Monday, April 2, 2012

My Weekend in Sidney, MT

I’ll be honest. As a writer whose words seem to flow freely and easily from my heart to my brain to my fingertips on the keyboard, today I am stumped. I simply do not know how to encapsulate this past weekend and what it has meant to me. There were so many moments of deep, profound feelings. I cannot remember a time when 48 hours of my living and breathing has contained so much emotional intensity.

I write this post because I was one of the lucky ones who knew Sherry. I was honored to be at her funeral and to spend time with her family at their ranch outside of Sidney. At the risk of sounding corny, I very much felt like I was there for all of you who have been with me on this journey and who have cared so deeply about what happened to Sherry. And, of course, I was there for my family and for myself.

Sherry’s mom told me that she had given the press permission to video and live stream Sherry’s funeral on the internet. She said she did this because she felt that so many people around the world had cared about Sherry, and it was the “right thing to do,” to let them be a witness to her funeral. I couldn’t agree more.

As my 19-seater puddle jumper flight neared Sidney on Friday, just hours before the funeral, I can’t tell you how surreal it felt to be entering this landscape, the place where this all went down.

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I hate these little planes. Unless I’m jumping out of them.

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Landing in Sidney

The surreality never left me the entire time I was there. It was dream-like. My brain couldn’t grasp the reality of any of it.

Prior to the funeral, which was at Sidney High School where Sherry taught, the family gathered in the library. We filed into the gym together after everyone else had been seated. I will never forget that moment when I entered the gym. There were at least 2,500 people there, sitting silently.

About 2,000 people attended Sherry Arnold's services Friday, packing the Sidney High School gym, where she worked as a math teacher. TRIBUNE PHOTO/RICHARD PETERSON

As I sat, I looked to my my right to see law enforcement and FBI officials sitting on bleachers beside the family, many of them crying. The service was two hours long and included Sherry’s mom singing, “Jesus Loves Me.” Her casket was wheeled in and I could not believe her body was in there. This was real. This had really happened. At times I thought I might actually pass out – probably a mixture of emotion, fatigue, a head cold and the warm temperature in the room.

The burial at the Sidney Cemetery was amazingly beautiful and incredibly agonizing. Watching a family in pain to this extent made me feel helpless and deeply sad. Yet, I knew that the ritual of saying goodbye prior to the casket being lowered was such an essential part of grieving and eventual healing. I took a few flowers from the casket to save, and decided to leave my Sherry bracelet on the handle of the casket.

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The next morning I went for a run in Sidney. Call me crazy, but this was something I needed for my own closure. I didn’t really care what anyone thought. I ran by the spot where Sherry was grabbed and also by the jail where the low life bastards are right now. Taken by my phone: 

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These two places where with a half mile from where I was staying at Sherry’s sister’s house. I was uneasy, yet peaceful at the same time if that is even possible. Just as I was almost back to the house I was charged by a pit-bull and another large dog. WTF? I nearly crapped my pants. I stopped, stared them down and screamed BACK!!!! What a reminder that you truly never do know what is coming – good and bad.

We spent Saturday at the ranch where Sherry grew up. This is a family who just envelopes and embraces you. They openly shared their grief, their stories about Sherry. Her dad drove us around to look at all the mama cows getting ready to give birth.

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We passed the school house where Sherry and her sister went in their early years:

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The landscape out there is so incredible:

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I feel like I should wind up this post by writing something really wise, but I’ve got nothing. All I know is that children should never have to say goodbye to their mom, not this way, not in any way. I know that crappy, awful, unimaginable things happen that we so want to be able to prevent, but can’t. I know that time does not heal all wounds. I know that we have to live fully and unafraid.

Later this week I will transfer to the family the $10,000 you all gave to support Sherry’s children. I can’t thank you enough and neither can they.

Once again, I am thankful for running. Despite all the travels, I managed to get in some good runs this week in Mexico and Sidney. For me, running helps me know a place. Not just geographically, but the feeling of the place. Running is something I do anywhere and everywhere, it doesn’t matter how long or how fast. Running in all of its simplicity makes me feel alive and helps me heal.

SUAR

71 comments:

  1. Beautiful post. The crowd at the high school gym took my breath away and shows just how loved Sherry was in her community. I hope she is running in heaven. I hear they don't get shin splints up there, only joy.

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  2. I hope that sad, sad weekend helped to give you closure. I know that Sherry touched a lot of us thanks to you.

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  3. Michelle in MichiganApril 2, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    As always, beautifully written....

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  4. Too much for words. But you've captured this all beautifully Beth. Ahh, so much emotion here. Can't even imagine what it must have felt like for you to run that morning...in the same spot. Something I would have wanted to do too. So glad you are okay and were protected from those dogs. This picture of all the people that showed up just overwhelms me...speaks loudly for how special Sherry was. My heart goes out to you and everyone as you heal and continue to process. Thank you for sharing this. A Story that will live with us all always.

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  5. Thank you for sharing with us. I hope the family is able to begin some sort of closure. Here's to Sherry.....

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  6. Looks like a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.

