07/12/2013 06:11 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Devastated Lac-Mégantic families buoyed by support

For those who lost loved ones in the train derailment and explosions that incinerated downtown Lac-Mégantic less than a week ago, it is still hard to believe they are gone.

“Your mom goes out to the bar one night to have a little bit of fun, never to come back,” says Megane Turcotte, 17.

Turcotte and her brother were woken up by the explosions early Saturday morning and found their mother, Diane Bizier, was still out.

“At first we thought she was just somewhere where she couldn’t get in touch with us,” Turcotte said. “But after four, five, six hours, it started to sink in that she wasn’t coming back.”

Turcotte lost not only her mother — the person she considered her best friend — but also a cousin who was a waitress at the Musicafé and another cousin who was at the bar with her boyfriend.

“I lost four,” she says flatly.

The same bar-turned-inferno just metres from where the first rail cars exploded also claimed the life of Colette and Jean Boulet’s only son, Yves.

He’d gone out to the theatre and then dropped by the bar afterwards with friends.

They learned very soon after the blasts that their son was among the missing. A friend who had to work the next day had left the bar just five minutes before and called them to tell them Yves had been there.

“There are no words to describe it,” says Colette Boulet about receiving the news. “It’s horror.”

Her husband clings to the idea they might find their son’s remains or at least some trace of him.

“I know it will be hard to tell one from another,” Colette says. They, like the other families, have all been briefed by investigators about the arduous process of sifting through the remains.

“They’re working meticulously,” she says. “They are keeping us abreast of all that’s happening. We’re well supported.”

Tight-knit community provides support

Indeed, in this tight-knit community, support is everywhere. Psychosocial workers from across the region are on call at the high school-turned-evacuation centre 24 hours a day. However, so far, only a few people have needed medical attention for their mental health.

Colette Boulet’s sister drops by daily, and her sister-in-law checks in, too. Her niece lives next door, while another niece is across the street.

“If we need other people, they are always there,” Boulet says. “It helps a lot.”

Megane, too, says she and her brother are surrounded by friends and relatives.

She says talking helps.

“There’s a lot that’s going to change from now on,” she says stoically.

On her smartphone is a photograph of her beaming mother, taken just last week, when Megane graduated from high school.

“I don’t think I’m ready to take flight on my own,” she says.

“I still need my mother.”

Funerals on hold

The hardest part for the Boulets so far was walking into their son’s house on the shore of Lac-Mégantic with a police investigator to collect his toothbrush, brush and comb for DNA sampling.

Now the challenge is learning to be patient.

Like the other fifty families, the elderly couple can’t plan a funeral without a death certificate. Nor can they make any decisions about their son’s assets, including his home.

For Megane, the challenge right now is learning to accept a death that never should have happened.

“She was so full of life,” she says of her mother. Their last conversation was over a new dress her mother had just bought.

“I thought it was a bit light, almost like pajamas,” Megane said. “But I said, ‘If you’re comfortable in it, that’s what counts.’”

“Then I said, ‘See you later.’ And she left for the Musicafé."