More about Aaron
Other pages of this website should have given you a sketch of Aaron's life story and experiences at home, at school, at hospital, and elsewhere, especially from the recollections of his teachers shared in "Memories of Aaron"). But there are still many other things that we even as his parents probably did not know much about. The following files, including short video clips added more valuable insights on his personality, thinking, and future ambitions.
1. Aaron’s Future Plans as Envisioned in His Grade-7 Life Map Project
About two months before he was hospitalized in late November 2022, Aaron completed a grade-7 project called “life map” in which he outlined his earlier years and his plan for the future. We came across this document only after his passing. It sheds fresh light even for his family on what Aaron has thought about his future careers, etc. Moreover, despite the lengthy and painful treatment for Leukemia from 2019 to August 2021, he did not dwell on what he went through but only mentioned that in passing and in a very matter-of-factly fashion. That is consistent with how he handled his relapse and treatment during his last few weeks, and consistent with his personality before that. As a young boy who was quick witted and very sensitive to what happens around him, he might also get frustrated occasionally and even act out sometimes just as most kids might do, but overall, he really cared about others’ feelings and tended to gloss over the difficulty or pain experienced by himself. The following journal entries also revealed certain intriguing signs of a budding writer in its subtlety of thinking and expressions and art of brevity, as some of his former teachers have noticed, but we leave this for the experts to assess. What saddened us as Aaron’s parents and family is of course the fact that several months later, he is no longer here to pursue those dreams and carry out whatever he had planned to do.
Instead of trying to piece together from different fragmented sources a sketch of what he was like, we think it best to let Aaron speak for himself. So we share this file in its entirety.
My Life Map
By Aaron C.
Start: February,10,2010- June,2011
I was born in Toronto, at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital.
My parents moved to Canada from New York before I was born. I went to an English school, but my parents only speak Chinese around me, so I understand Chinese but only could speak English (Though my aunt taught me some Chinese later). Being born Chinese-Canadian meant that I had a different culture than some of the people around me, for example while other people were playing video games, I was playing piano, and while one of my friends might be eating spaghetti for dinner, I would almost always be eating rice.
I first met my friend around June of 2011(not named for privacy reasons),
because our parents knew each other before we were born. For some reason the only thing I remembered about our first meeting was him hiding behind a tree. He lived right across from my house, so we became close very quickly. I used to play with him almost every day when we were smaller. Over the years, we shared many ups and downs, but we stuck together and I learned what a true friendship is like. I don’t visit his house as much anymore, but he goes to my school and we sometimes play games together at recess.
My little sister was born in March of 2019. I was very excited at first, but I soon realized the downsides. Changing diapers, so much crying it just became white noise, and a total of 6 hours of sleep (worse for my parents). However, during this big change with Covid and a new sibling, I learned how to be a responsible older brother, and help out around the house, as my parents had 3 children to take care of! My brother only recently left for university, so when I get bored, I read and play with her.
Growing: May,2019- Present
In May,2019, 2 major events happened. The first was my aunt coming to Canada to help my family take care of my little sister. She taught me different things like how to do laundry, cook food, and inadvertently also taught me Chinese as this was the only way I could communicate with her. The second thing was being diagnosed with Leukemia. Leukemia is one of if not the most common childhood cancers, and it starts in the bone marrow. It took almost 4 years of treatment for a full recovery, and during that time Covid also hit, so I had to go online for 2 years. I did learn how to play one of my favorite games though, and that would be chess. I played a lot, and participated in online tournaments. I also discovered a love for reading after finishing “The Song of Achilles”. I have probably borrowed and bought more than 500 books over the course of 1 year. One thing I will never forget though, is how my family stayed with me these past 3 years, even while taking care of my little sister.
High School: 2024
I am studying a lot now, and playing in chess tournaments. Hopefully Covid is over! Some of my friends might also go to the same high school as me. My brother will be in his 20s now and my sister will be 5 years old.
I hope to be in a good university now [Aaron elsewhere expressed interest in attending U of T], maybe get a job over the summer, and still be reading books. It might take a while to adapt, but I know I will be fine.
I am an author, I live with my 2 cats and am probably still single. I live in the suburbs and still play chess. My brother will be 32 now, and my sister 16. I am still in touch with my friend.
2. Perspectives from Aaron’s Older Brother
As Aaron’s older sibling, Anthony has developed a unique relationship with him as they played, joked, argued, or competed with each other for more than a decade. The special bonding gives Anthony particularly valuable insights on Aaron’s character and personality. Anthony, who just started college in computer engineering at the University of Waterloo in fall 2022, has written the following sharing without any input from his parents. And people who heard this at the memorial found it both powerful and highly effective in helping them get a much better picture of Aaron.
We share it for the benefit of those who did not attend the memorial on January 21, 2023.
Good morning. Thank you all for coming here today to commemorate the life of Aaron Chen.
