Now Or Never

'It's my gift of love': Handmade bracelets honour missing and murdered loved ones

Sue Caribou holds 14 bracelets, handmade by her friend Betty Rourke. Each one represents the name of a missing or murdered family member.

'They mean they're still alive in someone's heart,' said Sue Caribou, who has lost 14 family members

Betty Rourke and Sue Caribou with bracelets made to honour Caribou's loved ones. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

Sue Caribou holds a handful of bracelets and names the loved ones they represent: her murdered nephew Alpheus, her missing niece Tanya, her murdered cousin Caroline. And the list goes on.

There are 14 bracelets in total, each of them with a different name on it. Each of them is a meaningful gift, borne out of heartbreaking loss.

Betty Rourke's daughter, Jennifer McPherson, was murdered in 2013. Rourke now makes bracelets for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, children and men. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"I wear my parents' bracelets, Simon and Janie, all the time. I cry all the time when I pull these bracelets out," Caribou said. "But they're such special gifts when I think of my family. They mean they're still alive in someone's heart."

Caribou wants to thank the woman who made her these gifts: Betty Rourke, a grandmother from Selkirk, Man. They are sitting in Rourke's small, sunny kitchen, at a table covered with bracelets, beads and thread. 

The mood is sometimes light.

"I couldn't believe that you would make all 14 bracelets for me," Caribou said, laughing. "I thought 'no way, no way.'"

Betty Rourke spends her evenings at her kitchen table making bracelets. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

'Know you're not alone'

"There's so much hurt there, so it makes me happy when I can make other people happy," said Rourke. "I know her sadness. I know how she feels."

That's because Rourke, like Caribou, has also lost loved ones to violence. Her sister, Jennifer Johnston, was murdered in Winnipeg in 1980. Her daughter Jennifer MacPherson was murdered in British Columbia in 2013.

After her daughter's death, Rourke started making rosary bracelets, to keep herself busy and her mind off her heartache. In 2016, she decided to make bracelets for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"To honour them; to honour their loved ones," Rourke said. "To know you're not alone."

Betty Rourke carefully threads beads for another bracelet, to honour those who are missing or were murdered. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

Today, Rourke makes bracelets for any family who has lost a loved one, male or female, in Canada and beyond. Every night, after dinner, she sits at her table and begins her beading. Sometimes families reach out to her. Sometimes, after searching online, she'll reach out to families themselves.

Most of them, at least at first, are complete strangers. But that doesn't stop Rourke. She'll make them a bracelet — sometimes more than one — and delivers it to them, free of charge.

"It's my gift of love, it's my gift of love," Rourke said.

For women like Caribou, it's a gift that cuts through the pain.

"It's from a beautiful lady that has a big heart for a lot of the families," Caribou said. "It just warmed my heart."

Betty Rourke hopes her small beaded bracelets bearing the names of others lost to violence, will comfort the loved ones left behind. 1:33