A memorial service this morning at the Region of York for engineer Bahareh Karami not only expressed the sorrow, despair and incomprehension felt by her colleagues and friends, it also offered solace to the community at large in the aftermath of last week’s Iran plane crash in which 176 people lost their lives.
The Great Hall at the Region of York’s administrative centre in Newmarket was filled to capacity with community members and regional employees, while others watched the service through live stream, including Bahareh’s family in Tehran.
“We are celebrating the life of Bahareh Karami, in doing so we are also demonstrating our support for all of those who perished, and everyone affected by last week’s tragedy,” said Region of York Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Macgregor of the Jan. 8 crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, hit by an Iranian missile shortly after takeoff near Tehran.
Bahareh’s mother, Beheshteh, with Bahareh’s father, Akbar, and brother, Ali, at her side, spoke on a live stream video from Tehran.
“Thank you to Canadian people and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for your support in this tough time,” she said, speaking carefully in English of the family’s gratitude and deep sorrow.
“Our house is filled with people and friends that Bahareh loved with her warm heart. We can’t stop crying,” she said with a heavy sigh. “And we can’t still believe it, but this memorial service shows us that we are not alone, and that we have your support and sympathy.”
In his eulogy, Macgregor said Bahareh, a technologist in the environmental services department since 2018, was “a valued member of our York Region family” and he highlighted her successful career and education, which included two degrees.
“Something that struck me so hard in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy was the outstanding contribution so many of these Canadians were making to our country and to their communities where they lived or worked — doctors, educators, engineers, students, children, public servants,” he said. “So many in the Iranian community making their families, regardless of where they lived, so very very proud.
“Bahareh was no different.”
A picture was painted of a warm, kind, courageous, intelligent and hard-working woman who was grateful for the opportunities given to her in Canada in the many tributes made to Bahareh.
Friend Monica Rivera said she “instantly connected” with Bahareh when they worked together at a Toronto consulting firm five years ago when she first came to Canada.
“She had this ability to find gratefulness in any situation, even when it wasn’t ideal. Although she was miles away from home, she told me many times how grateful she was to live in Canada; a country that gave her the freedom and opportunity to allow her to visit her family in Iran whenever she wanted to, and have her mom come visit her many times.
“She always saw the silver lining, even as she faced the struggles all newcomers experience in coming here.”
She deeply missed her family and was a devoted daughter — she spoke with her mother almost daily — and sister who had hoped her brother would join her here, Rivera said.
Yet she created a family of friends here and in the United States, and could create a instant bond and new friendships.
“Young, old, it didn’t matter, her heart was just open, and somehow she would just fit you in it,” said Rivera, her voice finally breaking.
She was passionate about many causes, including protecting the environment, was an advocate for mental health services, and volunteered for the rEcess respite program.
She loved dance and music. She taught herself to play the ukulele, and when a video played during the service of her playing and singing John Lennon’s Imagine, it brought tears to the eyes of many.
“Her life on Earth may have ended, but Bahareh will forever live on in the hearts of those who loved her, those who had the privilege to call her a friend. Her memory will be a constant reminder to live life the way she did; to build real connections with one another, to really pay attention, to listen to each other, to show love to one another.”
York Regional Police Services chaplain Dr. Mansfield Edwards lead a reflection, saying the loss of Bahareh “directly impacts (York Region) staff, our region, the family, thousands of miles away, and the loss to Canada itself.”
He quoted author Vance Havner who wrote in his book Though I Walk through the Valley about the “dark days” we face following a loss of life — “days of despair and discouragement, days when there are more questions than answers.”
“Unfortunately, the past few days in our country have been dark days ... because Bahareh is no longer with us … (and) because geopolitical decisions have been imposed upon us, without our invitation, leaving us to grapple with an almost inexplicable reality.”
Edwards acknowledged many in the community are trying to come to terms with the unfairness and injustice of the tragedy, and that grief becomes anger for some.
“While none of us expect to live forever, in this context, none of us deserve to die because of the carelessness of the irresponsible. All of us are affected, nonetheless, because of a senseless atrocity, sadness and deep inward pain is imposed upon us. It is natural for us to respond negatively to this new reality as we try to adjust to the fact.”
He encouraged those grieving the loss of Bahareh to write down “the last words” they would say to her.
“Cherish the people God has placed in your lives,” he said. “This is an important moment to reinvest in each other, value each other, take care of each other.
“I suggest if Bahareh could say in kind to you today, she would say take care of each other, be more than friends, be family, for we need each other.”
The service included a gallery of photographs on the large screen of Bahareh with family, friends and colleagues played to In the Arms of an Angel sung by Sarah McLachlan, and a reading of Maya Angelou’s When Great Trees Fall by colleague Saaliha Khadim.
Friend and colleague Afshin Naseri spoke in Farsi of Bahareh, making note of her close relationship with her family, especially her mother, despite the distance between them.
“She was really excited going to Iran since she had not visited her parents for the past two years. She was planning months in advance. She bought so many gifts and souvenirs for them that she had to pay additional charges on top of her usual bag allowance. That’s how generous she was.”
“It never crossed my mind that is going to be the last time I see her,” he said, recalling when she gave him a Christmas card before leaving for her trip. “None of us, her friends and colleagues thought this tragedy would occur.”
A book of condolence is available to sign in the Great Hall.