CONNE RIVER, N.L.
The road to Conne River Monday evening was flanked by red dresses, hung from the boughs of trees and tied to road signs. Each one was a mark of Chantel John’s death and a reminder to the people driving in to join hundreds of community members for a vigil held for her at her parents’ house.
On Tuesday, there will be even more dresses dotting the road after the turnoff from Highway 360, to honour John when she is brought home.
“She just had a big heart, she thought everything deserved love,” John’s longtime friend Jean Stride told reporters after the vigil. “We both did, and I think that’s what brought us so close. We just thought everything needed a home. Everybody deserves love.”
Stride and John became friends when John was 16 or 17, and, each finding a kindred spirit in the other, rescued stray animals together.
“She was always talking about veterinary. Always wanted something to do with animals. We even thought about one time we were going to have a farm,” Stride said. “I had the farm animals and she used to come up and help me all the time. I always could depend on her.
“I’m gonna miss her now.”
Hundreds of people turned out for the vigil Monday night. They lit candles and listened to drumming, and they watched as John’s family released lanterns into the chilly night sky.
“Oh Mommy, oh Daddy, I love you to the end of time. I know you’re grieving, I know you’re sad, but thanks to kind neighbours, I passed in loving arms,” said John’s friend, Holly Drake, as she read from a poem she had written. “They calmed me, they made me smile. In my last minutes they helped me take a mile, a mile to a wonderful place, a mile to my new home.”
The vigil was a time for family, friends, and community members to remember and honour John, as well as to lean on and find strength in each other. While the mood was sombre, there were smiles and the odd laugh as well. As people left, they placed their candles in the snow along the outside of the yard, where they burned long after most had moved on to the family centre.
Stride said it was amazing how people had turned out for John, and that while she kept a fairly low profile in town, she was always there when someone needed a friend.
Stride said some of her best memories of John are of the two of them driving around, playing music and singing along, heedless of how they sounded.
“We used to blast the music and just, we couldn’t sing for crap, but when we were the two of us together, we didn’t care. We just drove,” Stride said.
“We always used to show each other new songs, and one song she sent to me the day before everything happened, and I’ll never forget it.
“It was a song called ‘Be Good to Her.’ She helped me through my difficult times, and she told me that song was made for us, and that one day we will find happiness. I just hope she found hers.”