Murdered girl's childhood pal succumbs to colon cancer
Best friends in heaven
The two best friends were just 13 years old when one of them went missing and was found murdered. Now, Candace Derksen's closest pal and most kindred spirit, Heidi Harms Friesen, has died.
Friesen, who was married with four children, died from colon cancer Tuesday in Winnipeg. She was 44.
"There is huge grief," said Wilma Derksen, Candace's mom. Friesen remained close to Candace's family after her best friend went missing Nov. 30, 1984, and her frozen body was found six weeks later in a shed under the Nairn overpass. The tragedy forged a lasting bond.
"What we don't realize is that in traumatic times and times of great fear, there are times of great intimacy and connection," said Derksen, an author and advocate for crime victims.
She visited Candace's best friend in the palliative care unit the Friday before she died Jan. 26. Friesen shared a deep faith with Derksen, who asked the dying woman to pass along a message to Candace.
"There is a kind of celebration in thinking of the two of them meeting again," said Derksen, who didn't share the contents of the message but said she hugged her daughter's best friend.
"It was the most intimate moment we ever shared," said Derksen. "There is still beauty in goodness and beauty in memories and love and anticipation. We have a vivid idea of heaven, and in that we have comfort."
Friesen's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at Soul Sanctuary, 2050 Chevrier Blvd.
The girls' close friendship started the summer they met at age 11 when both their dads were working at Camp Arnes. Two years later, when Candace went missing, it was their strong bond that convinced police Candace hadn't run away. She was looking forward to a visit from Heidi that weekend and wouldn't have missed it for the world. That compelled the police and others to start looking for Candace right away, said Derksen.
The families stayed connected because of their shared love for Candace and the tragic story that has continued unresolved to this day.
Mark Edward Grant is scheduled to be tried on a charge of second-degree murder in January 2017. Grant was convicted in 2011 of killing Candace, but the Manitoba Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in 2013, and that ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.
After Grant's initial sentencing in 2011, Wilma and Cliff Derksen hosted a gathering in their backyard where Friesen had many guests fighting back tears. She spoke about the weekend sleepover with Candace that never happened. She told the gathering how she'd met Candace at age 11, and they quickly became best friends. As she was about to turn 40, she said, she still felt a deep connection to Candace.
"My best friend is forever 13 years old," she said at the time.
Candace's life and death had a lifelong impact on Friesen, said her husband.
"It affected the kind of person I was married to, absolutely," said Elroy Friesen. Some years, his wife had a tough, "emotionally dark" time around the end of November through January, he said. For some, it's a time for seasonal affective disorder, but for Heidi it was the time of year Candace went missing, Nov. 30, to the date her body was discovered, Jan. 17.
Feelings resurfaced whenever there was a development in the investigation -- when a troubled soul "confessed" to her murder and then when Grant was arrested.
"When we heard there was an arrest made, it took a while for Heidi to be able to process all that emotionally," he said. "It was like she went back to being 13 years old, and she had to process that loss."
She took an interest in helping crime victims and joined the advisory committee for Pathways that deals with crime victims' issues and wrote for its journal. The avid photographer had a showing with Victims' Voice at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery.
Candace's abduction and murder didn't just affect her loved ones, said Elroy Friesen.
"It affected a number of people," he said. "Suddenly, kids were dropped off at school," even kids who lived just seven houses away from it, he said. Girls walking in residential areas were on edge -- even afraid -- of approaching vehicles. "My youngest sister darted behind cars until a car had passed."
Knowing what happened to Candace influenced Heidi as a parent, who was really concerned about at what age their kids -- now 20, 18, 15 and 14 -- could take the bus or walk home on their own, he said.
The traumatic losses she experienced helped shape her faith, too.
"She has always lived with one foot in heaven," said Elroy. After losing her mom at seven and her best friend at 13, Heidi miscarried their first son at four months, he said.
"It was always important to her to see them again, and there was a purposefulness in her way of living" he said. "She declared 'I want to see you in heaven,' " he said. "That affects your way of being and how you go about your life," he said.
The families are still connected by their love for the two best friends.
"We're all just intertwined," said Elroy, who also knew Candace as a kid at summer camp and attends the same church as the Derksens' son.
"We have a shared history and experience," he said "It brings us all together, and some beauty comes out of all that. So much good comes out of those difficult things."
By: Carol Sanders