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Life can change in an instant. Life changed for the Corontzes family one night in March 2006 when 19-year-old Helen died after a car crash. In the 13 years since, her family has worked hard to keep Helen’s memory alive.

July is International Bereaved Parents Month, and while the hope is that nobody would ever have a need to recognize this time, the reality is different. In the United States alone, about 12,000 children under age 19 pass away annually, leaving parents in a wake of grief. 

Helen left behind an adoring family – her mother and father, and a brother and sister. All of them were involved in the accident, but she was the only fatality.

“She was so sweet, and she had a gift for being able to read people,” Lesa Corontzes said of her daughter.

Many times, bereaved parents face depression, illness and even more after the loss of a child. Some parents prefer to hide away, but Corontzes said that talking about her child has been therapeutic for her. 

“We didn’t want to be closed off,” Corontzes said. “What helps is people saying her name and not forgetting.”

Though nearly 70 percent of bereaved parents have their marriage end in divorce, Corontzes said she and her husband, George, were able to help hold each other up when they were grieving. She said when one of them was down, the other would help, and with time it would switch back and forth.

Mothers and fathers grieve differently, Corontzes said. And it is important to remember that nobody’s way of grieving is wrong, it’s just different. Everyone processes grief in a different way. 

Corontzes encourages people not to disappear from someone’s life after they have lost a child. This is a time when they need to be surrounded by love and support. She recognizes that it is awkward and maybe friends don’t know what to say, but a few simple words go a long way. 

“We won’t break,” she said. “We might cry, but we won’t break.”

The first year after a child passes is usually the most difficult, as the family experiences all of the firsts without their child. From Christmas to vacations to birthdays, parents will struggle with finding a new normal. It is good to allow them to talk about happy memories and also to cry over the loss. It can be therapeutic for everyone.

Helen’s family celebrates her birthday every year. Corontzes said they have planted her favorite dogwood tree in her honor, bought bicycles and gone for a family bike ride, and last year, Corontzes brought home a new puppy.

The family also established Helen’s Hugs, an organization that helps local children with special needs have access to equine therapy sessions. Corontzes said it has been a wonderful way to see her daughter’s love for both children and horses come together.

“I had 19 perfect years with her and she had so much love,” she said. “It helps to give love to others.”

Learn more about Helen’s Hugs at www.helenshugs.org. 

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