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Families unite in a 'healthy grief' to remember their children

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 4:39 p.m. MDT

She also introduced those at the event to Debbie Hill, whose daughter, Chelsie, was 24 when she died in a 2010 car accident. Hill said the crash would most likely have been relatively minor if her daughter had been wearing a seatbelt.

"She'd be here if she had her seatbelt on," Hill said. "She was a wonderful person... (we) want to keep that memory up and get the message out."

Hill has gone on to start a 5k fundraiser called Lace Up 2 Buckle Up: A Race to Remember Your Seatbelt in her daughter's memory. This was its second year.

"It's been rewarding," she said. "It is hard when we're telling the story, but I think all of us here share the sentiment that if it just helps one family, if we go to a class with 25 students and one child says, 'I'm going to put on my seat belt,' it was worth it. That was our motivation."

Tim Strebel,  who lost his son, Blake, when he was struck by a driver fleeing police in 2009, makes school visits and said he has worked to see some good come from his son's death. But he said he feels that he personally benefits from the support and presence of the other families.

"I know some of you have had a longer time than I have to bear the sorrow and feel the hurt," he said. "I guess that's why I feel it's so important to meet with others who have shared our sorrow. It's a big support to me. I need to be with other people who understand what I feel."

Teresa Chapparo's 17-year-old son, Jose Ceballos, died Jan. 3, 2011 on a short trip between the elementary school where he tutored students and his high school. He was one of four sitting in a truck meant for three and was not wearing a seat belt. The driver of the truck Jose was in lost control while speeding and he was thrown from the window.

The next day, the Christmas gift he had ordered for his mother arrived, she said. It was a heart bearing the words: 'A mother holds her son's heart forever.'

"You're right," she said, thinking of her son. "Your body's not here, but your heart is here. He is here every day. We talk about him every day. We remember him."

She said she misses him and writes to him about "everything," like she would a child away at school. She also chooses to celebrate his life and the things he loves most.

"He loved to dance, so I keep dancing. He loved music, so I keep listening to music," Chapparo said. I do this because if just one kid reads this book and thinks, 'OK. I'm going to be careful,' that's good."

The event ended with instruction and discussion led by Kathy Supiano, a grief counselor with Caring Connections at the University of Utah. She told the families in attendance that "the way forward in a healthy grief is to remember."

"This is an opportunity to live out the good your children would have wanted through these stories. These stories are life changing. Before, the children were statistics and no one knew them," Supiano said. "Your child, your sister, your grandchild, while gone, is not a number. They are a story. ... A story that impacts the story of another human being. This is a powerful and good thing."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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