Thursday, 24 October 2013

Remembering Lorne, Our Brother

I just re-read a chapter of Robert Fulghum's book - From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives.  The chapter is called "A Cemetery View" and begins with a photo of him sitting in a folding chair on his grave. Obviously, he's not in the ground yet, but had felt it important to living to contemplate his death. This meant speaking to his family about death, and buying a cemetery plot. 

We have a cemetery plot at Mount Royal Cemetery. It was bought in July 1950 after our brother Lorne drowned at Camp Kanawana. I have a garden there. Mum, Gram, Auntie Joyce, a tiny infant from Mile End, and our Connie are all interred there. I will be on Lorne and Mum's side one day. Not in a hurry. 

Lorne was eight, tall for his age with sturdy legs and lots of freckles. His thick brown hair had started out blonde and  his blue eyes sparkled. He had just completed Grade 3 at William White School three blocks from our home in Montreal South.

Peter Lorne Macgregor was born October 24, 1941 at what was then the Homeopathic Hospital in Montreal. he was called Lorne after Dad's best friend, Lorne Goat who helped Dad through rough teenage years. Lorne, Mum and Dad lived briefly in an upstairs apartment at 240 Labont√© in Longueuil, and he was baptized at St. Mark's Anglican Church by the Rev (to become Canon) John Bonathan. Mum and Lorne lived in Barrie, ON while Dad was in training and working at Camp Borden. They moved back to Gram's at 427 Lafayette (Montreal South) when Dad went overseas towards the end of the war. Jim had been welcomed into the family on September 12, 1944. Dad came home from Europe in February 1946. Someone (Dad's cousin Doug Bowes-Lyon and his wife, Lottie, I think) arranged for Mum and Dad to have a room at a nice downtown hotel the night he embarked from the train. I arrived almost nine months later (a tiny bit premature). I look enough like both parents to be sure that the milkman wasn't involved. 

Lorne was everyone's baby. He was the first grandchild on both sides. He was the first child of all Mum's friends. Everyone loved him. Everyone claimed him. 

At Ada and Pop Goat's, I think.

July 1, the day he left for camp, after seeing him down the ecalator in the station, Mum, Dad and Jim and I stood at the wire fence gazing down into the pit where Place Ville Marie would be built - and watched his train cross the expanse and disappear under the mountain on its way to St-Sauveur. We waved and imagined we could see him and he, us. I was three. Jim was five.

Saturday, July 8th, early evening the telephone rang. Auntie Eileen, Mum, Jim, Gram and I were upstairs in Gram's living room. Being a big girl, I answered the phone. "A man's voice (it turned out to be Henry F. Hall) asked, "Is your Daddy there?" "No, Daddy's at work." "May I speak to your Mummy, please?" I handed the phone to Mummy and all hell broke loose, as Dad used to say. Mum's scream went to the end of the universe in a silence as vast and deep. Some terrible, chaotic force entered our home through the back living room window and filled the house with explosive energy, yet was so silent we could pretend it wasn't there. I did for about thirty years. And then some.

Chaos. Auntie Eileen called Uncle Bill who went and picked up Dad at work at the CN station. Some one called Canon Bonathan and he arrived. Many years later, when he was nearly 100, he said his strongest memory of that day was Jimmy standing in the door looking like a lost soul. As that was the day I became invisible, I don't know whether I was still there or if I had already been sent to Granny's in Brosseau. Children don't understand, of course. We were too little. NOT! No blame. Everyone did the best he or she could in the horrific circumstances. Except for Granny who was not the most understanding of adults. I can still see myself crying at her kitchen table, not wanting to eat (canned green beans) and being sent to bed because I wouldn't/couldn't eat. 

Hey! My brother died. I got sent away with adults lacking in compassion. At three, it's punishment, so it must have been my fault that Lorne died.... Ummm... Well, it's easier as a child to blame yourself than to imagine and realize the impotency of  grown-ups. I apparently cried enough that they sent me home. Then, my aunt told me off (I have this story in writing from her in later years). She said she got angry with me for being manipulative - that when I cried, "I want 'Norn. I want 'Norn" she told me what a bad girl I was for upsetting Mummy and that Lorne would be very disappointed in me in heaven. Good grief! Lessons in how not to treat youngsters when a sibling dies. (This, by the way, has been turned into a gift - in ministry I involve children in funerals, no matter their age, and know ... ) I'm still learning to cry my own tears of grief, and not my Mum's.

