Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Religious faith inspired them to forgive

Cliff and Wilma Derksen turned to God when their 13-year-old girl disappeared and died

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It would have been easy for Wilma and Cliff Derksen to hate, to let their grief fester and pock their remaining bitter days. Their lovely 13-year-old daughter was stolen, plain and simple.

Instead, they did something unbelievable in the face of something unimaginable. They forgave.

Part of that act, much of it, stems from the profound faith the Derksen family possess. In the early days when friends, church members, police and strangers searched for Candace, it was prayer that sustained them.

Candace Derksen was an innocent. She was walking home from Mennonite Brethren Collegiate when she was snatched. Her bound, frozen body wasn't found for weeks. Her parents had to identify her body at the morgue. Imagine the rent in your soul after surviving that.

Wilma Derksen had to live with the guilt of refusing to pick up Candace from school that day. Forever, she will wish she'd jumped in the car and fetched the child.

She and Cliff stayed strong, stayed dedicated to their marriage and remaining children. Many families don't, so buried in anger and sorrow, resigned to a life of prescription drugs or alcohol.

Sometimes the sight of the other parent is a fresh, raw reminder of what was lost. Marriages end. Sorrow moves in.

Here's an excerpt from Have You Seen Candace?, a book Wilma Derksen wrote.

"That first endless night, I couldn't sleep, and kept a vigil by the living room window. I sensed that Candace needed me, that she was struggling. The hours were torturous. I cried out to God, 'Why?' and prayed that God would protect her from pain," she wrote.

"I felt God was crying too. And then I felt silence. At that moment, I asked God if Candace was in heaven; I felt like something was over."

Perhaps those words are impossible to understand if you don't have faith. You don't have to believe in God or Allah or whomever other people worship. It simply means that you believe in something bigger than yourself, what the people in AA call their higher power.

That's what got the Derksens through.

Here's Wilma again:

"We forced ourselves to replace the horrible last images of Candace's body with memories of our lively, lovely teenager from better days.

"Other murder cases held our attention, always making applications to our situation. We were grateful that our faith in God gave us options other than vengeance, something other than remaining victims.

"We both knew that in order to be truly free, we would have to turn what was meant for evil into good. We would have to forgive by faith -- a step totally in the dark, a matter of decision."

Wilma Derksen went on to found what became Child Find Manitoba. She worked with a group called Family Survivors of Homicide. She and her husband were unwilling experts in the greatest loss parents can experience.

Over the next weeks, the Derksens will be forced to relive every moment of their daughter's abduction and death. Clinical and precise words will not erase the pain. They believe in heaven and in forgiveness, too. Their daughter was placed, however temporarily, in hell. They have reconciled that, too.

As the roll call of experts testifies, as the terrible details are brought to light, as facts as small as Candace being found with her clarinet emerge, their pain will be renewed.

But they will endure. As Mark Edward Grant's first-degree murder trial continues, as more evidence is placed on the record, they will stay strong. After losing their eldest child, nothing can hurt as much. They're tough, these parents, because they've had to be.

They're tough because their faith allows them to share the burden.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2011 A4

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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