Abigael Bellows: Community invited to memorial service
The community is invited to a memorial service Tuesday for Abigael Maree Bellows, daughter of Garth and Tressa Bellows and big sister of Eliza and Ivy.
The service begins at 4:30 p.m. at Heritage Restored Farm, 8877 Newburg Road, Newburg.
Abigael drowned last summer while swimming with friends July 22. She was overcome by the strong currents of the Willamette River in Springfield, Oregon, disappearing beneath the water and not resurfacing.
During the nine days leading up to the recovery of her body — as her family waited, hoping against hope for a miracle that she might be found alive — friends and strangers in the Franklin County community and beyond prayed for and supported them.
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Supporters donated over $42,000 to a GoFundMe account to help cover the costs of the family’s stay in Oregon during the search, to feed searchers and even bring special search teams to the river. Candlelight vigils in both Chambersburg and at the site of Abby’s disappearance drew hundreds of her friends, as well as strangers.
Searchers found Abby’s body July 31, nine days after she went missing. She was located half a mile from the spot she went missing.
The family decided to postpone services for their popular, outgoing and vibrant daughter. The decision was made partly from exhaustion and a need to recover from their ordeal. It was partly because of restrictions last summer on funerals due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Finding the right place, time
The Bellows wanted to find a venue to accommodate the large community that knew Abby, as well as all those who had supported the family during the search for Abby.
“This ending of one season and beginning of another feels significant in the similarity of the transition time in our family,” Tressa Bowers said. “Abigael was reverential of these important earth days. We wanted to honor that.”
They chose the Heritage Restored Farm as the site to celebrate and remember Abby’s life. That, too, seemed fitting. It provides “an incredibly beautiful and peaceful” space, according to Tressa.
It also provides plenty of space for social distancing.
“The community embraced us so wholeheartedly and clearly Abby Bellows made an impact on so many,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine not inviting everyone who wanted to join us in celebrating and remembering her life.”
There is plenty of room to spread out, but the family does ask those attending to follow mask requirements.
There will be some light refreshments following the service.
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The Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring will live-stream the service on their page: Milestones at Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring.
The Bellows family expects Tuesday to be a difficult, meaningful day.
“I know it will also be poignant and meaningful to see all those who love her, who followed our family’s story and care about us come together to share the incredibly beautiful life she lived,” Tressa said.
“There have been a zillion offers of ‘How can we help the Bellows family?’” Tressa said.
She and Garth gave it a lot of thought and decided to start a scholarship in Abby’s name.
“Abby deeply loved the world and the people in it.” she said. “It seemed fitting to help other students see far off lands, learn new languages, explore this planet and fall in love with new cultures in her memory.”
The Bellows chose to do that through the CASD Foundation; an organization that provides scholarships to students at Abby’s high school, Chambersburg Area Senior High School. She was a 2016 CASHS graduate.
The family requests donations for the Abigael Bellows Memorial Scholarship Fund through the CASD Foundation in lieu of flowers. This fund will directly benefit students wishing to travel and study internationally. Makr donations here, or mail them to: CASD Foundation, 435 Stanley Avenue, Chambersburg PA 17201. In the memo line, please notate Abigael Bellows.
Governed by a 15-member board of directors, the Foundation manages $3 million in assets. It continues to grow to serve the students of the Chambersburg Area School District. The Foundation provided 71 scholarships to 2020 graduates, many named in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Keeping Abby’s name alive
One of the first calls Tressa made after returning home was to the CASD Foundation.
“I once read that nobody is really gone until their name is no longer spoken,” she said. “It is important (to us) to keep her name alive in this community that has loved Abigael and embraced us.”
The family chose this type of scholarship because, Tressa said, “there are people here in our little Franklin County that never go further than Ocean City.”
The family wanted to give others the opportunities Abby had to travel and expand her horizons. Tressa sees it as a way to keep Abigael’s memory alive, and for her to live on through the years.
The community has already jumped on the bandwagon to help raise enough money to fund the scholarship.
Garth’s sister graciously decided to host a yard sale. All the proceeds are going to the Abigael Bellows Memorial Scholarship Fund, through the CASD Foundation. One of Abby’s friends, an artist, created memorial stickers and magnets memorializing Abby,. Proceeds from their sale will go to the fund.
“The period since July 22 has been the most terrifying, agonizing and painful time of our life,” Tressa said.“Yet, maybe because it has been the most vulnerable time we have ever experienced; that time has also shown us the amazing beauty of what happens when people come together.”
About Abigael, in Tressa’s words
“Abigael believed people have an unlimited capacity for love. She recognized that capacity often got covered up by the bumps and bruises that people endured in their humanity. She was aware that those bumps and bruises manifested themselves in very human traits like insecurity, pettiness, ignorance, fear, and anger.
“Abigael spoke with me often about it. She wanted to to do something about it.
“She had the desire to help people people peel back the layers of hurt that the bumps and bruises of life created. Ultimately her goal, professionally, personally and spiritually, was to give people a safe space to learn more about what caused their love and their light to dim.
“I believe she would have accomplished that here on Earth on a much larger scale had she been given more time.
“Community is sort of a big deal to me. I would like to believe that I, at least in part, passed that on to her. I grew up in a military household and we moved frequently. Though you might not think that lifestyle would not support community, military families know how to take care of each other.
“I joined a sorority my freshman year of college, because I knew I needed a community of sisters to lean into, after the tight-knit feeling of growing up on a military base. I joined an online parenting group when the internet first started because I craved that community. When we moved to Chambersburg from Pittsburgh, I found it difficult at first to find MY community. People in this little town have often walked beside each other since they left the maternity ward in their mama’s arms, and those circles are TIGHT. But, our girls have grown up here; and I, of course, managed to find my way and create my place in this town.
“I will never view community in the same way. My heart and soul has been immeasurably touched by the community that is walking this walk with me, and my loved ones. I am forever changed. I think I have always been kind, at least I strive to be. But, now I will never be so busy or distracted or uncomfortable that I am unable to be a part of community, whatever that looks like.
“The Latin root word of community is communis, which at least one translation suggests means shared by many. The community that has chosen to share this piercing pain with me has completely changed me–for the better.
“I am indebted to everyone walking beside me, in all the ways they are walking– the small, gentle gestures, the respectful silence, the outpouring of gifts, the businesses making our daily lives a tiny bit less challenging, the friends and neighbors simply doing without our asking, the communities from years ago and across the country, all of it.
“It is a cosmic irony that Abigael’s passing has allowed so many people to increase their capacity to love and spread light, and it is simultaneously incredibly painful and beautiful to be in the midst of. She knew. She knew humans are better than face value”