Never Too Young

It was a sad shock to hear of Wes Funk’s death. It was a surprise, a few weeks later, to see Di Brandt had chosen a poem he’d submitted for publication in the next issue of Rhubarb Magazine — The Gender Issue.

Shocking, too, was the subject of the poem, about the “poet’s” aging and death. Autobiographical or not, I can’t help but see it as a kind of farewell.

Wes and I lived on the same block in Saskatoon for many years. We belonged to the same writers group, the group that was originally begun by Anne Szumigalski, carried on by Elizabeth Brewster after Anne died, and then passed, in the same manner, to Elyse St. George, who, though in her eighties, is still striding on.

The first time Wes came to my house, it was to buy the old stroller that my children had grown out of. One of his small dogs was sick and dying, and he was going to use it to take her for the walks she loved. This is what I think of when I think of him: how loving he was.

Wes died at 46 — too young of course. He had just self-published his memoirs, Wes Side Story, something I’d thought was a bit premature in someone so young. In the writers group, I remember hearing myself always advising him to wait, to edit more, to not go to self-publication so quickly, but if he’d taken my sort of advice, he’d be only at the beginning of his writing career, and his four books wouldn’t exist.

And you’re never too young to have a life, or to have had a life. You are never too young to have something important to say — even if it comes out of the lungs as a newborn’s cry.

Wes was largely self-taught, as all writers used to be, before the days of the MFA. He was only beginning to publish in the “real” world of literary magazines. Wes was the popular host of the Saskatchewan-wide Shaw TV show Lit Happens, a talk show featuring Saskatchewan writers and their books. He didn’t have an easy life, growing up gay in rural Mennonite Saskatchewan, but he eventually found his place in the world, working as a caregiver for senior citizens, and encouraging other writers to pursue their passion.

Caring was his nature. He made the world a better place, advocating for LGBT rights, animal rights, literacy, and speaking in schools about tolerance. He was the kind of person who lifted up all the others who were around him.

As the new Executive Editor of Rhubarb Magazine, I am glad to be in a position to pay tribute to a man who I was proud to know, and not only publish his poem, but dedicate the whole of the forthcoming Gender Issue to his memory.