and the unremitting efforts of the medical profession of the London Cancer Centre to control or halt its inroads. Likewise we hear of all the other agencies and social services ready and able to offer help in Home Care, especially since it was the choice of Linda herself and then Frank and Mike, to care for her at home. This functions as a valuable information resource for the reader, aside from the book's central tension-filled narrative. Through all these harrowing months, Frank seldom lets his own grief and exhaustion move to the foreground in his journal entries. When, rarely, he does voice his distress, it is understated, a negation of self-pity: "I'm finding it hard without the old Linda. Miss being able to talk about things with her, joke, reminisce and plan. Or reminisce in order to plan. I wish she could help me understand what has happened to her."

How Linda Died is impressive on several levels: Linda moves from the page with the life that is usually reserved for rare fictional characters, Hagar Shipley of The Stone Angel for instance. The story is also the record of a wonderfully free and durable marriage; it is a moving testimonial to a constantly loving and enduring family. Most important of all, Frank Davey has restored to Linda every iota of the dignity that the wretched tumour relentlessly took from her.

I did not know Linda McCartney Davey. I wish I had. I am grateful to know her now, through these pages.˛

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