One Aroostook County family has been turning a personal tragedy into an opportunity to give back to the community that embraced them during their time of need.

Recently, members of Abigail Ladner’s family brought more than 40 home-sewn bags full of an assortment of small items meant to offer a small measure of comfort to families of emergency or intensive care patients to the Emergency Department at TAMC.

Less than a year ago, the family found themselves in a tragic circumstance after the 19-year-old Ms. Northern Maine, of Fort Fairfield, was involved in an automobile accident in October of 2013. Her family did as most families would do in such a circumstance - they rushed to her side at the emergency room. The situation was dire and the family wanted to spend every possible moment with her. So when they found out that she was going to be flown to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for advanced tertiary care, they hopped in their car to meet her there.

Abby never came home. Just under three weeks later, on November 15th, she passed away, still surrounded by her family at EMMC.  During her time spent at her granddaughter’s bedside, Connie Jarvis, realized she had gone two to three days without even brushing her teeth or hair. In the rush to be with Abby during her last moments, family members had left home without even the barest of necessities, like deodorant, shampoo or toothbrushes. This experience became the inspiration for Abby’s Angel Bags.

TAMC

The bags - yellow for females, blue for males - contain travel-sized toothpaste, floss, deodorant and shampoo, a toothbrush, comb, lip balm, tissues and wet wipes, as well as a small notepad and a word game book with a pen and a pencil. Making the bags is an activity that Jarvis does to feel closer to her granddaughter.

Darrell Spooner, supervisor of Crown Critical Care Transport and a critical care nurse, said the bags have already proved useful. “These bags have been distributed to our ER and Critical Care Transport teams to give to family members who have critically injured or very sick loved ones being transferred out on short notice. We have used these a number of times, and the families love them. Abby's family stated they will be restocking as needed.”

In addition to donating the bags to TAMC, Jarvis says she also delivered some to the Emergency Department at Cary Medical Center and plans to contact each of the two other hospitals in The County in the upcoming weeks to arrange delivery.

The bags are a perfect way to honor Abby’s memory, since she had devoted her young life to her community and, at the time of her death, was attending her second year at the University of Maine at Presque Isle with plans to one day become a nurse. After her death, Jarvis said there was an outpouring of stories from people in the community whose lives Abby had touched.

A card attached to each Abby’s Angel Bag offers a brief message to its recipients from Connie and Abby's mom, Saré. It says, “Our wish is that the things in this bag will provide you a measure of comfort and hope in the days to come. We want you to know you are not alone.”

In addition to the sundries, the bag contains a pamphlet with useful advice and words of comfort for the families who may be unsure during such a stressful time about what resources are available to them, or who may just need to read a verse or hear words from someone who has been in their situation to feel comforted. Jarvis says that reaching out has been an important part of her healing, and she encourages others in similar situations to do the same.

The family also established a scholarship fund to give a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating Fort Fairfield High School senior each year. Fundraising efforts in the community have raised over $10,000 for the fund.

Abby was a cherished community member, and Jarvis hopes that the bags will pay forward Abby’s spirit for giving. When the bags have been used, she says she will replenish them. In the meantime, anyone interested in donating items or cash to help ensure Abby’s Angel Bags will be available in The County for a long time to come can find a list of needed items and instructions on how to donate on Facebook at www.facebook.com/angelbags28.