‘It just happened in a split second – and everything’s gone’

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Sachdeva family vigil

Members of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple hold a candlelight vigil for the Sachdeva family, who had five members die in a car crash, in Surrey, B.C. May 4, 2013. Gerry Kahrmann/PNG

Even amid the grief, pain and emptiness, the last remaining members of Surrey’s Sachdeva family have nothing but gratitude for those around them.

“We’d like to thank RCMP, fire department, victim services and the coroner’s – all the public,” Sanjeev Sachdeva said at a candelight vigil for his deceased family members at Surrey’s Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Saturday.

Although incredibly thankful, Sanjeev’s downcast eyes and sombre demeanour can’t hide his pain as he stands next to his silent brother, Jolly, his eyes, too, swollen with grief as he stares straight ahead, under the beating sun.

“It’s very hard,” said Sanjeev. “It just happened in a split second – and everything’s gone.”

The brothers lost most of their loved ones when five family members were ripped away from them in a horrific car crash April 28, 2013.

Jolly lost his wife, Reena Arjot, son Aanish, 5, daughter Jessica, 3, mother, Vidya Wanti Sachdeva, and sister, Neelam Rani Dhingra, when a driver of a Dodge Caravan allegedly ran a red light at 176 Street and 32 Avenue, tearing his family’s Toyota Corolla in two as they returned  home from a religious ceremony in South Surrey.

According to Sanjeev it was his niece Jessica’s birthday April 22 and nephew Aanish’s birthday April 27. The family was just about to celebrate for both of them that tragic Sunday.

“We were about to celebrate on the 28th -  but they never came back,” said Sanjeev.

Family, friends and community members have been doing everything they can to support the Sachdevas.

“(We’re) concerned about (them),” said cousin Nikhil Dhingra.

According to Dhingra, the Sachdevas’ remaining sister, along with her husband and children are en route from India to live with them in their Surrey home for the next couple of months hoping to help them through this tragedy.

“If you lose five people from the family, there’s nobody in the house,” he said. “So we’re trying to give them strength.”

The community is also “a big help,” he said, with hundreds of community members flooding Delta’s Riverside Funeral Home and Crematorium for the funeral service for all five family members Friday and more than a hundred coming out for the prayer and candle light vigil at the temple Saturday evening.

Surrey gurdwara committee member, Bhopinder S. Warraich, didn’t know the Sachdevas personally, but he’s been to their restaurant and felt the “big tragedy” close to home – so in a committee meeting the Gurdwara decided to hold the service.

“Not just the Sachdeva family right now is in that situation – the whole community … is in sadness,” he said at the vigil. “There’s just a few (family) members left behind, so we should show them we are always with them,” he said, adding that it’s also a time for everyone “to review our driving patterns.”

The duty to support and pray echoed through the community all weekend.

“Everybody is trying to support the family,” Shangara Prihar told Vancouver Desi as he left the Delta funeral home Friday. “It’s a real tragedy.”

Throughout the hour-long Punjabi service, friends, family and community members streamed into the hall, heads covered and many clutching tissues, before making their way to the centre of the room to say their last goodbyes to the five caskets resting between family photos and pink and blue balloons.

Family members at the centre of the room clung together as the ceremony came to a close, sobs and sniffles echoing through the room.

“The whole family is gone,” said Gurcharan Singh Bagri, who hailed from the same Indian village as the family. “The children… they have not seen the whole world.

“Everybody has to pay some attention — it’s a great loss.”

President of the Khalsa Diwan Society Sohen Singh Deo was one of many mourners offering his support.

“The whole community is here right now – not just relatives,” he said.

According to Surrey RCMP, the collision is still under investigation and it may take up to a year until charges are laid. The 46-year-old man from Langley who was driving the Dodge Caravan that allegedly ran a red light at the intersection is still in hospital. He’s undergone a number of surgeries and is heavily sedated so police have yet to interview him.

But officials remain in contact with the man’s family and caretakers and plan to speak with him as soon as possible, a Surrey RCMP spokesman said.

At the end of Friday’s service, the priest encouraged the community to continue supporting the family as he invited them to a prayer service at a nearby temple that afternoon as well as Saturday’s candlelight vigil.

And family, friends and community members certainly followed through, as the hundreds of supporters not only attended Richmond’s Guru Nanak Niwas gurdwara Friday, but the Surrey temple Saturday — to continue their prayers for the family torn apart by tragedy, the children who will never grow old.

lcahute@theprovince.com
twitter.com/larissacahute

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