Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The linked words "pig farm" and "missing women" pierced my caffeine-deprived brain one morning this week as I blearily switched on the coffee maker and the radio. There was an interview with Pat deVries, the mother of Sarah deVries, the latest victim to be connected to that disgusting burial pit in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Sarah was 28 when she disappeared in April, 1998. The adopted daughter of an academic and a nurse, Sarah was raised with three older siblings as the only black child in a white family in the affluent area of West Point Grey in Vancouver. Her family says she suffered prejudice as a child and she began running away from home in her early teens. Living on the streets, she succumbed to drugs and prostitution.

Although her family had long since concluded from Sarah's silence that she must be dead, the discovery of traces of her DNA at the farm belonging to Robert William Pickton made it official. I expected her mother to sound shocked, angry, grief-stricken at her loss. Instead she was composed and reflective and seemed much more concerned about how her grandchildren, Ben, 6 and Jeanie, 11, were coping with the death of the mother they barely knew.

Story continues below advertisement

One of her strategies is to read them J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books at bedtime. Ben had been reluctant at first, but he had been seduced by the sounds of the story being read aloud to his sister and now he, too, is an avid listener.

DeVries's choice of Harry Potter was deliberate. She wasn't trying to divert her grandchildren with wizardry, fantastic creatures and Quidditch matches, but to connect them to the emotional suffering of a little boy whose own mother was murdered when he was a baby. The circumstances were very different, of course. Harry's mother died trying to protect him from the evil Lord Voldemort, but while Sarah deVries loved her children dearly, she "could never cope with being a mother."

Depression and death are central themes in Rowling's Harry Potter books. Harry survives the murderous attack on his family, but bears his signature jagged scar on his forehead from his nearly fatal encounter and continues to grieve for his parents. Very early in the first book, Harry looks into a magic mirror and sees his dead parents. Later he learns this is a reflection of what he longs for most in life.

Despite all his magic spells and potions, Harry remains vulnerable to the Dementors, the black spirits that can suck all the hope and optimism out of people. The Dementors are Harry's kryptonite. If they land a kiss on your lips, they can rob you of your soul, but leave your body functioning in a kind of spiritual death. The point is that children, just like the rest of us, can be victims of depression.

Haunted by this gleaning into the tragedy of somebody else's life, I remembered my conversation with J. K. Rowling, a couple of years ago. Much of Harry's feeling of loss was derived from Rowling's grief over the death of her own mother, when Rowling was 25, and the despair she subsequently suffered as an impoverished single mother.

Rowling wouldn't say how the series will be resolved, but she did admit that death is a very big theme in the long awaited book five (tentatively titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and now scheduled for release in June 2003).

"I feel I am just over halfway through one enormous book," she said of the series and by way of explaining why she is so circumspect about not revealing the plot of forthcoming books, "but I will say that death is a central theme -- what it means, what it is, what it means to survivors, what it means to the bereaved."

Story continues below advertisement

Trying to understand your own loss and to imagine the profundity of somebody else's grief is one of the things that makes us human. It is a theme running through much of classic children's literature -- The Secret Garden being only one example among many. But it is also a theme that is now coursing underneath the headlines about the missing women.

In the years when female drug addicts and prostitutes were disappearing from Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside, nobody much, including the police, seemed to care. We now know that is not true. Sarah deVries, for example, had a family who loved her and worried about her. Sarah's mother and her aunt, the children's author Jean Little, took in her children; her sister Maggie fostered public concern by taking the story of her sister's disappearance to the media and is now writing a book; her friend Wayne Leng mounted a Web site dedicated to Sarah and the other missing women. Stevie Cameron, the investigative journalist, is also preparing an account. Nancy Lee, a young Vancouver writer, with no personal connection to any of the women, was so troubled by the disappearances that she wrote a poignant collection of short stories, Dead Girls, trying to imagine the lives of the women and their families.

Nothing will bring these women back or erase the horror of their deaths, but these books will offer them a legacy in our minds, if not our hearts. And Sarah's children, who, unlike Harry, have been spared the awful fate of having to live with the diabolical Dursleys, may take some comfort from that fact and the journals and poems their mother left behind about her life on the streets. In one poem she wrote: "Will they remember me when I'm gone, or would their lives just carry on?" Not likely now, with all these potent and loving reminders.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies