Friend shares grief like ‘losing a family member’

On a cold January night nearly two year ago, Marc Woerlen was sitting in the outdoor hot tub of his good friend Andrew Cinnamon, as the two relaxed in the backyard of Mr. Cinnamon’s North Gower home.

“Boy, do you have it good up here,” Mr. Woerlen told his friend. “Maybe we’ll join you here soon.”

Shortly thereafter, their casual nighttime chat began to develop into a reality. Mr. Woerlen purchased an empty lot on Dilworth road and hired Mr. Cinnamon to build his family’s future home. Mr. Woerlen’s older brother, Tim, had already moved his family to the area and was working on the Woerlen family farming property in Winchester.

Just this week, Mr. Woerlen had completed the sale of his farmhouse in the township of West Lincoln, south of Grimsby, Ont. On Tuesday, the final approval to build his new home had arrived from the city of Ottawa. Mr. Cinnamon was planning on laying down the foundations this coming week. Mr. Woerlen hoped to move in with his family by the New Year. The dream home was just months away.

But it was not to be.

On Monday night, Mr. Woerlen was asleep at his brother’s home in North Gower after a long day of working on preparations for his new house. At 11:22 p.m. his entire family perished as a massive fire engulfed their two-storey home in southern Ontario. His pregnant wife Monika, 39, and his seven children, Susanna, 11, Elena, 10, Marcus, 8, Samuel, 7, Paul, 5, Nathan, 3, and Debora-Lynne, 19 months, all died as a result of smoke inhalation.

Yesterday, just off an unpaved road, and beyond a line of nearly bare conifer trees, the man who was going to build the Woerlen’s new home stood in the middle of 2.5 acres of empty field, with architectural blueprints of the planned bungalow rolled up in his clenched fist.

“This slope over here,” he said, pointing towards a patchy piece of land, “was going to be the lower level.”

It was going to be a big house for a big family: five bedrooms, high ceilings and a walkout basement.

Mr. Cinnamon could relate. A member of the same church, he also has seven children. He was looking forward to building his friend’s home and becoming his new neighbor. But after the fire, he said, the house was now the farthest thing from his mind.

“We love each other. We care for each other,” he said of Mr. Woerlen. “Something like this is no different than losing a family member.”

The day after the tragedy, Mr. Cinnamon went down to West Lincoln to comfort his grieving friend. He found him strong, and in good spirits.

“My kids are all up in heaven, cheering me on, saying ‘hang in there, dad'” Mr. Cinnamon recalled Mr. Woerlen as saying. “I may not feel like living but I am going to be faithful, so I can be there with them as soon as possible.”

The Woerlens were a family of faith. They were moving to North Gower to be closer to their religious community at the Rideau Christian Fellowship Centre, a branch of the Norwegian-based Brunstad Christian Church. The congregation has 34 families, mostly consisting of large families with young children, just like the Woerlens. According to Philip Derkatch, the brother with responsibility, who is considered the leader of the chapter, about half of the 300 or so members of the church are under the age of 16.

Yesterday, the solitary church on Century road was barren. The silence in the rural fields was ominous with the only sound coming from the childrens’ swings in the playground, crashing against each other in the wind.

Inside the simple structure was a large empty hall with hundreds of scattered chairs scattered a single quote printed on the wall above the makeshift alter from the book of Peter:

“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”

Mr. Derkatch remarked that the scripture is especially appropriate in these difficult times. The church will be empty this weekend as well, as most of the congregation will make the long journey south to West Lincoln to attend the eight funerals on Saturday.