Goodbye Lorraine

I knew this day would happen, the day one of the women of Telegraph Cove I interviewed passed away. I am happy it took this long, but very sad to know that day has come.

When I started this whole book writing thing in 2015, I soon realized that some of the women I interviewed were elderly, and some were not in great health. Throughout the interviewing, transcribing, writing, editing and producing of the book I constantly said a silent prayer “Stay alive until I can finish the book and give you your copy!” Thankfully, they all did, and I was able to hand each and every one of them (the ones who lived on the West Coast anyway, the rest got mailed) their signed copy and a hug, then look them in the eyes and say “Congratulations, your story is now published!”

I received word a few days ago that one of these women, Lorraine Wallz, had suddenly died on November 12, 2020. She was born a few days before the end of the Second World War, and my grandparents Emma and Fred Wastell hosted Lorraine’s christening party on their lawn, after which she was carried along the boardwalk to a tiny, one-room wood-shingled cabin perched over the beach on stilts, her first home. With the end of the War, the occupying Royal Canadian Air Force left the Cove, vacating all the other cabins and both the new and old cookhouse. As Telegraph Cove only needed one cookhouse, the old one was now available, and became the Burton house for about 40 years. 

Thelma Burton with Lorraine, aged 2 months, among the fresh-cut lumber, 1945
Jim, Thelma, and Lorraine Burton at Lorraine’s christening,
with Cove visitors Lil and Stan Heize at the foot of the Wastell’s stairs
The Burton House

In our conversations, Lorraine was very candid about her life, which was not always a bowl of cherries. She was honest, authentic, self-deprecating. When she talked to me of her regrets and struggles, not all of her own making, Lorraine never complained or blamed anyone but herself. She always laughed, and called me “dear” . When I sent her the first draft of her chapter, she sent it back without any changes or notes, just a thank you. 

For her last 11 years, Lorraine finally had financial independence, a nice home by the coast, and grandchildren. She was happy. Never was a woman so proud of her father, or happy remembering her mother, or recounting her childhood days in Telegraph Cove. Playing on house rooves or under the mill, both strictly forbidden of course, but that didn’t stop Lorraine. She would go on long rowing excursions with her best buddy and partner in crime, two little blond girls in a heavy wooden skiff or row boat, out battling the tides in Johnstone Strait, happy to be independent and out of sight, free to explore and dare.

My mother was 11 when Lorraine was born, and remembers Lorraine as a bright spark of a girl – smart, funny, radiant. I only knew Lorraine in her 70s, dealing with health issues. Her coughing fits that interrupted our conversations filled me with dread, as she fought for breath and flushed red with the effort. But she never once complained. In the end it was colon cancer, discovered by her eldest daughter on a visit. Three days later Lorraine was dead. She must have been in a lot of pain over months, if not years, but never told anyone, not even her doctor. Quietly resilient to the end.

I take great heart knowing she was with her eldest daughter right at the end, that they could be together without COVID-19 preventing that touch of hands, that the end waited just long enough for that. Lorraine treasured that relationship, was proud of all her children, and thrilled to know there was a new grandchild on the way.

Since our first interview together, Lorraine and I would write occasional cards to each other, her penmanship beautiful from those lessons in the one room schoolhouse in Telegraph Cove. We’d chat by phone if there was news to report, as she did not have a computer for emailing. I told her when I was doing a presentation in Telegraph Cove in the summer of 2019, and Lorraine was there, driving about 3 and a half hours to get there, and then 3 and a half hours to get home again, all on the same day. I told her I was going to speak at a seniors’ care facility in Courtenay one rainy afternoon last November, and Lorraine was there. Shy to be pointed out or asked to sign a copy of the book, but proud too. She bought many copies of the book and gave them to every extended member of her family, of which there seemed a lot. Her mother’s photo is included on the cover, and I know that meant a lot to her.

Giving Lorraine her copy of the book, with a handy hankie for emotional response!
Lorraine signing a newly bought copy of the book
for a fan in Telegraph Cove, August 2019

I feel lucky that my timing was such that I got to know her, and tell her story and that of her mom. She was one of my most supportive, enthusiastic participants in her quiet way. I hope she is at peace now, maybe transcendentally rowing on Johnstone Strait, going out on an adventure with her parents, the prospect of fresh fish for dinner making her heart glad.