Seek love, life and light.
Abigael Bellows’ loved ones, friends and acquaintances were encouraged to keep her memory alive by continuing to be kind to one another during her beautiful memorial service on Sept. 22.
Swaths of wispy white tulle adorned the front of Heritage Restored Barn on the perfect autumn day to honor Abigael and the light she carried through her 22 years on this earth.
Abigael Maree “Abby” Bellows sadly passed away in Springfield, Oregon, on July 22, while swimming with her friends in the Willamette River. Abigael was the cherished daughter of Garth and Tressa Bellows, the sister of Eliza and Ivy, the granddaughter of Preston and Joan Bellows and Bruce and Sue Hamm, the niece of Matt and Alicia Bellows, Chris Hamm, Todd and Jodi Bellows, Ted and Julie Arnold, Tim and Tina Bellows, Deborah Cline, the cousin of many, and the friend to countless people.
Rev. Derek Wadlington delivered a heartfelt sermon during Abby’s service.
He began by greeting everyone with, “Namaste!” -- the Hindu greeting indicating a deep respect for one another, “it means my soul acknowledges yours. Not just your light, wisdom and goodness, but also your darkness and imperfections,” he said.
“It embraces magical, messy humanity, and it is how Abby would have wanted us to greet one another. We are here to celebrate the light and life in others.”
He continued by reading an excerpt from Tressa’s Facebook page: “Abigael believed that people had 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. She spoke with me often about it, and wanted to do something about it. In her tender age, within the past couple of years, she had the desire to help 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. In this world that appears to be pervaded with divisiveness and hate and uncertainty, with her loss, entire communities have simply stopped--the sides being taken, the politics, the right/wrong polarity, and they have poured love and light out--into our family, into her friends, into the community, and ultimately, into the world at large. Community is sort of a big deal to me, and 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. And now, 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.”
Wadlington added that love is pure, beautiful and perfect, and love is the reason for this service. God is love. He noted Abigael was great at illuminating light to help clear darkness in others.
“I ask that you see and honor the divine light in Abigael and each other,” he added. “Be bold and seek that out, within friends, within communities.”
He read Scriptures from Psalm 23 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “For everything there is a season, A time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.”
Brad Hill, youth director at the Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring, then sang the first of three musical selections, “Wildflowers,” by Tom Petty.
Wadlington continued his sermon in quoting the Book of Genesis when God created the heavens and earth.
“He said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light. God separated the light from darkness.’”
Wadlington said he did not have the honor of meeting Abigael, but a colleague of his from Wilson College asked him if he would consider officiating the service because they thought he would be a good fit, so he met with the Bellows family.
“That meeting was exactly one month ago today,” he said. “One month after she died. I spent several hours with them learning about Abigael and I thank you for letting me be here. I know enough to be able to claim some truths. No matter what we do, we cannot bring her back. She was stolen from us by those turbulent waters. She touched so many lives. Her physical presence is gone. However, she continues to reach out and bring people together. Just earlier today, the owner of Heritage Restored came in with a box of painted rocks that someone sent in with messages painted on them for the guests here today. She read about Abigael and was so moved to join this celebration today! That’s wonderful! I know that Abigael is now with God. She is sitting there in conversation, telling jokes, welcoming people as they arrive. I know we have suffered a loss -- a loss of potential, future laughs, future wonky waltzes, future jokes. One thing I learned is Abigael’s sisters, Eliza and Ivy, loved talking to her on the phone. Nothing mattered but them to Abigael. Time is the biggest thing we have to give. If you have time to devote to someone, that means you really care.”
Wadlington said we can all choose to live in Abigael’s honor.
“Celebrate our differences. Stop and smell the roses, call someone you care about and tell them you love them. Put aside the things that divide us. If we honor and respect one another, think about what an amazing world that could be, that will be when we do that. Don’t let her death be in vain. We talk about What Would Jesus Do? What Would Abigael Do? Use that incredible energy! Don’t let go of this. She had such a profound impact on so many.”
Courtney Robertson sang, “I am Light,” and Brennan Elliott ended with singing “Tears in Heaven.”
Wadlington concluded by saying, “Wherever she is, she’s smiling. She’s remembering all you gave her. The person you made her.”
