A true partnership

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 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 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 Tim Horton’s and eventually Wayne came to prefer Starbucks. Or at least that’s what he said.

He died on 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.


Click on the image to see a brief video of Wayne: It’s never too late.

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.

A few weeks prior to his death, Wayne wrote A Higher Purpose, which was posted at Renascent and here at AA Agnostica.

In the pamphlet Understanding Anonymity, AA states that with regard to the personal anonymity – or not – of someone who is deceased, “the final decision must rest with the family.” Wayne felt that anonymity – which is largely meant to protect alcoholics from potential personal attacks and to help us in placing “principles before personalities” – would be of little or no importance after his death, and that is a point of view shared by his family.

22 Responses

  1. Brad B says:

    Thank you Roger :,)

  2. Daniel M says:

    For about 9 months a couple of years back I attended the Beyond Belief meetings and last week returned. In my initial ‘run’ I met Wayne and came to recognize what Roger has described as “a strange combination of grumpiness and congeniality.” So true! But more to his credit is the realization that Wayne cared about the people in the room. Inevitably, the conclusion to his sharing seemed to be a plea to us that we heed his wisdom, though humbly so.
    Daniel M.

  3. Rob K says:

    Thanks. This is the first time I posted on this site. It’s a friendly place to be. We have a fellow in our group who is going through chemo for cancer. For a year he has been sharing that, often saying little else than saying that his diseases (alcoholism and cancer) are trying to take him out but he won’t let it.

    I worried about this person not being realistic about the inevitable. I started to think that he needs to do more than talk about fighting things and actually try to find peace. Slowly, his sharing is starting to take another turn.

    It is nice to see how AA can be so many things to so many people. For this guy, we are his hospice. We are the people who want to be with him, “even if he outlives us all” as we say sometime. Today he looks good now and we are with him.

    Namaste from the US Virgin Islands, Rob K

  4. Pattie M says:

    Until I found AA Agnostica I didn’t think I would ever be able to fit in AA. I struggled to get this monkey off of my back. AA plus your site has done it for me. When I read the article about Wayne it reminded me that I always thought, “When I’m ready to die, I’ll drink because why not?” Now I don’t feel like that. I don’t want to ever take that first drink again.

  5. Christopher G says:

    Thanks, Roger. True partnership. Sounds like a tall order especially when framed with the impossible word. My first temptation is to approach it as a perfection. Not possible. What is it then? Parts in the same ship. Not necessarily equal, but necessary nonetheless. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, yes? What we can’t do alone we can do together. I heard an acronym for relationship in the rooms, ironically, from a sober friend, Billy Archer, who died from brain cancer a couple years ago. Really Exciting Love Affair Turns Into Outrageous Nightmare Sobriety Hangs In Peril. So, recently because of my own relationship I’ve been studying and meditating on step 12 in the 12 and 12 where it talks about partnership a lot and made up my own acronym for that word. (I stole the ship part from another meeting though). People Actually Relating To New Experiences Responsibly Seeking Help In Program. Sounds like that’s what you and Wayne had and had it well, especially, at such a momentous part of life. Thank you again for sharing it with us.

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    Thanks for this wonderful tribute to your friend, Roger. I was extraordinarily moved having lost many friends in AA. I often say that we walk on the backs of giants in our recovery. Wayne sounds like a giant. You were so fortunate in your finding of each other.

    I attest to the extraordinary bonds we find with each other in AA. People whose paths would never normally cross.

    So lovely to see it written about.

  7. Thomas B. says:

    Thank you, Dorothy !~!~!

  8. Roger says:

    For the record, folks, it was Dorothy who convinced me to post this article…

  9. Dorothy H. says:


    We are human because of our relationships. I think as addicts/alcoholics we lose touch with that Very human side of ourselves when we isolate but gain it back when we open ourselves, be honest and reach out for others.

    I am very happy this article was posted.

  10. Joe C says:

    Thanks Roger,

    This emotive Roger is a wonderful sign of Spring.

    My time with Wayne dates back to Midtown. Many others will remember him there. He often worked the library table when we were in the Walmer Road Baptist Church. Theo, Stan and Patrick who were also founding members of Beyond Belief, also gathered at Midtown. So Wayne and I talked about literature and we talked about recovery and I eventually shared some of my deeply held, yet unconventional interpretations of AA and the Twelve Steps. He didn’t say, “Me, too!” He said, “What makes you think you can get away with that?”

    I was sad to hear the memorial was moved to the 26th because I am speaking at an AA conference in Ottawa that day. Lisa and I were asked to speak because of – not despite of – these unconventional interpretations. The conference theme is “The Only Requirement for Membership.” That’s where Wayne would expect me to be. I expect that I will mention him. He’s never too far from my thoughts these days.

    While our tenet is principles before personalities, his is a personality that will likely never be replaced in our group.

  11. larry k says:

    You have left me in tears laughing at the great curmudgeon of our day!
    I think we need to do a statue of Wayne… he would find it fitting!

  12. John M. says:

    Thanks for this affecting tribute to Wayne, Roger.

    I didn’t know Wayne well but I found that his wry humour and sense of irony at meetings captured the paradoxical nature of AA – recovery is serious business but don’t take ourselves too seriously.

    He will be missed!

  13. JP says:

    That is a great picture of Wayne. Thanks for your article Roger and the information about the memorial.

  14. Tommy H says:

    It has been my experience that, when I lose someone who I have known to have little time left, there is still a void.