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  7. Beautiful post Beth. Thank you for sharing the journey with us, as many of us feel such a part of everything. So glad that your family was able to have some closure and hopefully start healing.

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  8. Tears fill my eyes as I read this... Cheers to Sherry and her family!

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  9. Thank you for sharing this with us. Sherry and her family will be in my thoughts often, and always. I hope everyone has the closure that they need and the strength to carry on, even if it will never be the same.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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  11. Beth,
    Thank you for sharing this with us. I was calmly sipping tea while reading, trying to hold back the tears, and then that shifted to trying not to choke when I read about your encounter with the dog.
    I'd a done the same thing....
    Keep on keepin' on.
    Gene

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  12. Thank you Beth for sharing this. So much emotion just reading this, I cannot imagine what it was like for you.

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  13. Thank you for sharing your journey. And thank you to Sherry's family for allowing all of us who didnt know Sherry into their jounery as well. I hope they know that she will never be forgetten. Not by any of them, and not by the random runners all over the world who have been touched by her story.

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  14. I don't know what to say either. *hugs*

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  15. This is so sad. But the tone you write with is hopeful. And though you claim "nothing" in the wise department at the close of this, you still manage to give us "wise." No child should have to bid this kind of farewell to a parent...and by the same token, no parent to his or her child. My heart aches so deeply for Sherry's mom.

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us. Funerals are surreal. Perfectly put.

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  16. Thanks for sharing. Praying for peace and comfort for you and Sherry's family as you continue to go through this trying time.

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  17. Sher made us all want to be better people - and that legacy continues through sharing the story of her life. We miss her so much. It was good to meet you at the cemetery and I'm glad you were able to experience the strength and deep sense of community in Sidney. It's a special thing.
    Niki

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    1. Great to meet you too Niki. You do have an amazing community of loving and devoted people. Thank you for letting me be a part of it this weekend.

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  18. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  19. I am so sad. I'm glad you were there at the funeral for us, and for you, and for your family. It is important to say goodbye.

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  20. I really have no great words. Just know that I am giving you a big hug. Sherry will always be a part of the running community. We will not forget her. We will carry on her memory with us each time we run.

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  21. Beautifully written. I don't know if these are the right words, but I am proud that you ran in the same footsteps as Sherry. I can't say for sure, that I would be able to do that, but I like to think I could. Thank you for sharing.

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  22. I saw photos on line of Sherry's husband at the cemetery. I will never forget the look of deep sorrow on his face - it brought tears to my eyes. We will never forget Sherry.

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    1. Yes, I saw that picture too. It really did capture the grief of that day.

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  23. I'm glad you were able to be there. Surreal is a great word for it. It feels surreal to me, and I'm not the one living it, though Sherry is often on my mind.

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  24. Glad that there are some small pieces of closure that hopefully add up to some peace for friends and family. The ugliness of the crime is that much more stark against the beauty of the landscape. Glad you've got running to help you through this.

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  25. I don't have any words worthy of saying but since you can't "see" my tears, know that I share your grief and thank you for allowing me to know Sherry and find some closure.

    I run with her photo on my treadmill now. It reminds me to never be on it because I don't feel safe. I look at her smiling at me from that photo and I ask myself, am I inside because I want to be or because I afraid. If I feel at all the latter, it's thoughts of her that make me go outside and reclaim my run. If I stay inside I feel like I am sharing my run with a friend. Thanks for introducing us.

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    1. Beautifully said. I like the thought of "reclaiming the run."

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  26. Thank you for sharing this.

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  27. More tears today for Sherry as I read this. Beautifully written and wonderful sentiments here. Thank you so much for sharing. Because of you her memory will live on in each of us.

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  28. for a writer who was stumped, you said everything beautifully. thanks for sharing what we runners otherwise wouldn't get to hear.

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  29. Tearing up reading this in a Starbucks, I can't help it. Thanks for sharing.

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  30. All I can say is........blessings and hugs to you my fellow running sister.

    I'm so thankful they found her- and could bring her home.

    Peace,
    Kelly in Michigan

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  31. Thank you for sharing all of it.

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  32. For someone who was stumped, you wrote this beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

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  33. Beautifully shared. God bless.

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  34. Beautiful post Beth. Thank you for sharing this weekend with us.

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  35. Sounds like you knew EXACTLY what to say! Thanks for this. Although it was an unfortunate and senseless event, it's nice to have closure...and I'm glad you could be there with the rest of your family!

    On another note, it's weird that Montana is abbreviated MT, but not as weird as Maine!

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    1. Yeah, I guess MO and MA were already taken!

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  36. ahhh this got to me...I thank you for sharing this with us. I will never forget her. I know this. I hope she is in peace with the angels.

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  37. Thoughts and prayers with you and your family.

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  38. Tears of sadness for her family and for you.....

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  39. Many years ago I was out for a run in rural Wisconsin. It was an early Sunday morning and I'll never forget the moment of terror I felt when a car full of drunken men slowed down. I couldn't hear much of what they said, but I did hear one guy say, "leave her alone". That scared the crap out of me (literally). I have never forgotten that, and Sherry's story brought that back. A reminder to all of us women runners that we may be strong, but we are vulnerable. I hope someday to live in a world where we can run freely without fear.

