Dressed in Lululemon yoga pants, Helen Clare is a picture of health in a photograph taken a few months before she died.
She’s got a shimmer of sweat on her forehead and is ready to sip out of a large plastic water bottle.
You can tell the photographer captured a moment, the 27-year-old looks a little surprised as the camera clicked.
“This is how she was. She loved to work out,” says Deanna Sauve, her friend, pointing at the photograph.
“She lived in her Lululemons.”
Most people in Maple Ridge might never have crossed paths with Clare. If there’s anything they remember about her, it’s a headline: “Suspicious death at Maple Ridge motel.”
Others may recall driving past the Centennial Motel and Trailer Court, on Lougheed Highway near 216th Street, last September and seeing yellow police tape around its faded green buildings and crime scene investigators in white protective bunny suits.
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team still won’t say how the young woman died or reveal the results of a toxicology report, but continue to investigate her death.
To Clare’s friends and family, she was not a “nobody” or just a down-and-out stranger who passed away alone in a motel, another accident or tragedy.
“She was a person, she was loved and still is and we want her to be remembered,” says Sauve, who met Clare in 2009 at a recovery house in Maple Ridge, where she was trying to kick an addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Born in Richmond, Clare moved with her family to South Africa when she was three and returned to Canada when she was six. The family has lived in Surrey since. Clare graduated from Tamanawis secondary and would have been 28 years old this past June.
She had an eating disorder, Sauve said, that she had to conceal to get into the drug treatment centre, a condition that saw her relapse after she completed the 60-day program.
A talented hairstylist and make-up artist, Clare was the life of the recovery house. She got the women exercising, did their hair and little things like buy one woman a bag of flour so she could bake.
“She would give you the shirt off her back in a second if she thought you needed it and had a very special talent of cheering people up,” said Sauve.
Clare’s friends have started a walk in her memory and plan to remember her every year on the day she died.
The first walk took place Monday and followed the route Clare walked when she lived at the recovery house.
Sauve is now collecting all the memories – the good ones – that people have of Clare to put in a book that she will present to Clare’s family, who have struggled with her death and years of substance abuse.
“We want to gather the precious things and leave the sad behind,” Sauve says.
She wishes the treatment centre dealt with Clare’s eating disorder instead of forcing her to hide it.
“If we never fully deal with every single issue, there will always be a pain to numb,” she says.
“Life as you know it can and will slip away before you have the chance to finally get it and the people who know and love you are only left with memories, memorials and pain in their heart.”
Sauve hopes Clare’s story will help others who are struggling with addictions and eating disorders.
“If it helps even one person, then our purpose has been served.”