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Christmas, without Eli

Parents grieve son’s death

By DAWN HANKINS - dhankins@t-g.com
Posted 12/18/21

Christmas is going to be different this year for Steven and Debbey Fritchley’s family.  

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Christmas, without Eli

Parents grieve son’s death

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Christmas is going to be different this year for Steven and Debbey Fritchley’s family.  

As many in the community are already aware, their 12-year-old son, Elias Arthur “Eli” Fritchley, died Nov. 28 by suicide.  

Still, because this is known as the season of perpetual hope, Eli’s parents are prayerful that something positive will come from this recent devastating tragedy. That is why they’re speaking out on such a tender topic; they want to prevent this from happening again, that is, to someone else’s child.  

That is possible through lots of education, Debbey says. Those near and dear to the young teen believe he took his own life, due to the bullying he was experiencing at Cascade Middle School.  

“Losing a child is like losing the will to breathe,” says mom, Debbey. “Your body just takes over but your mind and heart cease. Numbness becomes your new normal. If I could have taken my beating heart out of my chest that night as I performed CPR and given it to him, I would have happily done so. I have stood opposite grieving parents and tried to offer comfort, now I stand in their shoes and there is no comfort, there are no words that will ease this pain but we do appreciate every single person for trying.”  

Eli’s obit stated, “Eli was full of fun and loved bright colors, especially pink.” They asked those attending the service to dress accordingly, if possible, for the funeral. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that the community donate to the Go Fund Me account (https://gofund. me/0866b476) — one to be used, Debbey says, for the sole purpose of addressing bullying and helping other children like Eli.  

Eli’s Mom talks about how she thinks now her son’s death could have been prevented. The family is aware that he was the subject of bullying, but perhaps they will never know to the greatest extent of pain he was suffering each day.  

Now, they’re dealing with their own pain as parents who’ve buried their child. But, instead of lashing out in anger, with legal ramifications, this grieving mom is trying to help others through more education on the subject of discrimination and bullying.  

The school system has a bullying policy in place — one which has to be reviewed each year and is available to parents through the school system.  

“All the policies in the world won’t help if incidents do not get reported by students and staff,” says Debbey.  

The Fritchleys note that Cascade Middle Principal David Parker has been working with them from the start and has been very responsive to their needs.  

“We don’t as of yet know what the future will look like in terms of bullying awareness and prevention but we believe education is a start . . . for the students but also for the parents.”  

The pictures this local realtor holds to her heart show a young boy with golden locks, young eyes and a warm smile. The grieving mom describes her son, who played in the CMS band, as a “pure soul.”  

“I know people say that about their children all the time but he really was. He loved animals and children; they gravitated towards him. He has nieces and a nephew who he loved so much and they are now missing him. He has Lilly, the Chihuahua. He has been carrying her around since she was 2 years old; they were a pair and I know she is missing him.”  

Their home, which was once filled with teenage chatter from Eli and his friend, Jessica, is quiet now. Lilly, the family’s rescue dog, sits peacefully. The Fritchleys won’t be asking Eli about his Christmas wishes this year. He will also be missed by his five brothers and grandparents, nieces and nephews. Debbey talks about how Eli liked his Playstation; he had a few school friends that would keep him busy. There’s one thing this Bedford County mom clings to — the wonderful 12 years of memories Eli left with them.  

“When he was small, he would leave the house with a change of clothes as he didn’t like to get them dirty… would have a little roller bag that he would put his toys into. Even if we were just going to the store it would look like we were setting off on a weekend camping trip. He’s also a crafter – jewelry making, sewing blankets for Lilly – if I couldn’t find any of my supplies, they would be in his room. He loved band… seems he took to trombone very naturally.”  

Debbey says the CM Band students were his friends; his little group and they made him so happy. She described Eli as always quiet and one who relished alone time. She realizes that many times, there are warning signs when a person is contemplating suicide — a note or comment. That really wasn’t the case with Eli.  

“He would tell me things that had been said but he would smooth it over by telling me it was fine and that he told them to shut up,” she recalls.  

“The one incident I did speak to school about was a girl in his class following him out and calling him a ‘faggot.’ The school acted on this and I thought the issue was fixed. Over Thanksgiving he told me a few things that I was not happy about and I told him we would come into school after the break.”  

Of course they never had that chance. Now, his parents have some advice that they hope other parents will heed.  

“If someone reaches out to you and lets you know that your child is involved in actions that can cause mental and physical harm to a child, let them know it is unacceptable. Don’t think that your child is not capable of such a thing because we have seen that they are. To the parents who think their child may be getting bullied, no matter how small you think the incident is or how your child plays it down, act on it. It’s too late for Elias but not for any other child out there going through this.”  

The Fritchleys note the community has already done so much for them — not just the local community here in Tennessee but almost worldwide.  

“We have love and support coming in from India, Germany, Italy – our friends and family in the UK. The LGBTQ+ community have also taken Elias into their hearts and reached out to us.”  

She mentions that Bedford County will be working with them regarding bullying and that the GoFundMe has raised a massive amount for the Elias Fritchley Foundation.  

The Fritchleys are English – from West Yorkshire; they moved to South Carolina with their three older boys back in 2005 and eventually settled in Tennessee — the place they intend to call home for good. Debbey says with much sadness that now, the family, and their good friends, are trying to carry on with a positive note, just like Eli would have wanted.  

“Everyone who knew Eli will not forget him. His unique and perfect self . . . with the Fritchley family humor— that [which] would sometimes leave me groaning. His Spongebob top that he really did live in (only after cleaning it every night); his strength; he never changed who he was. Even when he was teased for his Spongebob top, he still wore it. He never stopped wearing the little cross body phone purse he wanted. He would wear nail polish occasionally, if he liked the color. He NEVER tried to change who he was – our son – and he made us proud every single day. I just hope we can make him proud and continue on this journey.”  

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call the state crisis services and suicide prevention hotline, now. Help is available 24-hours-a-day, 7-daysa-week. Call 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471) or text “TN” to 741-741. 

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