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LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - The cloud of sorrow that hangs over a Quebec town ravaged by a train derailment might never lift for dozens of families whose loved ones vanished without a trace.
A grief counsellor sent in to help comfort the battered town of Lac-Megantic says that, without a body to bury, many can't move past the denial stage of loss.
Richard Vaillancourt says the uncertainty can keep families in limbo for years.
Vaillancourt's team of more than 30 counsellors has listened to shell-shocked residents in community centres, fire stations and even public parks in recent days.
"When we have nothing to confirm that the person we love has died, that denial stretches over time," he said Thursday, more than five days after tragedy struck the community.
"It's hard to move on to other things — to experience anger, then experience sadness... then to say, 'OK, I accept it and I'm going to take care of myself and return to a normal rhythm of living,'" he said.
About 50 people are feared to have died in last weekend's disaster but, so far, only one body has been identified.
Some families have found comfort in speaking publicly about their lost loved ones.
Some would rather not.
A first victim was named by police Thursday — 93-year-old Elianne Parenteau, who lived near the tracks. Her son had spoken publicly about his mom while he still held out hope she might still be alive.
Now the family is busy planning a funeral.
"Everything has been said," said her son, Michel Boulanger, in a phone interview.
"I just want to keep quiet and let her rest in peace."
Louise Boulet doesn't know when a funeral might be held for her sister.
Boulet, 63, said she's sure her sister Marie-France died in the blast, and while she and her nine other siblings accept that, they won't be at peace until they have her ashes.
"There's not a lot left, but we definitely want something to put in an urn," she said.
Though the town is likely to hold a collective memorial to honour those who disappeared in the explosion, Boulet said she won't let the sister — whom she called her family's "Mother Teresa" — become an anonymous victim.
"My sister will get her own funeral," she said.
Born only a year apart, the two sisters were each others' confidantes, a bond reflected in the name of the upscale lingerie boutique Marie-France, 62, owned: Mari Loup, a combination of their names.
Though she left her hometown as a young woman for Quebec City and later Montreal, Marie-France Boulet returned eight years ago to take over the shop while her sister cared for a dying relative.
She was a meticulous woman who labelled and dated every gift she received in her trademark scribble. Marie-France revelled in the business and even lived in an apartment behind the store, her sister said.
That's likely where she was early Saturday when the train came careening off the tracks, said Louise, who has kept votive candles burning since her sister went missing.
Many more were in the nearby Musi-Cafe, the town hotspot, to listen to a popular local act or celebrate with friends.
Andre-Anne Sevigny worked at the bar. She was "a sensitive girl" who loved Zumba, a type of Latin dance class, and had recently gone back to school at the local CEGEP, said her colleague and friend Karine Blanchette.
In the days before the crash, a smitten Sevigny couldn't help but rave about her boyfriend of about a year, with whom she'd recently moved in and purchased new furniture, Blanchette said.
Stephane Bolduc was at the bar to mark his 37th birthday, said his friend Sebastien Audet. Bolduc's girlfriend, Karine Champagne, had made a rare appearance at the bar for the occasion.
The couple had been together for less than a year but were serious about each other — spending weekends outdoors skiing cross-country and downhill, Audet said.
It was the second time tragedy struck around Bolduc's birthday.
His previous girlfriend had died two years ago from a blood clot, prompting him to overhaul his life and pursue his dream of selling cars, his friend said.
In the final two years, he got his dream job; he obtained a motorcycle and his dream car, an SUV Grand Cherokee; and he found love again.
"He accomplished many things before leaving us," Audet said.
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