Michelle Robertson and RJ Sears were always best friends.
Even when they weren’t together, they were still attached to each other’s lives.
They met in high school in Amherst, he at 16, she at 14. They grew up together. They formed a family together. Over 14 years and four children, they separated, got together, separated and reunited again – “the little family that could,” Michelle’s aunt called them.
In a shocked and battered Nova Scotia town near the New Brunswick border, memories of “the little family that could” flowed Tuesday in the wake of a fire that claimed the lives of all six family members and left heartbreak. , duel and questions in its wake.
RJ and Michelle had a girl, Madison, and a boy, Ryder.
Madison, 11, had a great social life – she was always at someone’s house. And he loved arts and crafts; she herself learned to weave with two pencils.
Ryder, at eight, was a daddy’s boy. He wanted to do everything his father did. He and RJ teamed up for hockey. They were a family from Montreal Canadiens.
For RJ and Michelle, there were relationship obstacles along the way, but they always found their way back to each other.
There was a four-year-old son, the wise Jaxson, beyond his years, with a vocabulary to match, that RJ took as his own, a son who would proudly tell anyone who would listen, and they all listened, that he had two dads.
And when RJ and Michelle got together, they had another son, CJ, whom Michelle called her “serious baby”; He didn’t smile much until he was a little boy. But, at 3, it could light up a room, family members say.
RJ and Michelle took turns trying to make him smile. “Where are your wings?” RJ would say. CJ was pointing to his ears.
Since January, Michelle and the children had been living with her aunt, Nellie Lloy, but in the past four weeks, the family had reunited again, this time moving into RJ’s home.
“They just sort of solved everything,” Lloy said. “They just never abandoned each other. He never did.
“There really was something magical that happened this summer with them. They really were on top of their family. Michelle was at the peak of her parenthood, RJ was at the peak of her parenthood, and the kids just couldn’t have been happier. “
That magic, sadly, did not last.
Michelle and RJ died together, last weekend, along with their four children.
They were found Sunday morning in their 27-foot Passport Ultra Lite trailer parked on a forest road near Millvale, on property owned by Lloy.
There was a fire in the trailer, Lloy said, but it appeared to be out. The trailer had not been burned and the bodies had not been burned.
The property was a bit of an extended family getaway. In the end they had planned to build something out there, but in the meantime, on their frequent summer trips, they had been tidying up the grounds, planting flowers, letting the children paint stones. And they had parked the trailer there semi-permanently.
RJ and Michelle were excited about this latest trip. Michelle had decided to go back to work in a nursing home, they were going to celebrate baby CJ’s birthday (he had just turned three) and it would be a nice family reunion before things closed for the fall.
But then came the tragedy.
On Sunday around 6:30 pm, RCMP was called to the site and discovered the six bodies inside the trailer.
The medical examiner’s office is still investigating the cause and time of death, and the fire marshal is investigating what caused the fire. The Mounties say they are not treating the incident as suspicious.
Downtown, there’s a gazebo near City Hall with a family photo, a makeshift memorial that grows daily with flowers and stuffed animals, and the occasional Montreal Canadiens jersey.
Here, in groups and clusters, people approach, stop, sometimes touch the photo and talk quietly among themselves, crying with the silent force of a small town dealt a painful blow.
Next door, from the bell tower of the First Baptist Church in Amherst, you can hear the sound of musical bells, every hour on the hour. In the moments after the departure of Lloy and Michelle’s cousin, Molly Ferdinand, after reminiscing with a reporter about her deceased family, “The Impossible Dream” begins to play.
“When I think of Michelle, I think of her laugh,” Ferdinand said moments before. “I think of her with her mouth wide open and her head thrown back.”
Ferdinand, Lloy’s daughter, said that she and Michelle were like sisters.
“I was kind of a big sister, but she really was there for me (when the going got tough).
“I feel like she was more of a sister to me than I was to her. And I feel very privileged to have that relationship. “
The past two days have been moments of tearful memories, he said. But those more recent memories are highly valued.
“The last time I saw RJ, he told me she was beautiful.
“He was not an externally compliant person. He is very quiet. So for him to say so loudly, ‘Hello, beautiful!’ it was so shocking to me. And I told him that. Like, ‘Who are you?’ “
Those memories are a small comfort to her, but there is also this:
At least, Lloy and Ferdinand said, through thick and thin, Michelle and RJ were still best friends, and in the end they were still together.