TRAVERSE CITY — Tayler Davis, a Courtade Elementary fifth-grader, gazed at a crowd of 360 people and paused a long minute before telling her story of loss and healing.
Silverware clinked on breakfast plates as she gained composure, but the room quieted as she began to speak.
“On October 1st, a nice police officer came to school to tell me my mom died in a car accident,” Davis said.
Davis said she cried for three days straight, but found friends at Michael’s Place, where she learned she wasn’t alone in her grief.
“I get this feeling in my heart I’ve never had before,” she said. “ … When new people come, I tell them you are not alone. It helps them come out of their hiding place.”
Davis spoke to a full-capacity crowd this week at the Park Place Dome for a fundraiser of Michael’s Place, a healing center for children, adults and families who are grieving for a loved one. The center is named after Michael Dendrinos, who died at age 14 from hepatitis.
He was the cousin of Chris Dennos, who founded the nonprofit 12 years ago, said Mindy Buell, executive director.
Joe Lackie, the keynote speaker, told of how Michael’s Place helped him cope after losing his son, Christopher, 18, in a fire at a friend’s house on Dec. 9, 2006.
“There were no smoke detectors in the house, and I was told he never woke up,” he told the crowd.
Lackie described his son as a “kind soul.” He was also a daredevil, even suspended from school for dancing on the roof in a gorilla suit.
Christopher was a gifted athlete and tae kwon do instructor, but Lackie said he didn’t have a definite plan for his life. The date of Dec. 15 had been scheduled for college orientation.
“It was the date of his funeral instead.”
Lackie assumed Michael’s Place was only for children, but found out otherwise after taking his younger son, Chris’ girlfriend, and several of his other friends for special sessions.
He wasn’t sure what to expect from the adult support groups — he suspected folks would sit around and rehash their losses. He soon discovered he was wrong.
“I found a group of people who were learning to not die along with their loved one,” he said. “Not trying to put the tragedy behind them, but to move beyond it and live their lives in the way those who passed would expect them to.”
Lackie learned it was OK to watch his son’s videos, read his poetry, and listen to his music, but it wasn’t helpful to do that at the expense of everything else.
Lackie’s comments drew laughter from the crowd — and tears. Each place setting was outfitted with a pack of tissues that came in handy for many.
“When my son was born, it was a miracle,” he said. “Another miracle is that I am standing here today because I didn’t go off somewhere, crawl into the bottom of a bottle and die. And that miracle came from Michael’s Place.”