On January 8, 2020, the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, bound for Kyiv, went down just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The Boeing 737-800 was carrying 176 people, including 63 Canadians. There were no survivors.
The event sparked an international outcry by the families of the victims caught in the political strife between the US and Iran.
Amongst those lost in the crash were Canadians Parisa Eghbalian and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion, of Richmond Hill, Ontario.
The two are survived by father and husband Hamed Esmaeilio, who took to Facebook to ask the Canadian Opera Company not to re-sell seats purchases by his family to see Hansel & Gretel at the Four Season’s Centre on Saturday, February 15.
My daughter, Reera, recieved 2 tickets for this Saturday show from her mom, Parisa. It was her Christmas gift. They wanted to watch Hansel and Gretel together this Saturday. Unfortunately both of them passed away when Islamic Republic downed #PS752 in Iran on January 8.
I don’t ask for a refund. I want to keep row A seat 348, 349 vacant in memory of them. They were very excited for this and I think better to leave that space in memory of 9 year old Reera Esmaeilion and her amazing mom Parisa Eghbalian.
Esmaeilio had found the tickets at his home tucked between a magazine and a painting by his late daughter.
The tickets were a gift purchased for his daughter Reera by her mother.
The COC was quick to respond, affixing the images of Parisa Eghbalian and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion to the seats in tribute.
“Reera Esmaeilion and her mother, Parisa, had been excited to join us this weekend for our final Opera For Young Audiences performance of HANSEL & GRETEL, a post of the COC Facebook page read. “We were heartbroken this week to learn of their passing in the crash of Flight PS752 on January 8, 2020 and kept their seats empty yesterday afternoon, in honour of their memory and shared love of music. Our thoughts and hearts remain with Hamed Esmaelion, who kindly shared his family photos, and all those touched by this tragedy.”
Hamed Esmaeilio has since posted a touching follow-up letter accounting his experience attending the event.
I went to the opera house in the bone-chilling cold today. I had an invitation, but you had bought tickets. I went prior to the show but you would have shown up together with rest of the kids. Reera jan, Kristie and I went roaming around the building, the rooms, the hallways. I didn’t feel like watching the singers practice, and went straight to the concert hall.
The hall was dark; the stage director was making the final adjustments to the set. Nobody else was in the room besides Uncle Bahram and I. Christie had pinned your pictures onto the seats along with a “Reserved” sign. Nobody will be sitting on your seats. Mom had taken the best seats for you, first row on the balcony. It was your new year’s gift. She had meticulously gone through all the events and had picked this one for you. Mom had shown me the seating map beforehand. I knew where the seats were. Reera jan, we wouldn’t stay for the show. It would be too painful. We had only gone to quietly honour you and leave.
Christie left, and we dragged ourselves to your seats with heavy steps. We didn’t dare sitting on them, we stared at them and cried bitterly. Now the show has started and you would have been there. You would have listened to the melodies, to the singers’ voices carefully. You would have enjoyed watching a different version of the Hansen and Gretel. You would have come home excited to tell me all about it, as if it’s the first time I hear the story. Instead, you are resting at the Elgin Mills cemetery, six feet under.
My dear Reera,
You had read the Hansel and Gretel. Didn’t you know about the difficulties, the mysteries of the way back home? Didn’t you know about the pebbles, the breadcrumbs, the dreadful witch’s ill intentions? How come she stole you from me? Why did she keep you and your mother from coming home to me? I know if she had shown her face to you, you would not be deceived. I know you wouldn’t fear facing her. She cruelly blocked your way. She took your precious life with deceit and malevolence.
On the 38th day, in the biting cold, we left the opera house. They wanted to take our photos, We decided to stay in the shadow. They wanted us to meet the cast, we didn’t. These things don’t cure our solitude, don’t heal our pain. Those seats remained empty today to reveal the witch’s hostility towards children. Now it’s just me and the witch, sweetheart, it’s just me and the witch.