My name is Anthony, and I had the unique privilege of growing up with Aaron as his older brother. Like all siblings, our relationship was dynamic and messy. We shared laughter, fought ferociously, and did everything else in between. But as we both matured, Aaron and I also developed a deep bond that transcended our trivial daily interactions. We started to understand each other’s real personalities; their behaviours, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses; and this brought us closer together than anyone else in the world. Today, I’d like to share with you who the real Aaron was, from his brother’s perspective.
Aaron had a creative side that he liked to keep hidden. While his classmates were gaming, Aaron would be publishing YouTube videos where he played those games. He didn’t have many subscribers, only about thirty or forty, but he kept doing what he was doing regardless for a long time. That was just who my brother was. When he grew truly passionate about something, he would pursue that passion to the ends of the earth. Aaron picked up a habit of reading sometime about a year ago. I first noticed it when I went to the library with him to drop him off. Aaron told me that he planned to read the whole time, but I had doubts. He was definitely going to use the library computers to play video games, because he was no longer allowed to play them in our own household. I left for a few hours to let him be, and when I returned, I was greeted by a librarian. She said that she had been observing my brother while I was away, and was impressed by him enough to approach me. The entire time, Aaron had apparently just sat there, motionless and utterly immersed in his novel. The library practically became my brother’s second home in the months following. Every week, there would be a new pile of books lying somewhere around the house. Later, in his own words, Aaron wrote that he had read more than 500 books over the course of one year. Reading became his source of inspiration and he aspired to be an author someday, but he kept all of this to himself.
Aaron’s true potential lied in his exceptional intuition. At around the age of seven, my brother started learning piano. Almost right away, his piano teacher sensed his immense talent. Aaron had an unusually keen ear for music that allowed him to bring melodies to life. His precise rhythmic control and elegant style of playing earned him numerous gold medals in piano contests over the years. On one occasion, his piano teacher told us that Aaron was her most promising student. Despite all of this, though, playing the piano simply didn’t stimulate my brother enough, so he moved on.
You see, Aaron was a risk-taker and extremely competitive. He competed with me over absolutely everything; Over grades in front of our parents and over video games in their absence. Over basketball and ping pong, over spice tolerance, even over height (and he stood all the way down here!). When we ran out of things to compete in, we went looking for more. By a stroke of luck around two years ago, our search led us both to the game of chess. Finally, Aaron had discovered his element. Not only did he become thoroughly addicted to the intense nature of the game, he was also an apparent chess prodigy. Within a few months, my brother was beating opponents with decades of experience. After a year, he was beating titled chess masters. It turned out, as well, that Aaron was a natural when it came to competing in tournaments. He snatched first and second place prizes in nearly every tournament he crossed, and his only challenge was that there weren’t enough tournaments for him to go to. He was rarely ever nervous before matches, and even when he was, you couldn’t tell it from his face. He played with such a casual bravado and such radiating confidence that he often intimidated opponents far better than he was. Playing against him was terrifying, trust me.
They say that a person’s true nature is revealed at times of the greatest adversity. In Aaron’s final days, a side of his personality emerged that nobody had expected: His incredible courage and stoicism. Aaron was confined to a bed and endured a great deal of pain that most adults would succumb to. Yet, across all of my visits to the hospital, I didn’t once witness him shed a single tear nor complain about the unfairness of his situation. Instead, Aaron simply stayed true to who he was. He continued to make jokes and lift the moods of everyone in the room. He was kind and considerate. and showed great respect to all of the nurses and doctors treating him. He was a warrior, and even though his body was failing him, his spirit never ceded defeat. He fought for his independence all the way till the end, and when the time came, he stared death in the eyes and refused to back down.
Aaron was my only brother, my best friend, my greatest influence and inspiration. He may no longer be with us, but his story and his message live on in our memories. Pursue what brings you meaning as Aaron did, with all of your willpower and determination. Live your lives with a sense of urgency. Take risks. And finally, when faced with insurmountable challenges, stay true to yourself and be fearless.
Delivered on January 21, 2023
3. Aaron's Speech for the Student Council Election
Shortly after he had completed the two-and-a-half year chemo treatment and returned to school in fall 2021, Aaron was eager to make up for the lost time and contribute to his school community. He decided for the first time to run for the Student Council at the Bridlewood PS. Unfortunately, he did not get enough votes from his classmates to win a seat at the Council, possibly because the prerecorded election speech was prepared by himself without good lighting or asking for any technical assistance or editing from his parents or brother (as he wanted to become more independent and take up greater responsibilities than before). A copy of his election speech, dated Oct. 2021, has been kindly shared by his Grade-6 teacher Ms. Belanger with us after Aaron’s passing. Inexperienced as he was in running for candidacy in any election, it was worth noting that Aaron did not make any mention of his recent cancer treatment or find any excuse for his missed school time in the election speech. Nor did he complain to anyone about anything after he lost the election though we sensed his obvious disappointment for not being able to serve more. His cute emphases on “the best” in the speech made us want to both laugh and cry every time we watch this.
