Letters to the Editor

Grandfather of girl who died at Elks Lodge: Kiss your loved ones

Viviana Van Belleghem, 3, passed away at the Elks Lodge on July 8 as a result of accidental drowning.
Viviana Van Belleghem, 3, passed away at the Elks Lodge on July 8 as a result of accidental drowning. Courtesy photo

I’d like to introduce myself: My name is Michael Van Belleghem. I am the grandfather of 3-year-old Viviana Van Belleghem, the tiny lightning bolt of a girl who passed away at the Elks Lodge on July 8 as a result of accidental drowning.

When a tragedy like this occurs, we want answers. We review all the details of the day, of each moment. We ask questions. How could this happen? Where is the part that make sense? Why? Why? Why? All the whys. All the what ifs. They will break your heart, make you question yourself and make you question the world.

The response from the community has been wonderfully overwhelming. The compassion, kindness and support my family and I are receiving is sustaining us through these dark days. That so many of you have been touched by this tragedy that you felt compelled to take action, whether in the form of an email, a donation or a comment on social media — your genuine feelings, your heartfelt desire for answers, your messages of strength — are all so appreciated. Even those of you who question the whys and the hows, it’s important to me that you know our family agrees with you: Parents are responsible for their children, every minute of every day. You are 100 percent right. This was a tragic accident. And I know you don’t know us. It is a tragedy but to you, there is a degree of detachment; it’s parenting advice or lifeguard advocacy. The detachment allows for logic, but to me, it is my sweet granddaughter, and she is gone. So I encourage everyone to have compassion.

This tragedy made me question the world. The response from all of you is restoring my faith.

Michael Van Belleghem

I encourage everyone to look at all the love created in the wake of this loss. Look at all the love this small package of innocence and joy revealed. I sit here as I write this, and I look around my home, filled with flowers and friends and family. I look at this community and the amazing support we have received. I sit here and shake my head in awe of the love she created. This tragedy made me question the world. The response from all of you is restoring my faith. Thank you.

Specifically, I would like to thank the Elks. The Elks Lodge was Viviana’s favorite place to go and play with friends and family. The Elks are devastated, and the response from the organization and its membership is genuine and incredible. Their response is reflective of their place in the community as a pro-family organization, and we are so appreciative of the outpouring of support from their members.

This past Sunday, friends, family and community members joined us at Biddle Park to celebrate the vibrant energy that defined the life of Viviana Rae. Music, sunshine, group hugs (Vivi’s favorite) and a strict pink dress code. It was exactly what she would have wanted, and it was beautiful. The love was palpable.

To our friends, family and members of this amazing community: Kiss your babies, kiss your friends, love one another and group hug every chance you get. And from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of my family and the people who love Viviana, thank you.

Michael Van Belleghem lives in Arroyo Grande.

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