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.
I hate these little planes. Unless I’m jumping out of them.
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.
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.
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:
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.
We passed the school house where Sherry and her sister went in their early years:
The landscape out there is so incredible:
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.