There are days in a journalist’s life where the copy flows freely in a succinct style that effortlessly lends itself to writing and reading. This is not one of those times.
I’ve been dragged down by the weight of these words not yet written. A rusty anchor has been tied to my heart since the RCMP confirmed the identity of the Mountie killed in the early morning hours of April 5. I drove by the scene hours later on the way to work, looked at the crumpled cruiser that crushed away a life and selfishly thought, “I hope it’s no one I know.”
That was the first story assigned while filling in at the old paper during what I thought would be a three-day stretch on easy street.
When I found it was Sarah Beckett, my stomach coiled into an uneven knot that still pains me days later. Since that moment, each sentence has become another ragged stitch in a jagged scar that will only heal with time, but never fade away.
I had dealt with some of the members of the West Shore RCMP detachment when I worked as a reporter for the Goldstream News Gazette for eight years, before I took a position as community liaison with the City of Langford. I worked in the community policing section full-time for three years, and then another four on a two-days-a-week format. Despite the odd session of philosophical head butting to be expected when the Mounties find an old hippie working in their midst, it was a rewarding experience. I made a few friendships that will last a lifetime, and my respect and appreciation for the difficult work they do grew exponentially during the time.
Sarah happened to be pregnant with her second child the last time I worked with her and she was understandably assigned to light duties. We found ourselves working together in the old part of the building, our desks literally an inch apart. She was handling media duties at the time, which gave us a base for exchanging quips and banter. She was highly intelligent and highly opinionated, dedicated and hardworking. The steady stream of staff and members who ventured down to say hello and ask how she was doing every day is a testament to how much she was treasured and admired.
She had a smile that left a sunny tattoo on whoever she aimed it at, and a sense of humour you were eager to share.
I met her son once at work on one of her last days before she left for maternity leave.
He was a shy four-year-old at the time who beamed a Sarah-like smile when I asked him if he was excited about becoming a big brother.
My wife and I ran into Sarah and her mother pushing the new arrival in a baby carriage along Whiffen Spit in Sooke a few months later. We chatted for a moment and Joan remarked about how nice she seemed, after we went our separate ways that sunny day a couple of years ago.
Our paths crossed again a couple of weeks ago when I was filling in at the Gazette and saw her politely, persistently moving a panhandler along at the mall. We waved, exchanged enthusiastic how ya doins’ and she once again shared another of her magical smiles.
And now, here I am, gathering up the details of her tragic demise on deadline one day, talking to her red-eyed coworkers and colleagues burdened by broken hearts.
This week I find myself taking photos of the procession of vehicles escorting her body from the hospital to the airport, and trying to get through what my job entails.
These past three days have been a painful push that at times has turned my innards into a snake choking on its own poison. It is, however, merely a scratch compared to the open wound that has ripped its way into the lives of her loved ones, friends and former colleagues.
Once again I struggle for words, so saddened that there isn’t more that I can do or say.
Rick Stiebel is a former News Gazette reporter who continues to write for the paper on occasion.