    It’s what we fill this void with that counts.

  15. Brent says:

    In going in and out of AA for 30 years I’d many times heard, “stick around long enough and you’ll hear your story”.
    Ken was my Wayne. He and I had been friends for over 30 years, played in bands together and so on. Cocaine was his drug of choice while I was a non discriminating alky/addict. When he was diagnosed with a virtually non treatable form of sarcoma, everything I read suggested a person could survive what he had for about a year. Like Roger I decided to make myself 100% available to him. We weren’t going to meetings but Ken was doing about five different naturopathic therapies and for a year he looked like he was continually a few steps ahead of the disease. Roger, you’ve painted the fine strokes so I don’t need to. Ken died in October of 2013 and I was there right to the end. As one who often didn’t finish what he started out to do, this was one instance where I did. Ken lasted pretty close to 24 months. I went into a slump for a couple of months afterwards but I know now what service means.

  16. Jowita B. says:

    “How are you, Wayne?”
    “I’m good. How are you?”

    This is Wayne a month before he passed away. He was good. He wasn’t good at all. But he was at a meeting. And he had been sober for years and I said later to someone, if that (him coming to meetings while being so sick) isn’t a testimony to his character and to the character of the AA program, then I don’t know what is. I used to have this fantasy: when I’m old and close to death, I will finally have that drink! Because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen, right? But after seeing Wayne, coming to meetings, in pain, so visibly unwell, and still sharing and still being his lovely, grumpy self, I thought how he was really doing what we’re supposed to be doing and he was an example, and fantasies should stay in the land of fantasies. Sure, it was good for him to come to meetings – probably for social reasons and not because he was going to drink – but I believe he was there because his responsibility and purpose of being a sober alcoholic didn’t take a backseat even in that difficult time in his life. I loved his grumpy manner, I loved his favourite saying that exemplified how he was, pragmatic, not hysterical and profoundly aware of what life was like: “In life, sometimes you’re a pigeon, and sometimes you’re a statue.” I will miss Wayne so much. And, also, Roger being such an amazing friend to Wayne, too, is exactly what the program is about, what life and friendships are about. Thank you, Roger, for posting this.

  17. life-j says:

    Thanks, Roger. I didn’t know Wayne, but I knew Jason, he died of cancer about a year and a half ago. He had also struggled with his sobriety at certain points in his life. I got to see him change from a 6 foot 5, 350 lbs easy rider biker and a surfer to well, maybe 160 lbs of skin and bones when he died. He always talked about how his dad died already at 63 with cancer. As it happened he made it just past his 60th birthday himself.
    He lived in the woods in a little ramshackle cottage he inherited from his parents, and was usually broke, but he did what he wanted to do, lived life to its fullest and brought love wherever he went. What he gave to those of us who were close to him during his last month was a dignity and good spirits which put a whole different spin on death. He played ukulele and guitar, I remember walking through town the summer before, and suddenly hearing him singing “brown eyed girl”, this was his last concert, and I dropped what I was doing and went over to the park where he was playing. Death has changed completely for me from seeing him go through it, and I hope I will go through it with the same good cheer when it is my time. And frankly, with my time sober there is a good chance. I have learned how to live, have no secrets to carry to the grave, have good friends, and a lovely partner. Occasionally when I wake up, and I get to thinking of him, I say to her that it’s not that I’m eager to or anything, but that my life is so good that this would be a good day to die. She understands. She was there too.
    When I took leave of Jason it was 3 or 4 hours before he died, and he had lost nearly all his strength, but he let me go, just able to give a half wink, and a half smile, which I’m glad to carry with me.

    And in this way we can learn from each other not just how to live sober, but also how to die sober. It’s good when it is ok.

  18. Heather B. says:

    Thanks Roger for this wonderful piece. I met Wayne in Sept. 2004 when we were both newly sober. We didn’t spend a lot of time but there was a bond that we were able to acknowledge. We kept in touch. My respect for his journey in sobriety is immense and his dignity in the face of his physical illness was inspiring. I am also grateful that Wayne had the support of you and Marion over this past year. For me too, ‘It’s never too late!’. I always say, ‘An old dog CAN learn new tricks.’

  19. Thomas B. says:

    Lovely Roger — thank you !~!~!

    A testament to what is possible in recovery: both Wayne’s poignant assertion that it is never too late to get sober just by not picking up the first drink, as well as your ability to stretch beyond our natural limits, which Bill W. described so succinctly in the 12 & 12 concerning our ” total inability to form a true partnership” to practice love and service with Wayne over the last year of his life.

    Though I never met Wayne in the flesh, I know him, and I am most grateful for our friendship and AA Agnostica through which I came to know him. Thank you.

  20. Dan L says:

    I never met Wayne but his article on a “higher purpose” gave needed affirmation to my own approach to the whole higher power issue. I will treasure with real gratitude the feeling that article gave me and try to pass the message along. This is how we live after death.
    Thank You

  21. Philip B. says:

    I am honored and grateful to have known Wayne, even just slightly, through our Beyond Belief meetings. He was a gracious and wise presence, and will be greatly missed.

  22. ian says:

    What a great article. Wayne’s message is deceptively simple and truly inspiring. I am so glad he had that partnership to sustain him through his final illness. He clearly had an HP which he chose not to call God. AA recovery is all about choices. Wayne, RIP. I love your example. Would have loved to know you, but feel I do anyway.

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