Difficult times spark unique show of support
Out of necessity came a community-wide expression of support for a grieving Rugby family when friends in vehicles lined the route from the home of Stacy Jaeger to the Anderson Funeral Home on Monday afternoon.
Due to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control limiting the size of public gatherings and recommending “social distancing,” Jaeger’s family had met with even more difficulty than they already faced with the death of the 43-year old wife and mother Friday.
“People didn’t know what to do,” Hallie Anderson, of Anderson Funeral Home, said of the community’s reaction to news of Jaeger’s death.
Some neighbors and friends had already thought of ideas to show support from a distance. Elaine Sveet, who serves as pastor of Rugby’s First Lutheran Church, lives two doors down from the Jaeger family.
“My daughter, Ava, is nine years old and her best friend is Kate Jaeger,” Sveet said.
Kate is the daughter of Stacy and David Jaeger.
“All of this started from empathy for our neighbors and what they were going through,” Sveet said. “As a pastor, I know our response of wanting to show up for people who are grieving by coming to worship, to visiting the funeral home – those are all normal things that we naturally want to do.”
Sveet said she knew CDC guidelines limiting the number of funeral attendees to 10 people “was going to be such a hard thing for not just us, but for so many others and we wanted to figure out a way that we could show up and show our love.”
“So,” Sveet added, “We came up with the idea of putting something on our doors.”
Sveet approached Pierce County Commissioner Ashley Berg with the idea. “Her family is well connected with them. Ashley is such a good community connecting person. I asked her what she thought of the idea and she loved it,” Sveet said.
“I took the idea to the Jaeger family because I didn’t want to do something that would make them uncomfortable so I checked with them first. And they thought it was a very grace-filled thing that we would give people this option.
“Our idea was to tie something green to mailboxes or doors so the family could see that they were being remembered,” Sveet noted. “It was (Jaeger’s) son, Kaden, who gave us the idea to use the color green, because it was her favorite color.”
“We made a sign and put it up on our door that said, ‘Love and Prayers for the Jaeger Family,'” Sveet said. “We also encouraged people to turn on their porch lights for the family.”
Sveet said she encouraged friends and neighbors to show these signs of love and support from Saturday through Monday.
“So, they did this Saturday night and one of the family members counted and told us there were over 65 homes that had done that just on Saturday night,” Sveet said.
“Then the idea grew larger,” Sveet said. “Hallie Anderson of Anderson Funeral Home had an idea. She coordinated with Jennifer Zachmeier, who’s another family friend,” Sveet added.
Anderson said seeing friends hanging green ribbons throughout town gave her an idea to help mourners express their condolences.
“Saturday night when I saw Bonnie (Berginski) hanging green ribbons downtown, I was like, ‘My goodness, we have to do something. We have to get people physically here, even if they can’t get out of their cars,'”Anderson said. “They just can’t be in the funeral home.”
“We were brainstorming Saturday and Sunday as to how we could make this right for the family because it’s not fair to the family or the public that they can’t show support like they would like to,” Anderson added.
“I messaged three ladies,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘I want to line the streets with cars. Since we can’t physically be there at the funeral home or at the church, please spread the word.'”
Word caught on quickly.
“We shut down the streets, called City Hall, the police and fire department, hoping they’d have a truck or two there. Then, after they shut down the streets, it all just exploded.”
“I called a few different businesses I knew and (explained the plan),” Anderson said. “It was last minute. We started Sunday morning and I was still making phone calls yesterday morning to spread the word.”
Word reached not only family and friends in Rugby, but media outlets from Bismarck and Minot who carried the story on their evening news broadcasts.
Mourners from throughout the community lined the route down Main and Third Street Southwest in their cars. Many were dressed in green. Some people stood on the sidewalk – most six feet apart, in accordance with CDC social distancing guidelines. Many waved or nodded their support as cars carrying the Jaeger family passed. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles parked near the funeral home, lights flashing their tribute. David Jaeger is a firefighter with the Rugby Volunteer Fire Department.
“It was really sweet,” Sveet said. “My daughter and I parked near the library so we were close to the funeral home and we could wave.”
Sveet added, “Kate saw her, and even as they were walking in, we stood on the sidewalk. We were six feet away and we could wave as she was walking in with her dad to view her mom for the last time.”
“It was very sweet and tender, but I think those small signs of love that we can show in this socially isolated time while grief is happening is real important,” Sveet noted.
Anderson Funeral Home provided a guest book, folders and a drop box for mourners to leave their condolences and cards outside of the building.
“People have called about that,” Anderson said. “People have asked, ‘Can we bring our own pen (to sign the book)?’ Of course you can bring your own pen, whatever you’re comfortable with. That’s what we’re doing. We don’t want 100 people coming in right now because that’s putting us at risk. You wipe down everything, you sanitize everything,you wipe down door knobs and you try to keep everything clean but you allow the family in the funeral home.”
“We’re just going with the flow, doing what we can do and knowing what we can’t do,” Anderson added.
“I think this helped,” Anderson said of the new approach to help those in mourning. “With what we could do, the best thing was to get in your car and come here. If you felt comfortable getting outside, then get outside. That way, the family knows you’re thinking of them. They know you’re saying, ‘We’re here for you.'”
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