Tuesday, 5 March 2013


“Candace had always been her father’s daughter. Maybe that’s why I had always found it so easy to love her and get along with her,” Wilma Derksen writes on page 31 of Have You Seen Candace? A Mother’s True Story of Coping with the Murder of Her Daughter.

Those sentences are only two of the many that provide insight into what it was like to lose a child to murder, and that insight is what works best in this book.

Naturally, the reader does not completely understand and feel what Wilma Derksen did following her daughter’s death -- not even close. However, the author behind the book and the things that she saw are what makes the book a believable read. The reader is given insight into her anxiety, pain, distress, and ultimate motion forward back into life as well as the separate journeys through those things that her family members experienced. 

As a reader, I trusted her words. I felt at ease reading the book because I knew Wilma Derksen was there, for the whole thing. I believed her book to be an honest one. 

In some instances, however, I feel as though Derksen gave too many examples, or used too many analogies, and it made the read slow at times. For example, on page 197 Derksen writes “Every minute, every second of the day, we were reminded of Candace. Every time I laid out five plates instead of four, I had to put that fifth plate back into the cupboard. Every times I needed to run to the store and wanted to ask her to watch the children while I was gone, the words stuck in my throat.”

Derksen continues to explain that many things she saw in the store she knew Candace would like but there was no point in buying them, and that she often spotted Candace in crowds only to realize it was strangers, and that she, in reality, just wanted to see her really badly. 

These details are the things that make the book come alive, and that allow the reader to imagine, even if only for a second, what it might have been like, and the effect losing Candace had on the Derksens. However, in some instances there were simply too many examples and I thought, from time to time, that I understood the message and that I wanted the book to move forward. 

Overall, reading the book made me feel sad. It was difficult to picture some of the things Derksen wrote about; not for lack of detail, but because I did not want to imagine them. It made me remember, however, the importance of story; the way documenting events can bring them to the minds of others who have not lived them, and that social change may be born from this. 

On the other hand, the book made me confused in some ways. This is complicated for me to articulate because I fear it will be interpreted as me dismissing the importance of the Candace Derksen story, but as I mentioned in journalism class recently, I feel confused as to why the Candace Derksen murder received significantly wide and frequent media coverage compared to the stories of other missing and murdered Manitoba women. 

The book discussed a variety of media coverage the case received, and after visiting the Manitoba Missing and Murdered website and reading about hundreds and hundreds of girls and women -- some who have never been found -- I cannot discern why their stories are not covered as widely by the media as this one was. I want the answer, but I don’t know where to ask. 

I am pleased, however, to see that this one received the amount of coverage that it did as it, along with those of other girls and women, are important ones to tell. 

I personally preferred this book to Journey for Justice: How ‘Project Angel’ Cracked the Candace Derksen Case by Mike McIntyre (which I blogged about last year here). To me, Have You Seen Candace? seemed more honest and credible than McIntyre’s work, simply because Derksen wrote it. 

Because I am interested in the human aspect to almost every story, I preferred this first person perspective to what I found to be a long series of psychiatrist reports in McIntyre’s work. 

My reaction to our in-class discussion with Wilma Derksen was one of sadness. I remember Derksen saying when she spoke to our class last year that she did not let the murder of her daughter destroy her.
My mother has a friend at work who allowed her four year-old daughter Ruby go over to her grandmothers apartment, which was a door away from their apartment. In the single instant that Ruby was trying to go from her apartment to her grandmothers, a man abducted her. He raped her and murdered her by crushing her skull with a rock.

My mothers friend rarely talks about the murder. She talked about it in the past, however she continues to live a life centered around many of the things my own mothers is centered around. The case was not covered in the media after the killer was convicted. 

I see Wilma Derksen as a strong woman, to say the least. I am not going to try to pretend to understand her pain. I cannot help but feeling, however, that in some ways she did let the murder of her daughter destroy her because it would appear that it is her entire life.

But as someone who has never lived through a tragedy comparable to this one, or any of those of murdered and missing Manitoba women, I am inclined to ask how one could not be destroyed. 

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