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  40. Beth, thank you for your posts, I look forward to reading them :) I just wanted to say that I to am a runner and from Sidney. My husband (who is also from Sidney) and I have moved away, but our familes still live in Sidney. We were there last week as well and felt the horrible weight this tragedy has placed on our former community. The tragedy has struck me in multiple ways, the most significant being that my father in law is the chief of police in Sidney. I too went for a run, but unlike you my husband and father in law did not let me run by myself. Luckily I took my sister with me. It was a freeing experience to run the same route that you took this past weekend. Thank you for your posts, I love to hear about your adventures as well as your healing process :) Shelby DiFonzo

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  41. I am grateful for closure for you and the rest of Sherry's family and friends. I have been working on being patient and gracious much more because I know this life is short to live it out with frustrations and anger. Thank you for sharing Sherry with us as you remember her so that her spirit will live with all of us forever.

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  42. Thank you for being so open and strong in sharing this experience.

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  43. Just got tears in my eyes reading this. I was so relieved to hear they found Sherry and were able to finally put her to rest. I'm so glad you got to be a part of it too, despite how hard it was.

    I had so much fear running outside in my wooded neighborhood after all this went down w/ Sherry, but I've recently been back at it. Even ran 2x while on vaca in N GA...once while camping. A beautiful trail run (my 1st!!) around the lake we were camping next to. Ran 2 laps and the last one w/ my son who's 5. He did so well for his 1st go round! I know what you mean now by saying you remember how the place feels. So great you ran by the place where she was taken. That is just so BA and in your face and I give props to you for that. I never knew Sherry, but will never forget her or her story for as long as I live. God bless!!

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  44. thank you for sharing this with us...I'm so thankful that she was found to bring closure for all who knew her, but I wish this would have never happened. I pray for you and her family and friends always.

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  45. I also want to say thank you for sharing this post, it made me so sad. :(

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  46. I'm glad that you found some closure but my prayers remain with you and your family. *hugs*

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  47. This a beautiful post. I feel like I was there. Thank you for opening up, once Again, for those of us touched by Sherry without having even met her. Peace and light to you and yours.

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  48. Again, thank-you for sharing with us.

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  49. Thank you for sharing this weekend with us, Beth. Being able to lay her to rest properly doesn't bring healing, but it does bring some measure of closure for those who knew her. I pray that you, the rest of her family, and her friends will find some measure of comfort in having her home finally.

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  50. I'm so glad you got to go. And it is so right that you did a run there--brings everything full circle in a way. I hope that you, her family, her friends, her community, all can heal now that there is some closure. You'll never forget, but hopefully the hole in your heart will be able to mend. Thinking of you.

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  51. Beth beautiful post, it brought tears to my eyes.

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  52. Sitting at my desk, in my office at work, with my door closed, so that I could read your post and all of the comments without interruption. It will be some time before I open it back up, as I feel the need to take some time to absorb this. That, and regain my composure.

    Thank you.

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  53. Beautiful post. I can only imagine the emotional surge you must have felt on your run. I praying for healing and peace for you and your family. I am so sorry for each of you and your amazing loss. Thank you so much for sharing this very difficult time and story with us.

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  54. This is a beautiful post. When I read your blog I know I'm either going to learn something or feel something (usually both). Thank you, Beth.

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  55. You said what was in your heart at the moment of writing it so it was beautifully said. It will never be the same for Sherry's family but I pray that they can now find some peace in their lives. Hugs to you Beth.

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  56. I hope not only you but the entire family was able to gain closure. The support of the community and friends was outstanding. This was such a tragic event. Blessings to you and to Sherry's family.

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  57. Thanks for sharing this. May God bless her family and yours with peace and comfort.

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  58. Reading this post had me in tears. I grew up in Victor Montana. Not close to Sidney but I do know that are are many more good than bad people there. I followed Sherry's story on the news and through your blog. I hope that you all were able to find some peace and closure. I'm also sure Sherry will rest in peace & knows all the love that has recently surrounded her. Keep your head held high.

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  59. A beautiful post. I just don't know what to say, so I will say nothing other than R.I.P Sherry

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  60. beth
    you
    are
    amazing.

    I love that you went for a run. That gave me happy chills.

    you rock.

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  61. I'll echo what everyone else has said, beautifully written Beth. The picture of the packed gym truly was a testament to Sherry. What a beautiful sight, and hopefully a comfort to her family. Lots of love in that room. :)

    I probably would have been scared to death to run the same course that Sherry last took, but I also can see that it was necessary. You rock. Wouldn't it be cool if they put in an actual trail there and named it after her?

    Thank you for sharing this experience. She certainly will never be forgotten. I take her with me on my runs thru the countryside and whisper a prayer for us both.

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  62. Oh my. This post gave me chills. I have no words...but I am so glad to hear that so many people gathered in her honor and she had such a beautiful funeral.

    She lived in a beautiful place! Those photos hardly look real! I don't know if I would have the strength to run in her footsteps, but I'm glad you did.

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