Mother's Role: Candace House

Ever since the murder of my thirteen-year-old daughter Candace, almost thirty years ago, I knew I had a new role; I just wasn't sure what it was.

I suppose I could have chosen any role I wanted to, but I wanted to be a positive force.

I knew that to survive murder I needed to build something positive out of the ruins of my life and change all my chaotic, angry emotions into something positive or I would not last the duration. My marriage would not last. My friendships would not last, and I would not be there for my other children.

I would have preferred one defined role right from the beginning but back then there was very little opportunity to even access the services. The police-based victim services were just being established. We didn't even know that post-traumatic stress existed. The only defined role for a victim of any kind was to be used as a witness to build the case, and that was it.

But I did learn that even though there was nothing defined, I did have a role – an important role. As a mother of a murdered child, I had a new platform from which to speak; people would respect my voice. I had new interests and I had new opportunities.

I never put too much work into the victims' rights movement, but preferred to work through support groups with other people who had experienced murder.

After years of meetings with victims and engaging in national conversations, I came to the conclusion that even though all the changes over the years were good, something was still missing. I believed we needed a place.

At one meeting, I heard that research on chaplains hospital visits showed that chaplains who stand while talking to the patient are not as effective as those who sit down, even though they might say exactly the same prayers and stay the same amount of time. The act of sitting with someone is extremely important when they are vulnerable and ill.

That was the key. To me that research translated directly into crime victims work. There is no place for us to sit together.

I was fortunate that I joined a group as they were just beginning. We met in an old church/house building in the middle of town. It was rundown, not always neat, but it was our home. Once we lost that place I have never felt the same. I longed for that place of comfort.

After all these years, it is happening. We now are in the middle of the process of establishing just such a house near the downtown Law Courts where families can escape the trial process and find support from people who understand their suffering. They will have a home.

To get to this place, many people have also had a role - even offenders.

In 1996, I agreed to meet with a life-prisoners support group within the prison. There were 10 men in the room. They were pretty intrigued with me, just as I was intrigued with them. I really gave it to them -- how their actions had harmed so many people. To my surprise, they responded. They answered my questions honestly.

In fact they were so moved, they created the Candace Derksen Fund to support victims' services. They held events within the institution to raise money and asked groups on the outside to support their cause. The gesture was extremely moving.

Housed in the Winnipeg Foundation, this fund grew slowly. It actually lay dormant for years, until the man who killed our daughter, Mark Grant, was convicted 27 years later.

After the trial my husband rediscovered his creative spark and began to sketch our court experience. During Grant's trial Cliff and I would often remove our shoes in an effort to relax. That image of bare feet became a touch point in the relief and healing that came after the trial, so Cliff sketched my feet and we gave copies of that sketch to our friends to thank them for their support during the trial.

When we saw that some of them had framed the sketch, we wondered if it might create a new source of revenue for the fund started by the lifers. Other victims and friends joined us in a new fundraising effort.

We all really arrived at the same idea -- a house no more than a 20-minute walk away from the courthouse, where victims could feel safe. they called it the Candace House.

It's a new role for me, to help get this house get started – a wonderful new role.

So much of the justice system is beyond our control and must remain that way to ensure the fairness of the proceedings. However, that does not mean we can continue to leave crime victims on the sidelines as afterthoughts. We need to help them find themselves again.

Underneath all the emotion and pain, there is a wisdom in people who have experienced crime.

Until our children are safe, we can't just assume that the justice system will look after us. It can't. We need to be involved. Instead of fighting the system, we need to encourage, partner and help the system and everyone in it to create a safe and just society.

But before that we first need to deal with our loss, pain and feelings of betrayal. We need to heal ourselves – and for that we need a house where we can sit together and care for each other.

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