An Estevan woman received a tremendous response from the community of Weyburn recently, to help her find the precise location of a tragic accident that took place on a highway near Weyburn 30 years ago.
Jacquie Mvula was thrown 75 feet from a vehicle on April 18th, 1992, when the driver fell asleep at the wheel.
"My best friend was killed, and I ended up in the hospital for two months. I had two broken legs and a cracked vertebrae in my back."
Mvula still suffers from PTSD, anxiety and depression, as a result of the tragedy that claimed the life of her best friend and cousin, Rhonda Wick.
"Rhonda was a nurse's aide student, and she was just a light," she shared of Wick, who grew up in Oungre. "She was just happy, and giving, and beautiful, and she was taken much too soon, when she was 19."
Mvula said she had to do something big for the 30th anniversary, and she had always wanted to place a memorial marker in the ditch at the location of the accident.
"Every time I'd see one of those anywhere I'd drive, I think, 'why doesn't Rhonda have one?'"
The need to create more closure lead Mvula to join the Facebook group, 'Weyburn Rant & Rave' to seek help in finding that spot.
Colen and Janice Bakken of the Weyburn area proved to be very helpful throughout the process. Interestingly, Jacquie has been longtime friends with their daughter, Ashley.
"Janice was like a detective. She was calling around every like farm person, because she knows everybody, and she had it down to two spots, and was going to go to the nursing home where the Reeve of the R.M. at the time now lives."
On top of that, when Jacquie and her friends were placing the marker at the location on Monday, Colen stopped by, just as Jacquie was beginning to think she'd have to come back to install the marker once the ground had thawed more. That's when he offered to keep an eye on it so she could leave it.
"I feel like it's safe, because he's going to look at it every day as he goes by. He's going to make sure it's far enough in the ground. If it were to fall over when the snow melts, he said, 'I will take care of it for you'. And I just wanted to hug the man."
The metal memorial marker was able to be placed on the 30th, anniversary, with Jacquie joined by her and Rhonda's other two best friends, Sherry Lukye-Horrocks and Treena Hirsch.
But Jacquie also found treasures amid the many people who reached out to her about her post.
"I don't normally go on the rant and rave pages, ever, and I'm not on the Estevan one. I'm only on the Weyburn one because it has 7,800 people from Weyburn," explained Mvula. "Not one mean comment. Not one. In fact, I got so many private messages saying, 'I'm a firefighter now and my dad would have been a firefighter back then. I'm gonna ask him for you', or they would be like, 'what was the last name?' People were so into helping me find this out, by asking older people in the community. They were so helpful."
"They were private messaging, and some people just wrote, 'I'm so sorry for your loss. That's terrible. Wishing you healing'. Just strangers. It was like a big hug."
Retired Weyburn EMT Bert Kauf reached out to Mvula after seeing her post as well. She said if she had known how healing it would be for her to talk with him, she would have done it a long time ago,
"I would be in a much better place," she noted. "He reached out to me and said, 'I think I was the EMT that picked you up. Did you have two broken legs?', and I said, 'yes', and he said, 'it was me'. And he remembered everything."
Pieces of that tragic night have been flooding back to Jacquie surrounding this whole endeavor, but being able to talk with Bert, she said, was the most poignant outcome she never expected.
"There are things I wanted to hear, like I always thought, 'how was I laying in that field?', and he would answer me, whatever I asked. He said, 'you were like a frog. Your legs were broken out to the side, and then your knees were bent'. Like, that's disgusting. But I needed to know everything."
Another thing Kauf had pointed out to Jacquie was that she kept asking about Rhonda.
"They didn't even know there was another person out there, and that's what he told me: I just was worried about my friend."
Mvula said she was in the field from 1:30a.m. until about 3:00 a.m.
"I have none of that recollection. I don't remember being picked up by the EMTs, I don't remember talking to anybody in that field."
Unable to attend Rhonda's funeral due to hospitalization, Jacquie was represented by a rose on Rhonda's casket. One was placed for each of their group of four best friends, and that's why the highway marker contains four roses.
"People are probably sick of me not getting over it or something," she stated. "But when you're 18, your friends are everything to you. She had never done anything wrong, we'd never had a fight. It was such a new friendship. I think teenagers have it really hard when you lose a friend in your teens. She was on a pedestal, and she was perfect, and she was gone, and that's what brings you to this survivor guilt."
The existential survivor guilt, for Mvula, did result in a lot of success. She has earned a Master's degree, has received volunteer awards, and she owns two businesses.
"The trauma, I think, pushed me to do better all my life, to make sure I was worthy of being the one alive, kind of thing," she noted.
So, after an exhausting anniversary week, Mvula has been able to not only find some closure, but some catharsis in the form of missing puzzle pieces.
"April 18th, for the first 15 years, I used to black it out. I knew I wasn't going to get out of bed, that was a day when I'm going to cry," she shared. "I got to the point where sometimes we'd been in Las Vegas or something, to make happy memories, but this one was just big. I wanted to do something for her."
Rhonda's memorial marker is located on the south side of on Highway 13, five kilometres east of Weyburn.