Finding hope in the loss of our daughter, Aidaen Mae

The afternoon of March 21, 2004 was when we first looked in to her eyes and held her in our arms. She was 7 days old and she was our miracle.

Scott and I were married at 21 and immediately ready to start our family. We had so much love to give but by age 27 we had been through numerous infertility tests, fertility drugs, invitro-fertilization, and 2 miscarriages. Depression had set in hard for both of us and our dreams of having a family were shattered until we looked into options for adoption. It was only 7 months later that we flew to Atlanta, Georgia and received the greatest gift we would ever receive, Aidaen Mae.

We knew from the first moment we looked into her eyes that she was special. There was something about her that everyone could feel just being in her presence. Her shining personality and her infectious giggle became beacons of light for everyone that knew her, and even for those who never had the honour.

In her short life Aidaen Mae left her mark all over her community, her province, her country, and the world. Twice she attended WE DAY celebration in Halifax as a chosen representative of her junior high school. She was a proud member of her school Memorial Club and worked hard to support and remember our veterans through ceremonies, Christmas gatherings, parades, and memorials. For 7 years she spent her summers at a local Christian camp where she started as a camper, moved on to maintenance, and then became a junior cabin leader with the camp name “Giggles.” Despite her mental health struggles, she refused to waiver in her devotion to those in need. She was a member of the local Wesleyan church and rarely missed her Wednesday night youth group

Aidaen also was committed to sports in her schools and community. In Grade Primary, she found her love for soccer and moved on to play for community rep teams as well as school teams. By Grade 5, she became interested in basketball and was a natural at defence and shooting. She spent the next 4 years playing on the junior high school team, community rep teams, and finished her final game as a star player on her high school junior varsity team. She even joined the junior high cheerleading team for half a season to fill in for an injured girl that could not compete.

Aidaen believed in putting everyone’s needs ahead of her own. She showed immense love and respect for her friends, family, and her community.

It came as no surprise when over 350 people from as far away as British Columbia joined us at the Wesleyan Church in celebration of her life despite that night being the worst winter storm of the year. Our community was devastated and we are all still feeling this grave loss.

 

Aidaen’s Struggle with Mental Illness

In Grade 6, Aidaen began to show signs of mental unwellness. She started to express feelings of depression, social anxiety, and began self harming as an outlet to her emotional distress. By Grade 7, it had worsened and by April of Grade 8 she took her first overdose. Things were getting worse fast and our resources and knowledge were limited. We had no idea at that time that bi-polar ran in her birth family but now we know the signs were there. Being in a small town with limited resources left us somewhat oblivious to the mental unwellness going on in our youth world-wide and the resources available to them and their families.

After months of home care, medical tutors, medications, counselling, and numerous overdose attempts, Aidaen’s life ended on February 21st – 1 month short of her 15th birthday – after 5 days in paediatric intensive care at the IWK children’s hospital in Halifax, NS. Aidaen’s final overdose was on a common prescription medication that most households with anyone over the age of 50 have in their medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, few understand the severity of its ability, in small doses, to attack each organ and shut them down one by one. There are no words that can sufficiently express the degree of devastation we have felt following such a heartbreaking loss.

A month after Aidaen’s passing, we packed up our family home, sold it to escape the memories we could no longer face, and made a fresh new start. The best parts of our daughter will be in our hearts forever and in this way she is with us in our new home.

 

We Opened the Aidaen Mae Wellness Room in her Memory

Not too long after our new start, we were approached by a woman that would unknowingly change our lives forever, help us with our grieving and healing process, and become a very close friend to us both. Brenda Martin-Hurlburt, founder of Tri-County Mental Health and Wellness, had a vision that has already grown beyond expectations. With her help we opened the Aidaen Mae Wellness Room.

It was amazing to experience how our friends, family, and community came together to help us open the wellness room on October 10th. We did not have any government funding and relied on a couple BBQ fundraisers to raise some initial awareness. But then the community stepped up. The donations began pouring in; books, games, used furniture, small appliances, help with painting, the install of a bathroom we purchased, snacks for the kids; not one cent was exchanged. The love and support of our community had us fully set up and opened on time!

The Aiden Mae Wellness room is a peer support drop-in centre geared to youth ages 12-15 where they feel supported, heard, and safe. We work hard to build youth empowerment and give the resources and belief that our youth can have a meaningful and fulfilling life as unique individuals. We have theme nights, movie nights, after school snacks and drinks, locally hosted meal nights, books, art supplies, TV & video games, computer & free Internet access, help with homework, and lots more.

Our mission is to provide a supportive, safe and non-judgemental environment where youth can receive peer support and guidance to navigate their mental health and wellness. We are also committed in providing peer-based support for their parents so they can better navigate mental health support for their children, ensuring a healthier quality of life for their families.

In only 1.5 months we have registered approximately 35 individual youths at our centre. Some come daily, some weekly, and some came only once to see what we had to offer so that they will be prepared in their time of need. We have had youth come to us on their way home from suicide watch at the local hospital, we have a few who do not want to go home and use the centre every moment they can. Some have needed help with mental health resources and research, help with homework, and someone to talk to.

They know that when they need us, we are here.

At the current time, we run solely on volunteers trained in peer support roles. There is no funding for paid positions but we still stay open. No one wants to see the doors closed if there is a chance a youth in crisis needs us. We are so immensely thankful for the family of volunteers that have surrounded us, supported us, and care about these kids in need.

We have not yet set up parent support groups but that is on our radar for the very near future. When Aidaen was struggling and we were left to care for her at home and navigate the mental health system and its resources; we really could have used other parents to talk to, peers that could help us advocate for our daughter’s mental health, and a shoulder to cry on. We will now be those parents, that group, those shoulders.

About a month ago, I woke up with an extremely vivid vision of a giant purple house called Aidaen’s Place. I went to Facebook and shared this dream so it could never be lost. Dreams have a way of fading from memory but this one has remained strong and bright. If Aidaen was still with us this would be her vision as well. She would be so proud of such a place for families to find hope, love, and support. We want to make her proud and we want to keep her peers safe and alive.

We are still grieving and always will be. Sad months turned into weeks, then into days, then into moments. Each day gets a bit easier thanks to the youth and volunteers that give us purpose. Community members comment daily on how incredible our actions are and how much this centre is needed. It’s this support that keeps us going forward with strength and determination. To see broken youth come through our doors in tears but leave with a smile, a full belly, and new friendships will continue to be our beacon through the darkness.

 

Kelly Mitchell

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

 

Aidaen Mae Wellness Room

Aidaen Foundation of Hope

amfwellness@gmail.com