This documentary about the father of a murdered teenager is punctuated with a surprising amount of laughter.
To call it light-hearted would suggest a flippancy does not seem possible for someone who has gone through such pain.
Yet, the spontaneous laughter of this man who has endured so much is not harsh and cynical but gentle and free.
And that is the true purpose of forgiveness. It’s not about the other person; it’s about freeing yourself from bondage to the other person’s actions.
It’s ironic the film is called “suspended,” for that suggests a kind of captivity that is absent from this story.
Cliff and Wilma Derksen are local celebrities. In 1984, their 13-year-old daughter Candace didn’t come home from school one winter’s evening. The whole sleepy, provincial city stirred with fear and speculation.
When Canadace’s body was found 7 weeks later, the Derksens, steeped in Mennonite teaching, declared they had to forgive whomever did this to her.
Already a budding writing, Wilma soon became a known writer and speaker. She penned a book on Candace’s disappearance, started programs to support victims of crimes, and became a public speaker.
More than 20 years later, when advances in DNA evidence made it possible to bring an accused to trial, the Derksens (already famous not only for their ordeal but their remarkable response to it) were again thrust into the limelight, and again amazed people with their insistence – less naïve now but equally determined – to forgive the perpetrator.
But the film focusses on Cliff’s less publicized journey.
Raised in a religious community too pragmatic for art, that held it in some disdain or suspicion, Cliff could not stem the tide of creativity that flows out of him. So in the decades of processing the horror from which he could not save his daughter, it was through art not words that he expressed his journey.
“Is this done now?” someone asked Cliff at the documentary’s film screening.
“We’re in transition,” Cliff answered. He has begun teaching art and creating more regularly. “We’re not slowing down; we’re ramping up.”
The odd thing about the movie’s title and the remarkable thing about Cliff and Wilma that drew their story to the attention of celebrity writer Malcom Gladwell is that despite the 20+ years of not knowing who killed their daughter and the near-decade of trial, appeal, acquittal, they don’t seem to have gotten stuck. Their stubborn insistence on living out their stated value of forgiveness freed them to keep learning, growing, serving in the midst of it all.
Cliff admits there was a period when the forgiveness began to slip away and anger insidiously took its place.
Imagination – that devil’s playground in the upbringing that also gave the gift of forgiveness – turned out to be a divine key to releasing the burden of anger. In the process, he discovered an unexpected gift: confronting the ugliness in his own heart opened a door to understand how someone could do a terrible thing.
“Faith is the core,” Cliff and Wilma assert. But art – visual for him, verbal for her – is the tool that allowed them both to not only survive but thrive after such a devastating tragedy.
And humour. That genuine laughter that bubbles out of both of them. There’s a hard-won serenity that emanates from Cliff and Wilma, even through the screen.
Suspended? In the sense of unencumbered, certainly. Cliff and Wilma are walking proof that forgiveness frees.
Suspended is a production of Refuge 31 Films, available on Bell MTS’s Stories from Home.