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"It never occurred to me we wouldn’t always be together..."

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Trigger warning

The story you are about to read contains distressing details may cause emotional discomfort. Please take a moment to breathe and stop reading if you are unable to continue. If you need immediate support, please call the Klinic Crisis Line at 1-888-322-3019.


Saturday, June 8, 2019 is a date I will never forget.

When I heard the tears in my sister’s voice that morning, I knew right away something had happened. My first thought was our parents. But the news was even more horrifying. June 8, 2019 was the day my family learned that my brother, Robb Donaldson, had been viciously attacked and murdered the night before.

I was stunned and couldn’t believe it, but it was real.

Robb had been looking forward to a weekend trip with some friends and went out with them on Friday night so they could finalize their plans. That night, when he was walking down the street with one of his friends, a man he didn’t know walked up and began attacking Robb with a knife. His friend and some people nearby tried to stop the attack, but they couldn’t. It all happened too fast.

That night, my brother, who I loved so much, died on the street.

Our family was shattered.

My brother Robert is in the back, third from the right

I was in a kind of fog in the days and weeks after Robb was killed. I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, and yet I had to keep going.

It’s a good thing our family is so strong. Robb’s attacker was identified and arrested the same night he was killed, so we were still in shock and grieving when we got swept up in the process of murder charges and trials.

Darcy, our worker from Victim Services, was great. She walked us through the process and helped with communication between our family and the prosecution. She was the one who connected us to Candace House. She told us they’d offer us a comfortable space to take breaks during court days, but I didn’t really know what that meant, or what to expect.

The first time we went to Candace House, it immediately felt right. It was warm, comforting, and calm. Being there felt like being at a friend’s house.

We have a very tight-knit, loving family and everyone was doing their best to support each other, and especially to help the children. Robb’s kids, nieces and nephews were devastated by his death. But we adults were dealing with our own grief too, so it really helped to be at Candace House, where we were taken care of by good people who had not gone through this terrible thing themselves.

There were several court proceedings over the days and months after Robb’s death, including the voir dire, trial, and judge’s ruling, so we spent a lot of time at Candace House.

Our extended family is big and there were so many of us going in and out of Candace House all the time. Yet the people there couldn’t have been more considerate or compassionate. We were always welcome, always cared for – and always well fed.

Even though it was difficult, I tried to not share my feelings and pain openly so as not to upset my mom. She was already dealing with enough. I went to court so she wouldn’t have to, while they took really good care of her at Candace House. Sometimes she watched the livestreamed court proceedings, and someone was always there to make sure she was doing okay.

Spending long hours in the courthouse was gruelling. Even during breaks, just being in those sterile, hard, institutionalized buildings felt bad. After hearing the vile details of Robb’s death in court, I was so glad I didn’t have to stay in the court building. It was such a relief to be able to walk over to Candace House and take refuge from it all, even if just for a little while.

At Candace House you can be yourself, even in the worst time of your life. At times I felt so comfortable that for just a little while I could forget why I was there.

Being at Candace House with people who were previously strangers, yet truly cared, boosted my mental and physical healing process. It’s a bit hard to explain, but although you want to be with your family in a time like this, it helps to do some of your grieving away from home. Home is so connected to memories and feelings that you can’t break free from your mind. Being with my family at Candace House took that all away and gave me some peace.

Candace House is like a one-stop-shop with everything you need when you’re in so much pain but still have to cope with the justice process. They sit with you in the courtroom and explain what’s going on. They listen and comfort you when you want to talk, but also give you a quiet space alone when that’s what you need. They help you connect with people in the justice system and give you privacy when you need to meet with them. They provide peace of mind.

I really don’t know what we would’ve done without Candace House during these incredibly hard times.

My brother Robb was a beautiful person and an amazing big brother to my sister and me. He had so many friends and everyone who knew him will never forget his huge laugh and how much love he had in his heart.

I always say our family is like the world – we’ll keep on spinning no matter what. Going forward, we will do right by Robert by taking care of his kids and trying to give them some sense of normal. We will do for them whatever Robert would have done.

Sentencing for Robb’s killer is coming up next spring. It will be another painful step on this journey, but at least we’ll have Candace House to help us through it.

I don’t wish this horrifying experience on anyone, but I know it will happen to others. I’m so sorry for that. I just hope Candace House is always there to give other families the same comfort and support they gave us after losing Robb.

Ryon Aitkenhead


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