The Next Chapter

Lorna Crozier writes about love and loss in memoir Through the Garden

The Governor General's Literary Award winner's memoir is about her 40-year partnership with the late poet Patrick Lane.
Lorna Crozier is the author of Through the Garden. (Lorna Crozier, McClelland & Stewart)

Canadian poets Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane had a very public love story — one that they shared in their poems and nonfiction, as well as in interviews.

 A few years ago, Lane was diagnosed with a puzzling and devastating illness, and died in 2019. In her memoir, Through the Garden, Crozier writes about Lane and how they were seen as a powerhouse literary couple — and why their words and writing lives were inextricably linked.

Through the Garden was on the 2020 shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Crozier spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Through the Garden.

Changing roles

"When Patrick fell ill, I had to call 911 several times and have him taken by ambulance to the hospital. He'd fall into toxic shock and have to be put on high antibiotics. No one knew what exactly was wrong with him. They knew it was an autoimmune disorder, but they didn't have a name for it. Therefore they didn't have proper treatment. 

"They just pumped him full of a strong steroid, which felt like a cardboard crutch. It helped him get out of bed, but it didn't make any difference to the disease that was raging through his blood. 

I honestly didn't know how I was going to survive — because this vibrant, exciting, passionate man was disappearing in front of my eyes.

"Our roles changed dramatically. We didn't go out. He was often too ill to even get out of bed. I became a caregiver, the one who got us to the doctor's appointments, the one who talked to the doctor, the one who pushed and advocated.

"I honestly didn't know how I was going to survive — because this vibrant, exciting, passionate man was disappearing in front of my eyes."

Patrick Lane and his wife Lorna Crozier, early in their relationship. (Rafal Gerszak/Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

Writing in times of trouble

"In the past, in my most difficult times, I turned to writing. And that's what I did. I went into my office and I started writing what it felt like to be in that moment with him in the garden — trying to be the best person I could, full of fear and terror that I was going to lose him. 

"At the same time, our oldest cat was ill, suffering from kidney disease. When I started the book, I thought the book would end when the cat died. Patrick was still alive and I was full of hope at the end. But I interwove the present moment of his illness with how we met and our 40 years together.

In the past, in my most difficult times, I turned to writing. And that's what I did.

"I was able to read those parts out loud to Patrick. I made the five cats that we lived with into characters in the book. I read those parts and he was able to chuckle and sometimes disagree with what I remembered that was different for what he did. That was a lovely, lovely, lovely part of the writing. 

"I didn't read him the parts about my worry and concern and his illness, because he had enough to carry and didn't need those words on top of everything. But what they did was they gave me courage, not consolation, to keep on going.

"They made me believe that witnessing this was an important part of the whole process of our long love affair."

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