An entire community is feeling the tragic loss of two of its young citizens via a Saturday evening traffic accident.
And those who knew them best, remain in shock and denial.
“It’s hard to believe,” admitted 19-year-old Alina Garnham Sunday afternoon at Tillsonburg’s Danscene studio along North Street.
“I don’t think it’s hit home with anybody,” added Danscene owner Angela Farkas. “That’s what today was for.”
The police report covered the bare facts: Tillsonburg’s Meagan Lofthouse, 19, and passenger Brittany Wardle, 21, died at the scene of a one-vehicle accident Saturday evening on LaSalette Road, in Norfolk County. Norfolk OPP said the vehicle was travelling eastbound at about 9:50 p.m. when it left the road, went into a deep ditch and hit a tree.
What no words can accurately convey is the pain and suffering caused by the loss of two promising young, lives to friends and family, or the shockwave sent through a broader community. Faced by this reality, but wanting to do something in the immediate aftermath of the passing of two well-known and well-loved members – Wardle was a hip hop teacher, Lofthouse a long-time dancer - of the studio, Farkas opened her doors to the Danscene family Sunday for a time of sharing, caring and hopefully, healing.
“It was tough because I didn’t exactly know what to do,” she admitted. “But I knew everyone was feeling the same way.”
The idea was shared grieving, to allow compatriots to talk about the two.
“And I guess just share their feelings,” said Farkas.
An estimated 80 dancers, family members and friends responded, sharing memories, photographs – and in Garnham’s words, “A few tears.”
“A lot of tears,” Farkas interjected. “Lots of Kleenex, lots of hugs.”
“You just kind of let all your feelings out, everybody felt the same way and you had other people to support you,” said 13-year-old Kelsey Sanderson, who was ‘surprised’ to hear of the tragedy.
“At first I just couldn’t believe it.”
Notably using the present tense about her hip hop teacher, Sanderson characterized Wardle as “A very good teacher, she makes everything fun.”
Wardle was attending post-secondary school at Wilfrid Laurier in Brantford as well as teaching, while Lofthouse’s studies took her further afield to Humber College.
Lofthouse would still drop by the studio however, said 16-year-old Callie Berlet, talking with dancers ‘about anything’ while they were on break.
“She was always fun to be around, it was just nice to have her there. I’ve never seen her not smiling.”
Garnham was friends with both, and a fixture in many photos collected on a table within the studio.
Wardle was a very positive person, said Garnham, also employing the present tense. “Always fun to be around, always makes you laugh. The same with Meagan.”
Apart from sharing photographs, stories and memories, the assembly wrote comments on ‘angels’ which will be posted in the studio, and messages on two balloon bouquets, releasing the latter from in front of the studio. Lofthouse’s lodged in a tree to the west of the parking lot, while Wardle’s sailed off into the distance.
“To Timmy’s,” interjected eight-year-old Brooke Sanderson, eliciting an emotional chuckle from those around her.
“She loved her Timmy’s,” agreed Farkas. “That’s so true.”
Given its nature, positive would be a stretch, but the event was definitely constructive.
“I think it was good for the kids to get together,” said Farkas. “They knew it was OK to cry and OK to express themselves.”
It was important for the older dancers to get together and talk, added ‘dance mom’ Sue Berlet, but equally important in her opinion for the example set for younger dancers in terms of how to react, by what in effect, are elder Danscene siblings.
“It’s a family, that’s what it is.”
Everyone attending had come with heavy hearts, Farkas admitted.
“By the time everyone left, I hope everyone felt a little lighter and a little better.”
Beyond shared support in grief, Farkas was also reminded of life’s tenuous nature, and the value of every shared second.
“Because you never know,” she concluded. “I think the one thing we stressed today is you don’t always tell people how you feel and you should because what an event like today brings home is, sometimes it’s too late.”