The Liberty Gazette
November 24, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Gareth Williams is a compassionate man. At midlife he discovered The Halftime Institute, a Christian-based organization in Dallas that helps people figure out what they want to do with their lives after successful careers but with still plenty of life left to live and means to give. They are "The University for Your Second Half."
Through The Halftime Institute, Gareth’s next steps became clear. He loved flying, and he wanted to help grieving people –specifically those grieving the loss of a child (or children), because these are the things Gareth knows best.
Out of the exercises at Halftime came his answer. He knew of a big problem, with which he had a personal connection. This helped him discover his mission and create a strategy to carry it out.
The big problem. "Outliving one’s child," says Gareth, "is profoundly catastrophic and disrupts the natural law and order of life. The loss is multi-layered and persistent: no graduation, no wedding, no grandchildren. For siblings, the trauma of losing a brother or sister often goes unrecognized and unaddressed. Many families need help making sense of it all."
His personal connection. After a long illness, Gareth’s youngest child, Timmy, passed away in 2008, at just 12 years old. Gareth describes him as an audacious, fun-loving dreamer, whose motto was "Dream BIG". Knowing what flying has done for him personally, how slipping the surly bonds of Earth offers a certain kind of freedom in dealing with loss, Gareth quickly saw the unique potential of open-cockpit flight for uplifting the grieving spirit. It was then that Fly-Hope-Dream was born – out of the legacy of a beautiful boy with a charming smile, from whose life, and in even the face of death, Gareth found encouragement and drew strength.
The mission. Gareth explains that those who've lost children often feel isolated and alone. I have felt that myself, after the fire that took my husband and two of my children. "And yet," says Gareth, "around 57,000 children under the age of 19 die in the United States every year. That’s over 150 new families affected every day." Therefore, it is the mission of Fly-Hope-Dream to connect these families through flight experiences and related educational programs with the theme: "You’re NOT alone!"
The strategy. Mike and I flew up to Terrell, Texas to meet Gareth. I qualified, he told me, for a flight in his 1942 Stearman, the open cockpit biplane that leaves one with "the Stearman smile" long after the flight is over. More importantly is the mission to inspire parents and siblings alike. "Flying in an open cockpit biplane 500 feet above the fields brings a fresh perspective from which new hope can spring."
And he wants his passengers to know they are not alone, and that in fact, God has more plans for them. Considering the achievements of well-known figures who have experienced similar tragedy, grieving family members can find motivation and transform personal tragedy into meaningful legacy, beginning a new journey.
Among those who have learned to live with the loss of a child are Neil Armstrong, Presidents Lincoln, George H W Bush and George W Bush, and author Ronald Dahl. In these people and others those new to grief may see their hope, and out of that hope can come a new life, a new dream.
For more information, go to www.fly-hope-dream.org. Dream big, as Timmy Williams did, and transform those dreams into a lasting legacy of the child, or children, now gone on ahead of us.