As we pull up to the Kalkaska Church of Christ, you can see the long line of cars turning in. There is no doubt where the memorials for Tiffany Ferguson and her father Jim Weber are located. The front lot is full and the side lot is also quickly filling up. For a small town in Michigan, it is clear where nearly everyone is today. People in running gear, dressed up, not so dressed up, and in military uniform are milling about. As part of our party there was a gal who hadn’t gotten into town until 7 a.m. after driving in from MD, where she planned to go directly afterward. The three of us had never met personally before, but today we came together for the love of running and a fellow fallen runner. Who said running had to be a solo sport?
The church is filling up fast and there are still nearly 20 minutes before the service is scheduled to begin. Two lines form inside the door to sign guest books. We choose a line and begin to slowly file through with everyone else. As I get to the book to sign my name, something which I often do not do, I look at how my counterparts in line before me filled it in so I write Patti Mili (PRG). Apparently we are designating we are part of the Pathetic Runners Group. We search for a spot to sit and decide to stand in the back outside the chapel where video monitors are placed. Staff is quickly setting up more rows of chairs and as quickly as they set chairs down people are sitting in them. There are pictures of Tiffany and her dad on picture boards located near the Guestbook as well as around the church.
As 11 a.m. approaches there are still two lines of people with seemingly no end in sight trying to sign in. The speakers crackle and come to life. Standing up front is a man, who directs us to turn off our cell phone ringers and find our places. The lines signing the books quickly disperse as everyone searches for a seat. In front of me there are probably 15 empty seats, but many just opt to stand directly at the back. The service is about to begin.
First, he talks to the family. Then, he comes back up to the podium and begins to speak about the lovely chaos that was Tiffany’s life. Her love for her kids, the hockey association, and running. He speaks of Jim. His love for tractors, talent for fixing things, and love for a good practical joke. Nolan is up front with him, being every bit of a boy. First he’s sitting, then he’s reclining, but he’s up there so well behaved and so strong.
Poems are read for each of them. For Tiffany, it is Footprints, one of my favorites. I can’t help but reflect on how true this poem is for her. Surely with 4 kids, all the responsibilities she had and her newfound love of running she had many rough moments where she was carried. A poem about the Dash is read for Jim. It talks about how the most meaningful part is the dash between the years from date of birth dash date of departure and how much meaning you’ve given YOUR DASH. I’d never heard it before, but it was a thought provoking piece. If you are interested in the poems I’ve added the links, so you can read each for yourself.
A song is played for Tiffany, “Lean on Me”. It is preformed beautifully live and it is a difficult song, but with each word I can’t help but wonder how he sang it without breaking down because three quarters of us were already dabbing at tears if not outwardly sobbing and the other quarter was most likely doing there best not to join the others.
Next, a song is played for Jim. After the gut wrenching rendition of “Lean On Me” comes Elton John’s “My Song”. Played live and very nicely rendered, the church is silent. However, little Caroline has stepped from her family and in her little dress is spinning circles and dancing to the song. She twirls, arms going this way and that as she rocks in a beautifully heartbreaking tribute to her Grandfather and just as I don’t think I can take anymore she spins one last time and falls to the floor with a little clunk. A small chuckle echos through the church and some of the dark tension of mourning is released. Leave it to the innocence of a 3 year old child to so perfectly respond at such a time. I can’t help but feel her mom and grandfather are looking down on her dance and smiling.
As a group we sing Amazing Grace and soon the VFW post is present to do a military portion of the service. I think as I’ve been through the military service more than once, this is the hardest thing to sit dry eyed through. There is something about the entire process that always brings home the raw emotion of the situation. They begin to talk about how Jim has gone to be with the Supreme Commander, then the flag is eventually unfurled. Once the flag is unfurled you can hear the commotion outside and moments later much of the church jumps as the guns fire. Afterward, the flag is painstakingly folded triangle by triangle.
Throughout the service, I notice a boy and girl, maybe between 8 and 10 years old sitting not too far from us. The little girl is crying and the boy wraps his arm around her, pulling her toward him in a perfect act of consoling. Later, the boy, his cheeks bright red has his face down and the little girl has her arm around his back and she is talking to him. I’m taken by the two of them in their moment because they show the maturity and compassion to be there for one another. I can’t imagine who they are, but it is clear that they have been taught well.
As everyone files down, some of us gather in the corner for introductions and a quick discussion. We do not stay with everyone, but take off. Each of the PRG touched by Tiffany has found catharsis in their own way from running miles in her memory, donating money, or more. A small showing of the group has even come to the service. Afterward, I’m asked, “Couldn’t people tell he was a little crazy.” But, I guess that’s the raw problem with DV, no one every really believes the true capabilities of someone until the unspeakable happens. We just carry through our merry day with blinders on. The bottom line is, statistically speaking, the point when a woman disengages from a relationship with an abuser is the most dangerous time for her. This is something we all know, but even for me, the reality of this danger never sank in. I’m sure it was the same for her. I saw a note someplace, that abusers rarely pick a weak person, they pick on the strong yet compassionate person because there is no real challenge in dominating someone weaker. It is clear, from the stories I’ve heard today, that Tiffany was anything but weak!
So as today draws to a close, I’m happy I’m here with my 2 children because very easily I could NOT have been. My heart aches for Tiffany’s children having lost 2 amazing role models in their lives, but it looks as though they are in good hands with their Grandma Shirley and the town of Kalkaska. It’s a special grandparent to step forward and raise the kids, I know I was raised by my grandparents. As a grandparent raising your grandchildren, it is an interesting process to negotiate being both roles in one but speaking from the child’s point of view, you will lend a special flavor to how they view life that their peers will not posses. Thank God for amazing Grandma’s like Shirley and that sense of small town community. Goodbye dear Tiffany, I don’t think you could ever calculate the impact you’ve made on the world around you. I think your Dash has more significance than you could ever have realized.