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This article was published 29/9/2020 (360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Candy Volk leaned on her family for strength as she rounded the corner of Andrews Street Tuesday night. When she got to her destination — a Boyd Avenue tree surrounded by flickering candles, joyful photographs and the scent of burning sage — she got down on the ground and wept.
Four days earlier, her daughter, Jennifer Dethmers, was riding with her boyfriend, stepdaughter, and infant son, when a speeding pickup truck fleeing police struck their minivan right there on Boyd Avenue. Dethmers died in hospital, and the baby, who will be 10 months old next week, remains in critical condition. A 43-year-old man was charged with 12 criminal offences for the crash.
Volk was not alone in her tears: hundreds of people had gathered to remember Dethmers, and to pray for her son, at the place where her life ended tragically at age 30. With her family at her side, the grieving mother stood up, took to the megaphone. All of Boyd Avenue was listening.
"Jenny was an amazing, amazing woman," Volk said, fighting back tears. "She was very fierce. She loved fierce, and she protected fierce."
In the few months since her son was born, Dethmers’ love and protective spirit became even stronger, Volk said. She spent Saturday morning decorating her house for Halloween, vowing that even in a pandemic, she’d make her son’s first one special.
"She really was a mama bear," Volk said.
All down the street, people stood and listened, while Wandering Sound played traditional honour songs on a large drum in the middle of the road. Their voices echoed loudly as Dethmers’ nieces danced, celebrating their aunt’s life through music and movement.
On the boulevard where family and friends congregated, beside the decorated tree, seven placards were placed in the ground, covered in cut-out butterflies and pictures that showed Dethmers at all stages of her life: in the only photos where she didn’t smile, she was making a funny face that no doubt made someone else grin.
"She was a silly girl," her mom said.
As guests lit candles, the wind howled, the street lights flickered, and rain began to spit from the darkened sky. It didn’t matter: the crowd stayed, and one by one, people knelt beside the impromptu memorial, saying quiet prayers and taking a moment to reflect.
When her daughter used to phone her, Volk said she would never say goodbye when the call ended. "She would just say ‘I love you.’"
She urged those in attendance to remember Dethmers not for how she died, but how she lived, and to share their lives with those around them.
"Spend time with your loved ones, no matter how busy you are. Tell them you love them. Hug them," she said. "Life is too short, and it can end in an instant. We found that out this past weekend."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.