A part of Abby’s obituary reads: “In high school, at CASHS, Abigael was known for always having a smile on her face, befriending those who may have otherwise felt invisible and for being incredibly generous with her spirit. She was an eager learner, participating in AP and honors courses, was a member of National Honor Society and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class. She remained best friends with the group she cemented in sixth grade, but welcomed many others into her circle. She was awarded an academic scholarship to Duquesne University and went back to her beginnings, in Pittsburgh. At Duquesne University, she continued to explore the world around her with wonder and astonishment. She became passionate about food, its origins, and how it affected daily lives and health. She took a comparative religions class and became intensely interested in yoga, meditation, and Eastern religions. After her sophomore year, she decided that she needed to learn by experience rather than textbooks. Abigael left for Costa Rica to teach English in a small school in Manuel Antonio, then with a week left before her return home, she decided to travel to Pachamama, an eco village. She was forever transformed by her travels and the spiritual growth she experienced. She decided not to return to Duquesne University, in search of authentic travel, world and life experiences, and moved to Eugene, Oregon. She spent time learning how to propagate plants on a farm in New Mexico; she worked at a vegan food truck in downtown Eugene; she made salves; she returned to Costa Rica; she worked as a waitress. But, she was none and all of those pursuits. She relentlessly chased joy — refusing an existence that was anything less than one of adventure, rich experience, spiritual growth and personal fulfillment.”
Two of Abby’s best friends, Tonya Vonkaler and Claire Jacobs, shared some of their experiences with Abby following the service.
“I got close to her in high school,” Jacobs noted. “We spent every day together -- car rides, Starbucks trips, music! There was never a dull moment.”
Vonkaler said she met Abby in 6th grade.
“She was the type of friend that could talk you into anything, but it always had a good outcome,” Vonkaler laughed. “When someone passes away, people always talk about how nice someone was and how caring they were. It seems like instinct to say that, but it was true with Abigael. She would see someone alone, go up and say Hi to them. She made you want to say Hi to them, too.”
Vonkaler and Jacobs said all of Abby’s friends shared a lot of inside jokes with her, and they all always had such great times together.
“Anytime she would come over, my dad would say, ‘There’s the wild child!’ But she really wasn’t wild,” Jacobs quipped. “She loved it!”
Vonkaler and Jacobs said while Abigael is gone physically, they both feel that her spirit is still with them. There was also a part of them that didn’t think she was really gone, and that she would come home after she went missing in July.
“We are happy to have known her. We are happy to celebrate her,” Vonkaler added.
They added Abigael would have loved the service.
“It’s really beautiful,” Vonkaler said. “A lot of us aren’t there yet. It’s hard to cope with this in one day. Abigael’s life can’t be summed up in one day. We celebrate it today and every day!”
“That’s exactly right! I see something beautiful on a daily basis and I think of her. She’s truly loved,” Jacobs added.
Robertson said her mom is good friends with Tressa, and she was asked to sing “I am Light,” because it became an important song to Tressa and Abigael through their yoga practice.
“I felt very touched to be asked to sing because I have a lot of personal trauma linked to my life. And the song talks about how you are not the terrible things that have happened to you, and you’re not the mistakes that you’ve made. And that really helped me.”
Robertson continued, “It was the most honorable thing I have been asked to do. I wanted to give something, and somehow help the family, and I feel this is how I was able to help, and I’m truly grateful for that opportunity. I learned that I wish we could have been best friends. She sounds like the light of the world. She was a humble, beautiful person. I do feel like she was here. I am incredibly proud of everyone showing up and being there for her. The Bellows family will stay in my thoughts and prayers, and I wish them nothing but light.”
Tressa beautifully summed up her family’s sentiments following the service:
“Two months to the day after the tragic loss of our 22-year-old daughter, our strength as a family was tested yet again, as we gathered for a celebration of her too short, but beautifully lived, life. The day at Heritage Restored could not have been more perfect. A flock of tree swallows swooped in and out of the fields past the venue, just a mesmerizing and unusual sight. Karlen Williams, owner of Heritage Restored, said they arrived just before the service for the first time ever. It was incredibly moving to us to hear Rev. Derek Wadlington use our untimely loss as a call to action for others — to live fully, to love more, and to spread light wherever you go, making the world a better place — just as our daughter did. The community continues to hold our family close to their hearts, and support us wholly, evidenced by the hundreds of people in attendance on that beautiful day and the number of people and local businesses donating to the Abigael Bellows Memorial Scholarship Fund. This scholarship fund is so important to our family. It is a way that we can be actively involved in spreading her loving nature, her sense of adventure and her desire to do good in the world. We are more than halfway to our goal of $15,000, which would ensure this fund would be continued in perpetuity. We can think of no better way to give back to this wonderful, warm community than to allow other future students to see this amazing planet we live on. Several community businesses are doing fundraisers over the next couple of months. It truly is such a gift to our family, as we grieve more than we ever knew possible, to see how many lives our Abigael touched. No one is ever really gone until they are no longer spoken of. It is so comforting to think of our girl living on in the lives of others.”
To donate to the Abigael Bellows Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will assist students with an interest in international studies and travel, visit: https://secure.qgiv.com/for/casdf/