HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — There is an assembly line in Bella Geary’s family room. She and her mom Tabitha are putting packets together with a lot of heart.
“I think a lot of families will know how this feels and it will help them too,” says 11-year-old Bella.
She has been dreading this moment for months. Her oldest brother Michael just left for his Freshman year at Virginia Tech.
“That’s going to be hard not to see him or hear him walking down the hallway every day,” Bella explains.
Last Winter she came up with an idea to help her and him get through the transition. Twenty letters packed in a box called Open When. They can be opened during those times you need a hug, good memory or a reminder that you are not alone.
“I printed out some family pictures,” Bella shows what she included in one of the envelopes for Michael.
Adds Tabitha, “The letters help you communicate when you can’t actually verbalize it, so that was really important to us.”
It is important to a family that learned how small sentiments can speak volumes after a tragedy. Matt Geary, the head of their house, father of five, husband, lawyer and well-known Richmond prosecutor, took his life in January 2012.
Remembers Tabitha, “It taught us a lot about what people go through and what you wish somebody had helped with potentially when you were going through it or they were going through it.”
Since their loss, the family has banded together, knowing just how real depression is. Even in the darkness, though, love can be there anytime with a letter.
“Everybody should have a support system that makes them feel like they can just be happy and they know they have someone to lean on,” Bella reflects.
What started initially as a gift to her brother is now a business with a purpose. Bella developed kits to offer a boost during pregnancy, marriage for long-distance love, the military and anyone who is college-bound, like her brother. Each one can contain jokes, drawings, poems and notes hand-written on cards by the sender.
As the Geary family continues to heal from a loss like no other, Bella is working to bridge gaps across the miles and build support systems with letters to open when the recipient needs it the most.
“It’s just something very thoughtful to give one another,” Bella says. “It really shows you love the other person, and they will have it for as long as the cards last them and it can be a lifetime.”
In honor of Matt Geary, a portion of proceeds from each Open When kit will benefit the Cameron K. Gallagher Memorial Foundation, which is raising awareness about the struggles of mental illness.