Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Christmas service no one wants to be part of

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Recently, I attended the Manitoba Organization of Victim Assistance candlelight service. It's held at Christmas time, for families who have lost family members through homicide. MOVA is a club that no one wants to belong to. To be in a room filled with families that are like me is, well, indescribable, to say the least.

There is so much emotion, so much pain and so many memories. We are all there because "someone" decided to kill a member of our family.

Whether that "someone" is in jail for life without parole for 25 years, or served 15 months, or is having Christmas with his family because he was declared "not guilty," doesn't really mean anything. What does mean something is that we do not have our family members with us. No legal system or sentence will fill that void. It's not possible.

When Christmas Day comes, there is an empty chair. Some families leave that chair empty at the dinner table to remember the one missing. Some families reflect on memories at the table. Some don't talk about it at all because they simply cannot. Some families have stopped having Christmas altogether. There is no "right" way to do this. You do what your heart and emotions allow you to do.

The first two Christmases after my son died were spent in the Caribbean, as there was no way we could spend it at home with all the traditional festivities of fun, food and Santa. When the third Christmas came, my daughter said she wanted Christmas at home from now on, and that's all it took. My wife decided we needed a TJ Christmas tree, and for many years, we decorated it exclusively with angels and "TJ" decorations, ones that he made in school and church as a young child and the ones that he particularly liked. The one ornament that was always in front was the ball saying "TJ's First Christmas." They don't make balls that say "TJ's Last Christmas."

Unless you have lost a family member in this way, you can never understand what it is like. And I hope that you never can, because we don't want you in this club.

When I tell a stranger what happened to TJ, I sense a horror inside that person. I sense what they are saying to themselves at that moment and thinking of their own children. I do not sense an understanding. When I speak with a person in the club, I sense warmth, a connection like no other, a closeness and a sense that they know what it's like. You can even see it. At the candlelight service, we all realize why we are there and how we got there. We greet each other on common ground.

This year, the founder of MOVA, Darlene Rempel-Fillion, was guest speaker. It's been 28 years since her son Rob was murdered. Her voice broke as she spoke, she stopped to compose herself, and we all knew intimately what was going on in her mind. I remember thinking how raw that emotion was after 28 years.

As you can see, we do not "get over it." There is no closure, as people like to think there is. We do, however, move on, but we never get over it. We do laugh, a lot, and we still enjoy life, but it's a very different life indeed.

This is my 10th Christmas without my son. It seems like yesterday in so many ways. Merry Christmas to all.

Floyd Wiebe is co-founder with his wife Karen of the TJ's Gift Foundation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 A13

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