Manitoba·Updated

Grieving daughter grateful for public support for Audrey Desjarlais

It took more than three years for Barb Desjarlais to find her long lost mother. But it took just one day to raise the money to properly honour her. Desjarlais raised $1,050 through a GoFundMe campaign Wednesday.

Mother in MMIW case will now have proper gravesite thanks to public support

A numbered concrete marker identifies the grave of Audrey Desjarlais. (CBC photo)

It took more than three years for Barb Desjarlais to find her long lost mother. But it took just one day to raise the money to properly honour her.

Desjarlais raised $1,050  through a GoFundMe campaign Wednesday.  All to purchase a memorial marker for Audrey Desjarlais. The marker will replace the small concrete circle at plot No. 209 in a Winnipeg cemetery.

"That's so awesome I've already reached my goal, I can't believe it," Barb Desjarlais said, through tears, from her Regina home Wednesday afternoon. "That's so great that there are so many nice people and that so many people care."

Desjarlais said she would immediately order the marker, a modest slab that will read "Audrey Mary Desjarlais", with her birth date and her death date -- at least, the year she's presumed to have died.

Identity unknown for 3 years

Audrey Desjarlais went missing from her Steinbach, Man. home more than three years ago. In June of 2012, the remains of an unidentified woman were pulled from the Red River on the east edge of Winnipeg.

Barb long-suspected this Jane Doe was her mother. But authorities only conducted a DNA comparison after the CBC told her story in April.

Two weeks ago,  the results confirmed Barb's suspicions.

"I feel better knowing at least I know where she is, like, and she's not just ... missing," Desjarlais said Wednesday, from her Regina home.

Buried in field of the forgotten

But while there's comfort in that knowledge, there's also heartache; her mother is buried in section 38 at the Brookside Cemetery. It's a small, weeded over field, where fewer than 20 graves are nestled against a chain link fence and Logan Avenue.

Most of those buried here are the forgotten ones, the "unclaimed" ones or the unidentified ones. Many of them, like Audrey Desjarlais, are memorialized with nothing but a numbered concrete marker in lieu of a headstone.

Desjarlais wants more, but as a single parent on a limited income, she cannot afford it. Even a modest marker costs more than $1,000. And because she is not a resident of Manitoba, she cannot put in a request for funding through social assistance.

She also reached out for help through her mother's home reserve, Saddle Lake Cree Nation, but that request went unanswered.

I still have a lot of uneasy feelings as to what happened.....but hopefully she's at peace now.- Barb Desjarlais

That's why she's launched a GoFundMe campaign — an online fundraiser to help cover the costs of the marker.

Once she's purchased it, she plans to make the trip to Winnipeg with her twin toddlers and father, and lay her mother to rest once and for all. It will be bittersweet, she said, and perhaps even begin her process of healing. But even that, she said, is tenous.

"I don't know about that," Desjarlais said. "I still have a lot of uneasy feelings as to what happened to her or how she ended up in the river. But hopefully she's at peace now."

About the Author

Donna Carreiro

CBC Radio Current Affairs Producer

Donna Carreiro is an award-winning producer and journalist, who has worked for more than 25 years with CBC Manitoba. Prior to that, she was a print journalist for a daily newspaper and local magazines. She is drawn to stories of social justice (or injustice) that give a voice to those who most need one. She can be reached at donna.carreiro@cbc.ca.

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