“There’s a woman here who brought her son. Make sure you say hello.” I don’t remember who noted her presence or pointed her out to me, but I remember feeling obligated to ensure Wendi and her son, Brennen, felt welcome. Not the bad kind of obligation, to the contrary – woman-to-woman, mom-to-mom, in a world very male dominated and as one of the few female writers, I truly wanted this woman and her son to know I was genuinely happy to receive them. It was, and is, the RedState way. We are family here.
It was 2010 and my first time in the great state of Texas. As was the tradition at RedState Gatherings (before the event grew too large for such things), the Governor was hosting all attendees at a local restaurant for food, fellowship, and the opportunity to chat with him in a more relaxed atmosphere. I didn’t meet Governor Perry that night, it took a few Gatherings for me to finally catch up with him, but I did meet Wendi and Brennen. It was the first of a yearly tradition.
I have to admit, while really pleased for the chance to have another female to talk to (and about politics!) I was nervous to meet Wendi. I hide behind a keyboard all day and am never sure my words will come out the way they do when I have time to agonize over them before hitting “send.” But, those fears were so easily put to rest. Speaking with Wendi was effortless – she was friendly and open. No dreaded platitudes or plastic persona, just real. I’ve come to realize that this is the Texas way. And with Wendi, it was always topped with an infectious, beautiful smile.
With lives half the country apart, I didn’t interact with Wendi throughout the year; we simply met up once a year at the Gathering and enjoyed the time we had to spend outside our otherwise busy lives. Political talk quickly gave way to updates on the home front and, eventually, updates on the battle with breast cancer. While the long hair I once knew disappeared, the woman I met remained ever the same. Full of life and with so much energy that even when I eventually heard the term “metastatic,” a word unfamiliar to me prior to Wendi, I just didn’t think much of it. Did Wendi have cancer? Yes. Was it terminal? Apparently. But this was Wendi – and nothing seemed to be slowing her down. In fact, if anything, metastatic cancer seemed to make her shine even brighter.
Wendi became *the* voice for metastatic breast cancer and the need for more research. With a shared understanding of the tragedy that is Susan G. Komen, she introduced me to Metavivor – an organization doing the real work of funding research for metastatic cancer while supporting those, like Wendi, fighting everyday to experience the many things we take for granted. Through her online advocacy, I learned that it isn’t breast cancer that kills people, it is *metastatic* breast cancer. Yet, despite this fact, only 2% of cancer research funds are devoted to metastatic stage IV cancer research. Of the many who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, 30% will find themselves facing metastatic breast cancer and, each year, more than 40,000 lives are lost to it. Of all the money raised for breast cancer in the United States, 2% seems woefully inadequate for the many lives metastatic cancer takes.
Through Wendi, I also learned what our friends with cancer experience behind the scenes and that, in our most difficult times, we actually have a lot in common. Eventually, Wendi and I were able to sit down in person outside of a Gathering and spend truly undistracted time together. Over a lunch that lasted nearly until dinner, we dug deeper into the changes we both were experiencing – what they meant to us, how our perspectives and focuses had changed. Once both absorbed in politics, we had separately and at the same time decided it was time to trust others with the task and tighten the circle of how our precious time was spent. Moments with loved ones were made all the more dear with a heightened awareness of time and how things change.
That day with Wendi will remain a cherished memory for me. In our passing visits, she seemed an old friend from the start. And on that day, I think I really understood why. I don’t connect instantly with a lot of people, but with Wendi I really did. She was just a genuinely good person through and through. We had a shared understanding of life and the world around us. Wendi cared about our country. She knew we could be so much more and she stood for what mattered not just for self, but for her children – whom she loved with a fierceness only a mother could understand. And when called to serve their needs, Wendi did not hesitate. Because as much as our dedication to this country matters, so does our dedication to our families – they are the thread that holds it all together. She gave. In every direction and despite the pain she surely was silently suffering, Wendi put everyone else first. But, I’m not the only one who recognized the special spirit that was in her.
My next visit, and last, with Wendi was at her home. The moment I walked in the door I wished I could take her away to decorate my own house. Snuggled under comfy blankets, we once again caught up on kids, life, and the rapidly changing world around us. Not long into our visit, a woman showed up with a meal for the family. The “meal train,” as it is known, I suspect could’ve wrapped around the world such was the love for Wendi and her family. At dinner, Wendi served me. It was odd watching this woman with cancer prepare my plate and I struggled through not hopping up to do it all myself. But I have been in that position. The one where your sense of control is lost to outside circumstances and everyone else is serving you. And while the hurting person is deeply appreciative of those who give so much, sometimes it’s the little things that help you to feel like you have some control over that which threatens to overtake you.
Ironically, over dinner, we laughed at a recent episode in which Ambien had taken control and resulted in the delivery of a very large supply of Wendi’s favorite chips – Herr’s Salt and Vinegar Chips. The thought of it still makes me laugh. Before we parted ways, Wendi insisted her husband, Ray, take pictures of us. Traditionally, I’ve always forgotten to take pictures when I’m around people – I’m just generally so caught up in the moment. But she knew. She knew we may not see each other ever again. And she knew that, in her absence, those pictures would be an incredible gift. That was Wendi. Always giving.
Wendi passed away on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. She is survived by her husband of 28 years, Ray Taylor; son, Brennen Taylor; daughter, Bailey Taylor; mother, Sherrie Frankenberger; brothers, Mike and Mark Ward; and numerous nephews and nieces. Countless people across the country were touched by Wendi and, blessed by knowing her, we aim to make the world a better place in her honor. Wendi fought the battle with beauty, grace, strength, and the quiet courage for which true leaders are known. I know the Angels surely smiled upon receiving such a beautiful soul.
Per her obituary, Wendi’s Celebration Of Life will be this evening, Wednesday, December 21st at 6 p.m. central time at First United Methodist Church of Hurst, 521 W. Pipeline Rd., Hurst, Texas 76053. The service will be live-streamed at www.fumchurst.org. In lieu of flowers, donations in Wendi’s name will be accepted at www.Metavivor.org or to the Wendi Taylor Memorial Scholarship Fund for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness. Donations to the scholarship can be made at any local Frost Bank branch or dropped in one of the baskets that will be located by the visitor sign-in book.
Thank you, Wendi, for sharing your life with us. You and your family will forever remain a part of our RedState family. And you will always be in my heart my sweet friend.