Meet Claudia Isserow – A selfless, strong sister with an army of stunning supporters
Hosting an event in the memory of a loved one can often be difficult. However, trying to capture their spirit and life essence after ten years, could possibly be downright daunting. But this was certainly not the case for Claudia Isserow, who was bound and determined to honour the life of her sister, Gabrielle Isserow, with a fundraiser this past November, ten years after she lost her to suicide.
The fundraiser, entitled The Stunning Sequence was a virtual mind + body movement event in honour of Gabrielle also affectionately known as Gabi. The name of the event is rooted in mindful movement and dance – an integral part of both Gabi’s and the Isserow family’s lives. The word “stunning” was also a key part of Gabi’s vocabulary.
The virtual event took place on Zoom on November 28th , 2020 – the anniversary of Gabi’s death and two days after what would have been her 31st birthday. The event raised $14,300 in just under two weeks and all proceeds were donated to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP).
Having lost her sister to suicide, it is incredibly important to Claudia to shed light on the topic and create a conversation arming individuals with the proper support and information, and ultimately eliminate the stigma surrounding suicide. After doing some research, Claudia came across CASP and was immediately drawn to the organization’s incredible efforts to provide suicide support and prevention to Canadians.
The event took place on the ten-year mark of Gabi’s passing with Claudia sharing “Ten years ago, my world and that of my entire family was shattered by the tragic death of our precious Gabi. Gabi’ s profound impact she had on people’s lives however, has been a true testament of the beautiful legacy she left behind. With every story we are told, we hear how Gabi helped people, inspired them and how kind she was. She continues to be a role-model for not only myself but for those she touched in her near 21 years.”
Ten years ago, the high school in Vancouver where the sisters attended, King David High School, also created Random Acts of Kindness Week. This has since evolved to The Gabrielle Isserow z’l Chesed Fund which supports the many forms of chesed (kindness) inspired by Gabi, who embodied the ideals of chesed. Contributions to this fund support the annual Random Acts of Chesed Week which brings together students and alumni from Jewish day schools in a week-long celebration of acts of kindness. In addition, this fund supports experiential learning opportunities.
The 10-year mark was also a significant “milestone” in Claudia’s mourning process. The Stunning Sequence was a way to connect with those who had been touched by Gabi’s presence and legacy. In addition, she felt it was an opportunity to raise awareness and support CASP’s efforts. Claudia’s cousin and co-planner, Nikki Isserow, suggested that they should come together and honour Gabi in movement by donation – and, thus, The Stunning Sequence was born. The main planning for the event was done by Claudia, her cousin, Nikki, and Gabi’s childhood friends, Ilana Ames and Adina Abitol.
Over 120 of Gabi’s family, friends, co-workers and community joined virtually in a 30-minute high-intensity interval training lesson lead by Ilana and Adina, followed by a 30-minute yoga lesson led by the talented Nikki. The floor was then opened for participants to share their precious memories of Gabi. It was a special way to celebrate and reflect on Gabi’s stunning memory. Claudia indicated the lasting takeaway message for those who joined that day was to live your lives with kindness, love and gratitude for yourself and others, just as Gabi did.
Although this was the first year The Stunning Sequence has taken place, Claudia hopes to continue it annually with aspirations to make it even more widespread as well as expand the sequence while continuing to support the efforts at CASP.
And, believe it or not, COVID actually made it easier for them to host their fundraiser, Claudia exclaimed. People joined them virtually from all over the world – Toronto, Vancouver, California, London, South Africa, Israel, Australia and beyond. She was extremely touched to have friends and family, near and far, joining them. In the future, they will most likely continue the virtual experience as it allows everyone across the globe to participate.
When asked if the event met Claudia’s original expectations, she admitted that she was beyond ecstatic and that the event was extremely well received. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would raise so much money in just under two weeks,” Claudia expressed. “I want to thank all those, from the bottom of my heart, who generously contributed to our fundraiser. I feel beyond blessed and grateful. All those who attended let us know that they were so moved and felt Gabi’s presence throughout the sequence. It was such a meaningful way to honour her while raising awareness for suicide prevention.”
Reflecting on the past ten years since her sister’s passing, Claudia shared the following: “Grieving death by suicide is complicated and complex. We are always looking for answers and what we could have missed. However, if someone you know has died by suicide caused by mental illness, we need to look at it as a massive heart attack of the brain. You can check every box in the recovery journey and still treatment may fail. The guilt and stigma surrounding suicide needs to be talked about, so that those who have lost a loved one in their lives, don’t carry the guilt and shame.”
With that, Claudia would like to send her love and support to anyone who struggles with mental illness, as well as those people who support and care for those struggling. She wants you to know that you are seen and you are loved.