4. Other Memorable Video or Audio Clips
Years before playing piano and chess or becoming passionate about reading literature, Aaron had enjoyed working on resolving big puzzles or assembling complex Lego sets. Shortly after he had acquired some English vocabulary around the age of six, he started to play scrabble with his brother and parents. While he was a gentle, fun and agreeable boy overall, he was also intelligent and fast-thinking and could become very competitive in contest games. In other words, he did not like losing even though he might decide to let his opponent win some to save face, out of sympathy, after having proven his ability to win. This competitive and resilient spirit explained his remarkable courage and poise during his painful cancer treatment and when he faced the looming spectre of death. It constitute the other important facets of his personality, making him who he was, as also highlighted by Anthony’s eulogy above.
The first short video clip below, recorded by Aaron’s aunt unknowingly to the brothers, captured one of those moments also showing how passionate he was about chess and how much fun he got out of it. In this video, dated April 2021, the 11-year-old Aaron was playing chess with Anthony, while dancing, rapping, and saying that “I’m still winning, still winning after this [probably referring to a move to trade chess pieces with his old brother].”
The second short video clip below, dated Feb. 9, 2015, was completely forgotten until we dug it out from numerous old files. We are pretty sure that Aaron probably had never seen it either. Aaron had just turned five years old four days before that, and was still speaking Chinese fluently, an ability he would lose within several months after having started junior kindergarten at Bridlewood even though over the last few years, he had started to speak some Chinese again when talking to his aunt or grandparents. His multilingual/multicultural heritage is one of the reasons why the Aaron Chen Memorial Foundation also hopes to devote some of its charitable efforts to help promote cross-cultural/religious/ethnic understanding.
The third shot video shows Aaron playing with sister in Don Valley in Toronto in summer 2022. An afternoon and a minute of family leisure time that were so ordinary and routine that they would not have been remembered or found memorable before Aaron’s unexpected passing. Now any trace of such daily routines, rarely captured in our existing pictures or videos, becomes an extreme version of sweet-bitter memories for some of us. But here it is.
A set of pictures taken on his maternal grandma’s birthday in March 2022 captured Aaron’s rich facial expressions and emotions and his funny personality, including his sweet and warm smile.
5. An Early Document about Aaron’s Grateful, Gentle, and Loving Personality
Last but not least, we would like to end this page by sharing an essay Aaron wrote in class on the Remembrance Day of November 2018 when he was still in grade 3. In the essay addressed to those who died in past wars presumably for defending the country, the eight-year-old Aaron already fully demonstrated his remarkably sensitive nature and gentle heart, his extraordinary willingness and ability to genuinely empathize with those who had died or suffered, his admiration for bravery and sacrifice and his gratitude towards other people no matter how far or remote the connection with him might be. We learned about this essay only when his grade 3-4 teacher, Ms. Tessier, read it, in tears, at his memorial on January 21, 2023. As Ms. Tessier pointed out then, “Bearing in mind how far removed a 9 year old living in Canada is from the very notion of war, it is with striking sensitivity and empathy that Aaron wrote the words in the following letter title ‘Dear Brave Soldier.’”(Ms. Tessier‘s full speech can be found in “Shared Memories about Aaron“) This is consistent with how Aaron conducted himself during his last days or hours and how he interacted with the doctors and nurses at Sickkids despite his own pain and suffering.
Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Dear Brave Soldier,
Thank you a lot for serving in the war and sacrificing yourself to save our country. My name is Aaron Chen and I am a grade 3 student at a school called Bridlewood.
I feel sad that you had to go to the war and I don’t. I get to have fresh food, and I don’t have to shiver and freeze in the cold.
It must be terrifying that you have to go through the war and know that you have a chance of dying.
I cannot even think about the war and how violent it is. I hope war stops.
Was it scary in the war?
Very, very, very, frightening.
What did the trenches feel like?
Was it wet and soggy?
I don’t think it’s fair that I get to live in a warm bed and you don’t even get a blanket, clean clothes, fresh food, and peaceful lives.
How did it feel to leave your family and go fight in the war?
Was your family very sad?
I would be really sad if my dad or other family member died in the war?
How long did it take you to go from your home to the battlefield?
I think that it would take really long to go from your home to the battlefield. The longest time I ever travelled is only 7 hours!
Thank you for serving in the war to save our country. I think you should get a medal for bravery. Everyone who fought and sacrificed themselves should get a medal for bravery.
Sincerely, Aaron. C.
Images of the original essay.
6. Aaron's Potentials in Arts and Chess
While his teachers such as Ms. Tessier has noted Aaron's writing skills among other things, Aaron demonstrated potential in various areas that he had put his hands or mind on, including Piano and Chess. Here are some pictures about his participation in piano and chess contests.
Aaron and Anthony practiced piano together for about two years before Aaron got ill. Here are the only two extant video recordings of them performing at the same recital in December 2018 (in fact the only two complete ones of their public performance anywhere). With Anthony's consent, we have put his recording here (on the right, or below in a phone's view) in the company of the little brother he loved and has been missing so much. Aaron was then 8 years old while Anthony was 14. The way they played suggested interestingly different styles and personalities. We hope that music and piano might help Anthony in his grieving process while we and the rest of the family will always be there for him as well. P.S. We have just come across a 2019 recording of Anthony's practice at home and has added it here.