by Shandi Pace
Tracy Bell passed away at the age of 29 after battling a rare form of cancer. For several years, her sister Dina Bell-Laroche struggled to find an outlet to help her cope with Tracy’s loss. That outlet came one day when she was least expecting it.
When Tracy passed away in 2001, she had a newborn son and a recently married husband. One of the last things Tracy told Dina before she passed away was “don’t forget me” and “take care of my boys.” Dina would never forget those promises.
In her grief, Dina spent years coping with that loss and thinking about how she could honour her sister’s legacy. “Everybody copes differently. My way was to cope in a way that would channel all of my energy into a project so I could get to ‘meaning-making,’” Dina said.
At first, that project came in the form of channelling her energy into cancer-related causes. She helped bring Relay For Life to Ottawa, Ontario for the first time. Dina eventually became tired of focusing on the disease that took Tracy away. This realization led her in a new direction.
As a soccer coach for many years, Dina used True Sport Principles as a way to expand her player’s capacity to be more resilient. Up until 2014, Dina was choosing from local charities for her team to support. She had heard from a friend about SchoolBOX and immediately knew she had to support them. Created by Tom Affleck and Ronald Chavarria, SchoolBOX is a charity that provides children with better access to education.
After a successful Fun Run and mitten drive that won a matched donation from True Sport, Dina and her team raised $4000 for SchoolBOX. To show their appreciation, Dina was invited to Nicaragua by the founder of SchoolBOX to help build the school they fundraised for. This trip was where the idea to honour Tracy emerged.
Dina, along with her small group of players, were brought to one of the newly built schools. It had been dedicated by the parents of a young child that had died. Dina recognized she could do the same thing to remember her sister.
Remarkably, two weeks after the trip, Tracy’s old boss reached out to her mother, informing her they hadn’t paid out Tracy’s insurance money after her death. Part of that money was used to build a library inside the school Dina helped construct while she was in Nicaragua.
The community of Tipitapa has come alive since the school was first built. They now have a health care centre and electricity. “You build a school, and school is hope, which is why this way of grieving allows us to stay connected to the people that have died…The relationship with the person that you love does not die when that person dies,” Dina said.
Since that trip, Dina has raised two more classrooms in her sister’s honour. She plans to continue with her forever charity, SchoolBOX, “one classroom and one library at a time.”
Currently, Dina is working on writing a book about her struggles with grief. She continues to hold virtual Grief Cafes. These 90-minute events are where she can offer advice to others from personal experience and through thanatology, the study of death and loss. The idea for Grief Cafes came out of inspiration to bring more loss literacy to the world.
“Death is not the opposite of life. Death is actually the opposite of birth. Life is what happens in between those two bookends. And when we can hold death as a natural process of living a human experience, there’s a settling in that occurs.”
For more information on Dina Bell-Laroche and SchoolBOX, check out their website.
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