November 25, 2015


-4° C, Overcast

Full Forecast


Religious faith inspired them to forgive

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

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.

Cliff and Wilma Derksen leave the courthouse Thursday afternoon.


Cliff and Wilma Derksen leave the courthouse Thursday afternoon.

Wilma Derksen weeps at daughter Candace's funeral on Jan 24, 1985.


Wilma Derksen weeps at daughter Candace's funeral on Jan 24, 1985. Purchase Photo Print

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.

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

The Winnipeg Free Press is not accepting comments on this story.

Scroll down to load more