Thanks for visiting the Website of the Aaron Jingyi Chen Virtual Memorial and Memorial Foundation. We are Aaron’s parents, Ruoyun and Li. We are both professors at the University of Toronto. Ruoyun teaches media studies at the Department of Arts, Culture and Media Studies and the Graduate Centre for Comparative Literature, and Li teaches Asia studies and Chinese law and history at the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies and the Graduate Department of History. We have raised three children, Anthony, age 18, Aaron, recently deceased, and Angelina, age 4. Anthony is a first-year computer engineering student at the University of Waterloo.
We live in a suburban neighbourhood in Scarborough, about 25 minutes by car to the Toronto Zoo, 40 minutes to the University of Toronto (St. George), 50 minutes to Annex Chess Club, and 40 minutes to the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). These times are of course just estimates; as any resident in the Greater Toronto Area would know, so much depends on the traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, Toronto’s major highway connecting downtown Toronto to its northern suburbs. These places, and many others, have become poignantly meaningful to us, because of Aaron. In the past two or three years, he went to Toronto Zoo so many times in the summer with Angelina, sometimes with his older brother Anthony and his cousins from Austin, Texas. He played at a chess tournament at Annex Chess Club on the Halloween evening of 2022 when I took Angelina and her aunt to trick-or-treating in a nearby neighbourhood. Earlier that month, he also played at a Fall Blitz Tournament at the Hart House Chess Club of the University of Toronto, and he loved the Hart House so much that he decided to go to the University of Toronto in 2028. But above all, he had way too many trips to SickKids for treatment, from the last of which he never returned home.
From the pensive musings above, it may have become clear to you that we are deeply mourning the unfathomable loss of our son, Aaron. We launched this website with one thing in mind at first, i.e. to archive Aaron’s short but impactful life. By searching in every electronic device at home and with the help of many relatives and friends who did a thorough search of their own electronic archives, we have collected many photos and videos of Aaron and we hope to share some of them on this virtual memorial. We hope to show that a child named Aaron was once here to bring warmth, love, and inspiration to his family, friends and so many others who have come to know him. While creating this website, it also occurred to us that the project was a part of our grieving process and our continued struggle to make sense of Aaron’s passing as well as to figure out what positive things could be accomplished.
As academics, we have spent most of our life busy trying to find a hard balance between work (including researching, writing, and teaching) and life of supporting a family of small kids and aging parents. But one of the most important things we have learned since the start of Aaron’s cancer treatment and his passing is that we want to become more involved in community-building initiatives and play a far more active and proactive role in helping others, near and afar. We hope to use the Aaron Chen Memorial Foundation as a long-term organizational platform to undertake a series of non-profit and charitable initiatives in memory of Aaron and his loving spirit.
We are immensely grateful that all of our family members and numerous friends and colleagues have given us strong support through heart-warming messages, generous donations, and many other kinds of help. Their support has made a tremendous difference during this really challenging period of our life and will motivate us to continue our efforts to honour Aaron’s life and memories by helping others in the years to come. This is also why we have decided not to follow the practice of probably most parents in such situations to make the grieving process a completely private or family matter. Instead, we hope to honor Aaron's memory by celebrating his life and by spreading his message of courage and kindness through various initiatives for public good.
We have identified three main areas for our near-term fund-raising and non-profit activities: educational, medical, and community. Among other initiatives, we have been working with the University of Toronto to establish a permanent endowment for funding the Aaron Jingyi Chen Memorial Award to assist one or more outstanding students every year for their accomplishment in spite of adversities. We have been making an arrangement with the SickKids Foundation to soon start a multi-year fundraising campaign to help fight childhood cancers and improve medical facilities and treatment of paediatric cancer patients. We have also been discussing with local schools on how we can help raise fund to better support students to pursue their passions and dreams. For instance, we are currently working with Bridlewood Junior Public School and J.B. Tyrell Senior Public School, and likely other schools later, to support a variety of initiatives such as chess clubs, chess tournaments, Aaron’s Library Corners, etc. Our goal is to keep the foundation healthy and robust so it will make a real difference in the world. Other new initiatives including efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding will be added later.
If you are interested in joining us to improve the medical treatment of childhood cancer, supporting promising university students, or help improve the civic infrastructure of our local communities and enable children to explore their exciting potentials, you are more than welcome to donate to our foundation or its partnership charities. More details can be found from the page of the foundation.
In the meantime, as some friends have counselled us, such a tremendous loss would never stop hurting and we could only hope that someday we will reach a point when we can focus more on the blessing of having loved and have been loved by Aaron for nearly thirteen years than on the pain of loss. It may take a long time to get there. Since Aaron’s passing, we have learned that modern societies have left us with very little public space for grieving even though it has been well understood among psychiatric experts and those who have experienced many years or even decades of grieving that inadequate time and space for processing grieving could have long-term, serious detrimental impact on those who have lost their loved ones. One of the most effective ways for people to find support and healing in such difficult situations is to come into a space to talk about their pain, loss, confusion, and struggle, and the memories of their beloved ones. While we have no pretensions to possessing the expertise or wisdom to advise anyone in this regard, we do want to make this website a comfortable space for people to share their grieving experiences and find sympathy. This website therefore has created a Blog for that purpose. You are welcome to subscribe to it or join the Blog as a member or writer.
In conclusion, on behalf of Aaron, his family, and the Memorial Foundation, we want to thank you for taking the time to learn more about him and for your generous support if you have made any donation or plan to do so. It is our belief that love flows through Aaron to his family, and friends and those who are touched by his life story and spirit, and then through all of us, to other people far beyond. That is why we are doing all of this and that is how we believe that Aaron and the loving spirit he wanted us to spread will not stop with us and will not be forgotten. Thank you much.
Li and Ruoyun
A footnote about the website itself. Li built this website from scratch within three weeks after Aaron’s memorial as his way of grieving. Without any training in coding or web design, he put it together block by block through numerous trials and errors while sorting out the visual material from hundreds of files and photos and videos. The task has been further complicated by the fact that the view of the website might look different due to the different size of the screen or different word count in another language. So depending on your device, you may still find its look less than ideal. We hope to further improve it. By default, this website looks better from a computer browser than from a smart phone. Mr. Zhang Long provided much needed help when Li moved this website from Wordpress to Wix.