Teens tragically lost their mom, so an entire Ontario community stepped in
For the first year in more than a decade, Elaine Bellevue won’t be able to hand out red envelopes on Chinese New Year.
The Jewish mom of Mississauga, Ont., had been giving out traditional envelopes and treats to her child’s classes and friends for years since she adopted them from China. Her blended and extended family even celebrated the New Year every year with a feast.
The 61-year-old stay-at-home mom died after an alleged act of domestic violence on Jan. 13. Her husband Robert was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. Bellevue is one of five Ontario women who lost their lives at the hands of men close to them in the month of January.
Her children have been trying to keep their routines as “normal” as possible, says Carrie Drybrough, a close friend of Bellevue’s.
But the most appreciated gesture after the tragedy is how quickly Bellevue’s community has gathered to support the teenage girls.
“The community is amazing, her village is a big one,” Drybrough told Global News. “This is the community she built around her girls.”
Drybrough started a GoFundMe account with a goal of $10,000 to help the girls in the long run. In nine days, the community raised more than $33,000.
“[I am] seeing her face and she’s saying to me, ‘Make sure my girls are looked after. I made my girls this village and I’m handing this over to all of you,'” Drybrough said. “She was so stern on what she wanted for her children and this was to get the family over the hump.”
The funds will be used to pay for basic necessities and in the future, towards the girls’ education, she adds.
“We’ve been struggling. We’re sad, angry and helpless at times,” she said. “There is no understanding to this and it’s not something we feel we’ll get closure from.”
Bellevue was shorter than her 16 year old, always carried a smile and was the person who took care of every detail, from beginning to end. Her life was her commitment to her girls and their surroundings — their gyms, their cheer squads and their second family of others who had adopted children from China.
“She was their childrens’ biggest advocate … She had a strong belief the girls had rights to every opportunity. She didn’t give you a choice but to listen [to her],” Drybrough said.
She was the mom who showed up for every competition, the mom who posted how “proud” she was of her children on social media, and also the one who sent multiple e-mails to coordinate everything from reunions to parties to get-togethers. She was the logistics and glue for so many people in her village.
“We all like to think we’re super moms, but she did it better.”
She also had an obsession with contests. She would enter every single contest she would come across, whether online or on the radio, and she would always win.
“She would give her [winnings] to people,” Drybrough said, adding that if her childrens’ teammates were injured, she had personally delivered gift cards to their families. “Last summer we had the speakers outside and her voice came on the radio after she won concert tickets. She said she was going to use them to bribe her children to clean their rooms.”
Drybrough said one of the ongoing concerns for both herself and the community around them is how to support her children in the long-run.
Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts, the founder of parenting resource website Family Sparks in B.C., said when a person loses someone under tragic circumstances, the process is called traumatic grief.
“Traumatic grief includes an element of trauma, so symptoms similar to PTSD, whereas simple grief is characterized by denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance,” she told Global News.
And, in the case of approaching children or teenagers about a loss, talking to them is the best thing you can do.
“Do everything you would do in a case of loss, but expect the reaction to be anywhere from numb to anger to despair. People experiencing traumatic grief can react in many different ways, and it is how they are processing their feelings.”
Roberts said there are several steps any parent, family member or friend can take to help young people during these types of tragedies.
- Set aside ample time to have the conversation. Turn off all devices. Be completely present for the child.
- It is OK to show your emotions. But if you are completely distraught, get help first or ask another person to join the conversation. You want to be able to have the conversation and make it about the child’s emotional experience.
- Use honest and concrete language. Do not say that the loved one “has gone away” or “has gone asleep.”
- Be prepared for the child to respond in a variety of ways, from disbelief to anger. The child might ask the same question over and over. This is normal, as they are trying to make sense of something that is unbelievable. Do not take anything personally, remember that the girls are trying to make sense of an absolutely terrible loss.
- Draw together and move forward. Mobilize absolutely all sources of support. If someone offers to make dinners — say yes. If someone offers to clean house — say yes. Ask for all the help you need.
Roberts also offers free courses on some of these topics.
“Support children especially as they go through their first birthdays and holidays alone. Step in at important moments, like proms and first days at college. Do not be afraid of over-helping.”
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