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Delilah Saunders, sister of Loretta Saunders, uses blog, book to aid journey through grief

She writes vividly of a life she once knew and what she describes as the beginning of the end.

Delilah Saunders' is only 22 but speaks as though a piece of her died Feb. 26, the day the body of her older sister Loretta Saunders, a pregnant Inuk woman living in Halifax, N.S. was discovered along the Trans-Canada Highway in Moncton, N.B.

Loretta's murder generated national media coverage and sparked calls for an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. It was important cause for Loretta, who'd been working on a thesis at Saint Mary's University about the very topic at the time of her death.

But there was also a human tragedy and countless loved ones left behind to grieve. Delilah had moved to Halifax to be close to her beloved sister while battling addiction. After her death, she couldn't bear to stay and recently chose to make Calgary her new home.

"It was our adopted home and just being there reminded me of what happened to her," she said. "I was extremely depressed and had to blaze my own path."

But, much as she did in life, Loretta continues to influence Delilah greatly and inspired her to start her own blog, "A Homicide Survivor's Journey Through Grief."

Delilah concedes her posts don't pull punches — in fact, there's a disclaimer at the top that states, "WARNING: This blog has disturbing material that may provoke triggers." She has written of the emotional plane rides home after her sister went missing, of her funeral and tossing a handful of dirt on her casket.

Delilah hopes the blog serves as a rally point for other homicide survivors and inspires them to share as well.

"I feel like a lot of statistics are being thrown around, but a lot of people aren't getting a chance to tell their story and their experiences with losing a loved one," she said.

But there is a larger movement afoot as well, as Delilah also is designing a website for other survivors of indigenous women and plans to write a book in which she will include portions of Loretta's thesis and other academic research.

She's being supported by Darryl Leroux, an assistant professor in the department of criminology and sociology at Saint Mary's. He'd served as adviser to Loretta and had spent hours speaking with her and reviewing her work.

Since his pupil's death, Leroux said he's fielded dozens of requests for Loretta's thesis proposal and Delilah indicated before she moved that she hoped to carry on her sister's legacy.

"Delilah is very courageous and her sister is and was very courageous," Leroux said. "I knew at some point she would come out and have important things to say.

"That's what's really striking — she's just kind of laying it out there and I think for her it's part of her healing process and it's probably better than keeping it bottled up inside. It's an uncomfortable thing for people to face but it's much more uncomfortable for people to experience what Delilah and her family experienced."

Delilah, meanwhile, said she's already being contacted by fellow survivors and believes her efforts and those of others would make her sister proud.

"She was a very resilient and intelligent and loving person who put everyone's needs before her own she really believed in the work that she was doing," she said.

Excerpts from Delilah Saunders' blog

• "In light of this earth-shattering experience, I've found light and love. I've been able to absorb and really take Loretta's words to heart. I've been able to see what she's always seen. I wish she could see me now. I want her to know and feel how much I love her."

• "The autopsy couldn't be performed until weeks of -20C could be reversed. The police and coroner tiptoed around using the phrase "thaw out." I've since envisioned and still envision the positions in which she was placed inside of the hockey bag, or the possible surfaces she had to 'thaw' upon. That shouldn't enter one's mind, especially when it comes to someone you love so deeply."

• "On the 7th, it snowed when we left the Pentecostal church and headed to her gravesite. I was freezing in a dress and read a poem. Everyone put a handful of dirt on her casket, hugged, cried and started to leave. The people who were to bury her said no one was allowed to stay for the lowering of the casket or burial. Sabrina, Kyle, Jess and I parked across the road and I watched the pink and white metal box descend. I had to stay with her to the end."

Where the murder case stands:

Loretta Saunders, an Inuit woman from Labrador studying at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, was killed in February and two of her roommates are facing charges of first-degree murder.

Saunders, 26, was last seen leaving her Halifax-area apartment on Feb.13. Her body was found in a wooded area off the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick about two weeks later.

Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 25, had been renting Saunders’ apartment. Halifax police say they believe Saunders was killed there the day she was last seen.

Ontario police arrested Henneberry and Leggette, who are in a relationship, a week after Saunders’ disappearance near Windsor, Ont. where they were charged with stealing Saunders’ car.

They were both charged with first-degree murder on Feb.27, and four weeks have been set aside for their trial next April.

Saunders, who was pregnant, was in the last year of her honour’s sociology degree and working on a thesis about missing and murdered Aboriginal women.-

— Haley Ryan / Metro Halifax

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