BY MELANIE BUCK –
When a loss is suffered, especially the lost of a child, they say that no one can truly understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. However, there are groups out there that are created specifically for families of such tragedies, to provide emotional support, an understanding ear. Bob and Margie Ledbetter, of Mena, have been members of a local group, Remembering Hearts Forever, for around three years and as Bob said, “The meetings help you realize that there are more people in the same boat.”
Bob and Margie are parents of forever 17-year old Aaron Ledbetter who lost his life tragically in a car accident when hit by a drunk driver in 1995. “He was three months shy of graduating high school,” Bob explained. In a tragedy that would change an entire town, Aaron, along with two other friends, Chance and Ruby, lost their lives and hundreds of hearts were broken in one fell swoop. Chance and Ruby were killed instantly, but Aaron held on for eight days before being declared brain dead.
“He was an ‘All American’ boy. He participated in sports, band, theatre arts, sang and danced in front of people. He was an excellent baseball player. He was compassionate, he cared for people,” Bob said.
His compassion went beyond the normal teenager. As a member of PALS (Peer Assistance and Leadership), Aaron mentored first and second graders. “The best thing he ever did was being a member of PALS. He loved kids. One of his teachers would call him the pied piper. He would go out to recess with the kids and they would put their hands in his pockets, fingers in his belt loops and hung around his legs; anything to be close to him.” His parents said the second graders sang at his funeral. They also made him a book of letters that each of the students wrote to Aaron. Some letters telling of how he made them smile, others on how much they would miss him.
Aaron was also an organ donor, extending his life in a way. His heart was donated to a man in Houston who was able to live for several more years. His kidney went to a man in Lubbock. When the Ledbetters were able to reach the organ recipients, they became like family to them. “The man who received Aaron’s kidney said that he and his wife were unable to have children, but after the transplant, they have had four since. They are just like our grandchildren. We visit during the holidays and have dinner with them.”
Remembering his sweet smile, Margie said, “I remember his sweetness the most. He took me to my college graduation party and he went over and shook everyone’s hand. He was the one that talked me into going. We went to church together. I had gotten a new dress and twirled around in my new dress and he just smiled and said, ‘you look good.’ He and I had a bond and I know that he knows I loved him and he loved me.”
A fond memory of Bob’s shows yet another example of the kindness in Aaron’s heart. “They had a scrimmage in Springtown. Aaron went in as the fourth pitcher and the smallest kid in Springtown put it over the fence, a homerun. Aaron went over to third base and high-fived the kid as he went by. You don’t see that out of many.”
To cope with such a loss, the Ledbetters have tried various groups but none had just what they were searching for. Bob explained, “I don’t really understand closure. It’s not something you ever get over, you just learn to live with it. You have a forever hole in your heart and a void in your life. The best thing to do is remember the good things. Remembering Hearts Forever is different in that they don’t concentrate on how they died, they are more about helping you get through it.”
Margie added, “Diane Mathis [leader of the group] is an angel and everyone that she touches, touches us in turn. They are definitely there to love and support you and grieve with you. We hope that Aaron’s story brings families closer together. At the time of his death, we saw people talking to their parents, telling them they love them. It was three children from the same school. It affected a lot of people”
“We’ve all lost children,” said Bob. “We still all have different feelings about it, but we still understand the loss.”
If you would like to learn more about Remembering Hearts Forever, you can contact Diane Mathis at 479-243-0191. The group will hold their annual Candle Lighting Ceremony on Sunday, December 11th at 5:30 p.m. at the Union Bank of Mena Community Room. “We will light a candle and say our child’s name,” explained Mathis. “Bring your family and friends to share this remembrance with us. After the lighting we will stay and visit with others that understand.”
They are also currently selling raffle tickets for a bronze statue that will be drawn for at the candle lighting. Tickets are $1 each, or 6 for $5, or 25 for $20. The statue is a boy and girl playing leapfrog and stands almost two feet tall. Tickets can be purchased from Rosanna Youngblood at 479-394-6392; Charie Mabry at 479-216-6057; Lisa Masters at 479-216-6632; or Diane Mathis at 479-243-0191. They are also available at Union Bank, Freedom Water, and The Shop.
The raffle proceeds will benefit their Memorial Garden, located on the courthouse lawn. Plaques are placed there in memory of lost loved ones.