There are no measures of the depths of grief, but the death of a child is often said to be one of the most traumatic kinds of losses that people endure. When Ruth Lee-Knight wrote The Mountie’s Girl, a book about the life and loss of her daughter Lorie Gaye, she says she hoped to help other people who are grieving and to share how the family’s faith helped them cope.
Lorie was a vivacious 24-year-old woman who was pursuing her dream of becoming an architect. She grew up in Saskatchewan, where her father, Jack, was an RCMP officer and her mother was a nurse. After completing a degree in fine arts at the University of Saskatchewan, she went on to study architecture at the University of British Columbia.
In 1986, she had the opportunity to study architecture in Greece for a few months and then travelled through Europe with a few of her classmates before landing a job at an architecture firm in London, England. “The first firm that she had an interview with hired her on the spot and she began working the next day,” her mom said in an interview. “It was just like it was meant to be, in some ways.” But the dream came to a shocking and tragic end that August when Lorie was attacked and killed in her home by a serial predator who had just been released from prison in Ireland and had made his way to London. “It is one of those difficult things you never recover from,” said Lee-Knight.
She wrote The Mountie’s Girl firstly as a tribute to Lorie, said Lee-Knight, who stopped working as a nurse in the aftermath of the crime. In her grief, she began writing, and in the following years discovered that writing was a passion for her. She has since published work in anthologies and a book about RCMP wives. “Ever since we lost our daughter in 1986, I’ve been wanting to write her story…I didn’t have the strength to do it, but it was always on my heart,” she said.
Finally, in 2012, she summoned up the courage to begin, and started sorting through letters, artwork and memories of Lorie’s life. “I believe I was given the strength to write this book,” she said. “I always say it’s the second-hardest thing I ever had to do in my life-the first, of course, was losing Lorie.” The book includes letters from many of Lorie’s friends who wrote to the family to tell them of the ways that their daughter had touched their lives.
Lee-Knight said her second purpose for writing the book was to “show how her dad and I finally learned to cope, not to really accept ever or to recover completely ever, but to cope with what we were given and to get on with our lives.” She hopes that this would help other people who are going through a devastating loss. “It was our faith that was responsible for getting us through the darker hours,” she said, though she acknowledges that the loss did shake their faith at times.
Lee-Knight grew up in an Anglican parish in Humboldt, Sask., where she and her husband were married. At the time of Lorie’s death, she says, they were dismayed to find that their parish priest didn’t know how to deal with people who had suffered such a loss and seemed very uncomfortable in the situation. Fortunately, the previous incumbent, who had confirmed Lorie, came to be with the family and officiated at the funeral. Lee-Knight recalls that he told them that “Lorie was in the arms of her Saviour, that all her pain and suffering [were] behind her, that we would be joined with her again at some point…that God is always with you and his Holy Spirit is here to comfort you.”
Lee-Knight said that she hopes the book will also be helpful to people caring for those who are grieving. In the book, she recounts that her family had to deal with some shockingly insensitive questions about Lorie’s death. People asked if she knew the man and whether she fought him. Lee-Knight wrote that she hoped the publicity about the case would help to change attitudes that blame the victim. But even the many friends who were there to support the family didn’t always know what to say and would avoid mentioning Lorie’s name.
“That’s one thing that the grieving people really wish. They want the name to be spoken,” she said. “People would say sometimes, ‘we were afraid it would make you cry,’ ” but she says crying is healing. “It doesn’t matter that it makes you cry.”
Something Lorie said once, with so much determination in her voice, gave Lee-Knight a third purpose for her book: “Just wait till you see the house I’m going to build you someday.” As she was preparing to write the book, Lee-Knight said an idea came to her while walking in a meadow near their cottage in Saskatchewan: “I thought that her promise or intent doesn’t have to die with her.”
Lee-Knight and her husband now live in Calgary and the church they attend, St. Martin’s, sold its previous property and is planning to build a new church on land the congregation has already purchased. She is donating all the proceeds from the sale of the book to the church’s building fund. “I thought [of a] house of God because she said, ‘wait till you see the house I’m going to build you.’ “