Lorne was molested many times as a little boy by a teenage neighbour. He was very anxious. His camp counsellor, John Slater, wrote to my parents after his death that it was very important to Lorne to be liked. He was also sensitive to others' hurt. John told Mum and Dad that a child with hair lip as it was called then was teased by the other boys and came crying to John. John said, "I bet Lorne didn't tease you." He was right. 

I wonder sometimes, who Lorne would have become. How would the abuse have affected him? Today, he would have been 72. I suppose he'd have white hair. Tall. We're complicated people. Being human is a challenge. I wish I could remember him, but I don't except for that moment waving good-bye after we'd seen him go down the escalator.

In 1991, after I was ordained deacon, and before I began work at St. Paul's, Lachine, I began to investigate Lorne's death. I called the YMCA. The director of Kanawana at the time asked if I was sure I had the right camp, as he'd never heard of a drowning. However, Bruce looked in the archives. There was no mention in the director's report of the day! The director of 1950 was still living and visited the downtown Y. Bruce asked him about it and gave me his name. I wrote a letter and asked for information - not to make trouble, but to bring closure. He called - I had just come back into the house for a forgotten item, when the phone rang. He gave details of what happened, who found him, where his body was taken ... and finally, after 41 years of the blame having been placed on Lorne for wandering off, the former director admitted that Lorne probably drowned during free swim that Saturday morning when there weren't enough counsellors on duty. He also died of cancer that September - so it was a kairos moment to have been in contact that summer.

I organized a memorial service in the outdoor chapel and Mum and Dad both came. Each told me separately afterwards that they had finally found peace. I have been back to Kanawana many times. Swimming, I would allow myself to dive deep and to come up - allowed to live - and putting 50+ years of survivor guilt to rest. Once - on July 8, 200o I placed a memorial on the wall with photos and poems.  The last time I visited was July 8, 2010 with our brother Jim. We swam in the lake, ate lunch in the dining area with the campers, and had a tour of the camp. 

It is enough now. Lorne lived. Lorne died.  I wish I had known him. I hope one day I will. 

Lorne is remembered at Kanawana. We remember him. We have broken the silence that surrounded his death for so many years, can cry our own tears, and be thankful that he was, and is, a part of us. 

Lorne's Memorial at Camp Kanawana, St-Sauveur

In memory of Peter Lorne Macgregor
born October 24, 1941
drowned at Kamp Kanawana Jul 8, 1950
loved and remembered by his parents, Frances and Jim Macgregor
his brother and sister, Jim and Roslyn Macgregor
other family and friends

"Give sorrow words. 
The grief that does not speak whispers the o'erwrought heart and bids it break."
from Macbeth


Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb so slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings
Knowing he hath wings.

Victor Hugo

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it
unless you seek it in the heart of life?

If you would indeed behold the secret of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one,
even as the river and the sea are one.

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Remembering at Mount Royal - one of my family grave gardens


  1. Wonderful, wonderful account Ros.
    Lorne was the only Hamer cousin I did not know. I was born in April two months before we lost him.
    Your Mom used to look at me and say, "You look so much like Lorne so I know what he would have looked like as I watch you grow."
    Wish I could have given Auntie Fran this song ...
    Eric Clapton wrote it when he lost his own son. I think of it when I think of my lost cousin. I have painted a portrait of Clapton singing it. Maybe that's my own closure for the cousin I never got to know.

  2. Just reading this post for the first time today, Ros.
    I can feel the emotional confusion of that 3 year old who was witness to such a grave and debilitating event and the inability of all involved to comprehend what that sensitive little girl was experiencing, both that day and the coming weeks and months that followed.
    So happy for all that you never let it go and persisted in FINALLY getting the closure you all desperately needed. Thank you for sharing and allowing your heart to lead you on your life's journey where helping others was paramount.
    God definitely works in mysterious ways <3