Usually when we arrive at the home of our children in Sparwood or Elkford, it is always joyous and sometimes even downright rambunctious. High fives, hugs, handshakes and general greetings is spontaneous but always heartfelt.
Arriving at the home of our daughter and her family was a most difficult time in our lives. It is 1:30 am, Wednesday morning, September 16 and we are grappling with the sudden death of two very special and much beloved people.
We pull into the driveway and with a feeling of apprehension and nervousness I park the vehicle and paused to try and visualize what I would see and what to expect when I walked through the front door of a very welcoming home. We walked slowly, with the creaking of the steps announcing an eerie feeling of something out of the Twilight Zone.
The seconds seemed like minutes, my legs were like rubber and the forward movement of my body was with great difficulty. Reaching for the door knob is quickly thwarted as the door opened from the inside.
That moment is forever frozen in time. My son-in-law Mike, our daughter Corette and two of our grandchildren, Rebecca and Alexandra were standing in the foyer of their new house while our younger granddaughter Emma was in bed.
There was little excitement. No high fives this time, just warm embraces, hot tears and “We’re glad you made it.” We caught up on the latest news and then went to bed.
The next day was very difficult. Wherever I went in the community the subject of Terry and Hailey was discussed and debated. People gave their own opinions on what might have happened. Speculation was rampant. There was anger and disbelief.
I picked up the Edmonton Sun for Tuesday September 15 with the word TAKEN blazoned across the front page. The inside story was about the death of Terry and the abduction of Hailey. A colored picture of dad and daughter immediately brought tears to my eyes and again rising from deep, deep within my spirit was the question, “Why? Why?” I could find no comfort for the hurt and pain that I was feeling as my gaze was fixated on the picture.
Being a pastor for thirty years can help prepare you to meet with and face tragedies of all descriptions but for some reason my emotions were completely out of control. In that moment of time God spoke a Bible verse to my spirit. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
My wife and I drove a fourteen hour drive to face the inevitable for ourselves but we wanted to be of help and bring comfort to our immediately families and to the families of Terry and Hailey. I felt a new sense of being invigorated by God and knew that he would be my strength and thus I could help pass that on to those in pain.
Our granddaughter introduced me to members of both Terry and Hailey’s families. I met some incredible people. The questions were many and the pain, the hurts and emotions were deep. I offered the hand of fellowship and committed myself to help out in any way possible.
The investigation was ongoing and as one could imagine the longer the investigation the more difficult it was in waiting for answers. No definite dates or times could be set for memorial services or whether or not a public funeral would be arranged. During the long waiting period the entire Elk Valley became inundated with love as people from right across Canada and parts of the United States used social media to extend their love, thoughts and prayers to grieving families.
Our granddaughter Rebecca and her mom Corette did several interviews with national news casts to answer questions and try to unravel the deep emotions of the event. Fundraisers were put in place and many communities held candlelight vigils as hundreds gathered to help in some way to support and help bring closure. My wife and myself, along with our families gathered at a candlelight vigil in Elkford as neighbours, friends and strangers gathered just because they could and wanted desperately to be there.
Knowing that the date for any memorial service was still pending, we would have to return to Tumbler Ridge/Chetwynd but it would not be easy to leave with so many unanswered questions.
I had time to reflect on the question “Why?” and started to focus on “How?” How does one now deal with a tragedy of this magnitude? Can we learn from it? Is there something we can do in their memory that would honor them and at the same time help us to cope?
Our family came up with a brilliant idea—plant a tree. Mike had gone to Fernie and purchased a fruit tree (actually it was donated) that we would plant in memory of Terry and Hailey. In the next hour every detail of that planting was done with reverence and respect.
We all took part in digging the hole and Mike took careful measurements for the depth and the width. When we were ready the tree was carefully moved to the edge of the hole and then laid in place. We all took turns in placing soil in the hole and when completed Mike made the most amazing request. “George, would you please say a prayer!” Wow! I was overwhelmed as all seven of us held hands and prayed together.
You will recall that I began my previous article talking about trees that were dead but in the spring would be bursting with new life. All of this before the news of this tragedy. I said, “The desiccated leaves remind us of the end of one cycle but the beginning of a new cycle with unlimited potential. In the Spring the nude trees will again spring to life and the birth of new leaves will spread a new fragrance on the wind.”
Who would have thought that the death and the life of a tree would bring this article full circle? In the spring of 2016 this fruit tree will again burst forth with life and the magnificence of God’s creation will once again bring us hope as life rises from the soil and is displayed in greenery and edible fruit. In my spirit Terry and Hailey will always live and the budding fruit tree will never allow the memory of them to fade. The next day we came home.
The call finally came on October 6. “Poppy, services for Terry and Hailey are now scheduled for Friday, October 9. There will be a private memorial service in the morning and a public service in the afternoon. Can you come?”
The sudden call catches me a little off guard. I am still dealing with the question “How?” I’ve come to the conclusion that the answers, any answer to the question “Why” is often fuzzy or nebulous or cloudy. Even if it is the right answer we are not always satisfied and it does not bring closure. I needed to go. I needed to go for myself, my wife, our children and the families of Terry and Hailey. My church schedule was very busy for the next few days but I had to go. I called my daughter and said that we would come on Thursday, attend the services on Friday and return again on Saturday.
It was a long drive down Highway 22 but I was beginning to be a peace. My emotions were under control and the memories of Terry and Hailey were now soothing. I did not concentrate on their death but on the memories of their life.
The private memorial service was a real tear jerker for many. Large displays of Terry and his sports paraphernalia and Hailey proudly wearing her Montreal Canadiens Jersey was so innocent and surreal that I found myself smiling rather than weeping.
The “How” question was now being answered and I knew from that moment on I would have fewer questions about “Why” and a much greater appreciation for the tremendous impact two young people could make on my life and the lives of people generally. During the public service I shared about the importance of moving from the “Why” to the “How” and the releasing of hundreds of balloons at the end of the service brought closure to an act of brutality but hope and a new sense of life that stretches to the distant skies. I still cry and sometimes weep in my spirit without tears but thinking about them is a reminder that and the sun is always shining. Rest in peace beautiful people.