Just two months after his death, the family of Daryll Fenton is looking to give back to the organization that helped them in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy.
Daryll Fenton, 68, was fishing with his wife, Els, in southeastern Manitoba on May 29 when he fell off the front of his boat after it unexpectedly jerked forward. The couple had just purchased the boat and Els was unfamiliar with how to operate it. Rough weather was making the task even more difficult.
Listen to the full conversation:
"He said, "Don't panic, you can do this, but we don't have much time,'" Els says about the moments after Daryll fell in without a life jacket. "He floated there, and I tried and tried to get close to him. And every time I got really close the waves and the wind came up and pushed us apart. The whole time I was just asking the Lord, 'what are you up to here? I just can't do this on my own.'"
After some time in the water, Els made another desperate attempt to get the boat to Daryll. "I aimed the boat straight forward very slowly, and as I was doing that I said, 'Lord, I trust you and I trust your will.' As I said 'I trust your will' Daryll looked up to the sky and he had this amazing smile and an incredible glow came from his face. And then he bowed his head down into the water and his arms went down into the water.
"I trust you, I trust you"
"I couldn't believe that he would give up - he's a fighter and a swimmer. I tried six times to get around to him to try and grab him and he disappeared under the waves. I just couldn't get him. The whole time I was screaming and yelling at the Lord, 'What is going on here? Why are you allowing this? But Father, I trust you, I trust you.'
"It is absolutely devastating to see the man you spend that many years with disappear that way."
Yet, Els says, in the midst of that trauma she would soon discover joy.
The comfort of prayers from emergency responders
Residents of cabins on the lake came to aid Els in her search for Daryll and police and fire departments from surrounding communities also arrived.
But it was when a group of Hutterites arrived that Els found some peace and comfort. The Hutterites make up HEART - the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team. The group of volunteers specializes in underwater diving and the recovery of drowning victims.
"When they came they prayed with us," Els says. "They were just so amazing and they found him in no time at all in the evening." Not only was the team able to quickly locate him to help bring the family some closure, but they also discovered something Els calls remarkable.
"The position they found him in was in the kneeling surrender position. I really believe Daryll saw Jesus as he went under and bowed down in worship to him."
Els says she finds hope in her faith and comfort that one day the two will be reunited. Now, the family wants to give back to HEART to help other families in similar situations.
Raising funds for hovercraft
HEART was created after the Oak Bluff Colony near Morris, Man., went through their own drowning tragedy. A young boy from the colony went missing and community members searched for two days for the boy. The only place they couldn't search was in a dugout on the colony. Members of the RCMP dive team came and were able to locate the boy's body. For another young boy on the colony who watched this play out, it birthed a desire to learn to dive and help others, Daryll and Els' daughter, Naomi says.
"They always point back to God," she says. "It's not about them. It's God working in them and then through them to serve other families and show families the love of God in their darkest hours."
"Not knowing where my dad was, knowing that he was out there in the lake somewhere -- I couldn't go to the what-ifs. What if we don't find him, or what if an animal finds him." Instead, by that evening the family had Daryll's body back thanks to HEART.
"It is heartbreaking, but you also feel like there is a piece of your heart given back to you when you get your loved one back."
Daryll's family wants to help HEART raise funds for a CHRISTY Hovercraft which is worth $130,000 USD ($164,000 CAD). The team relies solely on donations and as awareness about them increases so do the number of requests for assistance. Naomi says that a hovercraft will help the team search for victims when conditions are difficult, such as when lakes are freezing or thawing.
"I think, my family alone, we've raised about $7,000," Naomi says, "so we have a long way to go."
She's hoping businesses will come forward to sponsor HEART which does include visibility for the business in return. Families and individuals are also encouraged to donate. HEART is a registered Candian charity and tax receipts are issued.
You can find more info on how to donate to HEART here.