It wouldn’t be until a few years later that answers would be forthcoming, after Hung, a veteran Toronto Police officer, began studying how to be a certified grief coach. She began learning how to help others cope with the sudden loss of a loved one and, with that, how to put both herself and her family on a better path to healing — a journey that continues today.
Hung’s name may not ring a bell, but her story will. Hung was the mother of 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel, who was knifed to death outside her East York home on New Year’s Day 2008 by 17-year-old David Bagshaw, a former admirer of Rengel’s bullied into committing the vicious act by his jealous girlfriend, Melissa Todorovic, 15.
The two were convicted in 2009, Bagshaw with stabbing Rengel and Todorovic for masterminding the crime. Both were sentenced as adults and continue to serve life sentences. Hung began a year-long correspondence course with the California-based Grief Coach Academy late in 2011. Hung was certified in 2012, is now taking a follow-up course, and is currently working with the relative of a murder victim.
“After Stefanie died ... I spent a lot of time looking for answers and I didn’t find any,” said Hung while standing next to a small cherry tree planted in Stefanie’s name on the grounds of the O’Connor Dr. and St. Clair Ave.-area church the Hung’s attend. “So I thought to myself at the time, ‘If I ever get through this, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to find another person like me and let them know that they can make it.”
Not far from there, Patricia and her second husband, James, still live in the house where Stefanie lived. Kids Ian, 17, Eric, 10, Patrick, 7, Grace, 4, and 3-year-old Elena live there with them.
Stefanie’s father, Adolfo Rengel, who along with Hung was a constant presence at the trials, lives in Whitby.
Off the home’s master bedroom sits Hung’s small, softly-lit office. Behind her desk is a shelf crammed with books on grief and recovery. Beside that, atop a large filing cabinet, sits Stefanie’s Grade 9 photo. From it, the teen looks out with an easy smile as she rests her chin in the palm of her hand. Hung, who describes her family as a “united” and happy one, says she draws on the pain of losing Stefanie and her own recovery to help those she counsels.
“Them just knowing that I’ve felt as vulnerable as they are feeling is what helps them, more than anything,” said Hung, who also runs the blog,
Grief counselling has also helped Hung move through her own episodes of sadness. It has helped her leave behind what Bagshaw and Todorovic did to her daughter, and in overcoming the guilt she felt for not being able to protect her — sometime before the stabbing, Bagshaw and Todorovic had been antagonizing Stefanie and Hung approached them, demanding her daughter be left alone.
“It’s up to me to forgive myself for the stuff I feel I did wrong, not keeping her safe, or any feelings I might have about things I may have done that contributed to it, even though I know it is not rational,” she said.
Dr. Mel Borins, a family physician and associate professor at the University of Toronto, says that while a grieving person’s best bet for assisted healing is to see a “regulated” medical professional, “a good-quality grief coach may be effective in helping people by drawing on their own experiences in grief and loss.”
“Certainly, if the person giving the help has been through something similar and has come out the other in a positive, highly-functioning way, then it always helps if you’re helping other people to have some insight into their problem. Grief is about loss, and ... we all have experienced loss. The more together we are on our past losses, the better we are to help someone else on that path.”
Like others who have found themselves living out their worst nightmare; hoping to wake up and be rescued from an abyss, Patricia has found some measure of solace in assisting others who have been faced with the pain that never seems to go away! Be it just a friendly ear of concerned folks; having someone to listen while we pour out our heart and face the fact that our loved one will not be coming home is the most important first step in the new world we will inhabit.
As cathartic it is to the soul to know that folks care enough about you to be with you when you are most vulnerable, it can also be cathartic to those who have 'walked the same road'. As a second-responder with Victim Services, the Police would ask us to assist them with folks who were going through a period that will definitely 'not make their high-light reel'. With Homicide and Suicide, the devastation can be mind-numbing! Domestic assault can shatter the family. To the victim, i'm certain that many may not even remember what we said but I would only hope they will never forget how we tried to make them feel. For this reason, I am passing on the statement made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday marking National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, taking place from April 21 to 27, 2013:
“Our Government fully recognizes the devastating impact that violent crime has on victims and their families, both in the immediate and long term: the physical and psychological damage, the economic challenges posed by not being able to go to work, as well as the health costs. “I hope that this week, Canadians are reminded of the multiple hardships that victims face and I encourage them to learn more about what they can do to support victims of crime and their families. This year’s theme – We All Have a Role – shines a light on the tremendous work being done by a wide range of dedicated professionals and volunteers to help alleviate the suffering of victims of crime.
“Victims and their families have repeatedly told us that they need stronger and more coordinated support from the justice, corrections, labour and health systems to facilitate their recovery. In response, we have taken important steps to help them get back on their feet and give them a more significant role in the justice and correctional systems, giving their voice the respect it deserves.“Government of Canada initiatives have helped fund projects and services across the country that benefit victims of crime, minimize the economic burdens of parents of murdered or missing children, increase the efficiency of the justice system, strengthen laws against perpetrators, and, ensure child and youth victims and non-offending family members have access to child advocacy centers that they can turn to for help.
“In the years to come, we will continue to fight for victims’ rights by working to create a Victims Bill of Rights and make meaningful changes so that every victim knows that their concerns are felt, heard and acted upon.” I would encourage those who have some time to spare to give it freely. Big Brothers tell us that no one stands so tall as when they stoop to help a fatherless boy! There are many volunteer opportunities in your community right now. Some say, you will get it back 10-fold!
If you or someone you love would like more information about fighting crime and supporting victims, please visit: http://pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?id=5279
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