Aidan and the Roaring Balsams: A Mother’s Heart in the Wind

In "Aidan and the Roaring Balsams: A Mother's Heart in the Wind," a grieving mother shares her heart-wrenching journey through the loss of her son, Aidan. From the violent winds of the Balsams reflecting her tumultuous grief to the poignant memories and final farewells, this narrative explores the depths of maternal love, the struggle with unbearable loss, and the quest for solace in the wake of tragedy. Join her as she navigates through the painful aftermath, finds expression in writing, and pays tribute to a beloved son gone too soon.
Aidan Lee Hoglen-Sabrina Greene Photography-5

The Mournful Cry of the Balsams

The mournful cry of the wind has been blasting my home from the Balsams since last night. It’s cry is low and deep and almost sounds like a distant train engine. Trains, my baby loved trains. It’s Tuesday, February 28, 2024 and it will be the first full day without my precious son Aidan Lee. I wiped the tear stains from glasses before I sat down but even that felt sacrilegious in my grief.


I’m lost, I’m broken, I’m angry, and I’m numb.

The Unfathomable Loss

My son passed away yesterday from Type B Flu. Several days ago, they believe, the flu created an infection in him that was moving to his heart. He didn’t get back home to me until late Sunday evening. And he was sick but I had no idea how bad.


When I got up yesterday, he had just went to the bathroom and I wanted to check on him. When I saw him I can’t even describe the horror it was. I pray no mother ever sees and experiences what I did. It still makes me want to vomit because what happens to the body when it goes into total organ failure is a nightmare.


We rushed him to the hospital at Haywood then they flew him by helicopter to Mission in Asheville. There a wonderful medical staff did everything they could to save his life. But the doctor told me she would not lie to me. And she told me if they did CPR anymore it was hurting him and prolonging what was inevitable. I begged her to continue but in my heart I know she was doing what was right.


My throat is sore, but I’m sure that is from screaming. The guttural screams that escaped me were primal, and today, the mountains are echoing those moans. I kissed my son and told him I loved him. But as his heart rate fell I just went into shock.

“There is no God!” I wailed.

“Look at me! You will live for him!” My Dad shouted in my face, “and you will WRITE THIS!”

And as I turned in horror I saw the monitor flash “0,” and the numbness gripped my body and soul. I had to turn and walk away. My baby was gone.

I couldn’t stay much longer after that. The chaplain and some other woman sat me down in a chair and wrapped me in a warm blanket and handed me ice water. I couldn’t lift my arms it reminded me of the day he was born. I had lost so much blood I was weak and had to be fed. Whoever, this staff woman was she held the straw to my lips and told me being numb was normal.

 Finally I told them to go find my husband JJ, he was downstairs telling my mother and brother who had just arrived, and tell him I wanted to leave. I couldn’t bear seeing them move Aidan to the morgue. I asked the chaplain to tell my ex-husband’s family to deal with it I couldn’t.

Aidan’s First Camera Adventure

The Drive Home and the Unbearable Reality

As we were pulling into the driveway, the skies above seemed to resonate with my grief, unleashing a torrent of tears upon my windshield. Entering my home felt like an insurmountable task. I went directly to my bedroom, surrendering to the bed, immobilized by sorrow.


It’s 8:17 AM now, and I’ve finally managed to rise and come here to write.

Why I Write: Understanding Through Words

Why write? My mother would attest that it has been my method of digesting life’s complexities since childhood. Writing was my refuge, a way to navigate through the storm of emotions silently swirling within. Secretly harboring dreams of becoming a writer, I pursued English in college, yet veered into storytelling through photography, capturing moments rather than penning them.


Just last week, I found myself in an uneasy dialogue with my father, revealing my desire to shift my career path away from the perpetual cycle of wedding photography. But now, ensnared by grief, the thought of ever capturing another wedding becomes unbearable, shadowed by the certainty that I will never witness my own son’s.

Echoes of Grief and the Search for Solace

Last night, grief assaulted me in waves, akin to the sharp, abrupt sound of a train whistle signaling departure—intense, fleeting, and excruciating. Amidst these surges of sorrow, I sensed a shared melancholy with the heavens, as raindrops pattered in symphony on the tin roof above.


Today, I implore the hills to absorb my sorrow, to scatter it across these age-old mountains. I feel a newfound kinship with the mothers of this region who have endured the unimaginable loss of their children. Oh God, how did they bear such agony? I had immediate medical help—a mere ten minutes away, a helicopter, a second hospital—yet my son has been torn from this world.

How did the women of these secluded hollows, with only the silent stones, towering trees, and meandering creeks for solace, withstand the heartbreak of losing their children?


Perhaps it was the “sounding,” their own voices resonating through the hollows, reflecting back their songs and hymns—a testament to their enduring spirit. Music, Aidan’s sanctuary, his joy intertwined with the strings of his beloved banjo, echoing through the walls of our church. My heart aches with regret for the moments I arrived late, missing the chance to witness his pride-filled performances. In those moments, I am submerged in guilt, feeling like a failing mother.


I yearn to embrace him once more; his last touch was a harrowing memory of coldness and unnatural stillness that wrenches my gut with sickness. The haunting images entrenched in my mind are a cruel torture, and my heart goes out, praying fervently that no mother endures this agony.

"Hill Daughter" by Louise McNeill

Amidst the sporadic waves of grief, as I lay paralyzed, staring vacantly at the lifeless pillows and walls, my mind incessantly revisited “Hill Daughter” by Louise McNeill, a poem I encountered months ago. Its words, now more poignant than ever, lingered, intertwining with my sorrow, offering a silent, sorrowful connection to the past, to the land, to Aidan.

Hill Daughter | Louise McNeill

Land of my fathers and blood, oh my fathers, whatever

Is left of your grudge in the rock, of your hate in the stone;

I have brought you at last wha you sternly required that I

bring you,

And have brought it alone.

I, who from the womb must be drawn, through the first born,

a daughter,

And could never stand straight with the rifle, nor lean with

the plow;

Here is ease for the curse, here is cause for the breaking of silence.

You can answer me now.

It has taken me long to return, and you died without


But down where the veins of the rock and the aspen tree


Land of my fathers and blood, oh my fathers, whatever

Is left your hearts in the dust,

I have brought you a son.


God holds my son now, but soon, the hill overlooking the church steeple on Panther Creek, with its breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will also hold him in its embrace.


I pray that my ancestors were there to welcome him as he left his earthly body. I imagine my grandfather enveloping him in a warm, robust bear hug. And Brian Rich, who, in an act of pure kindness and foresight, used some of his final resources to ensure Aidan received a new banjo, contributing to the legacy of music at our church. Brian, who passed away from cancer just two days before the banjo arrived, must surely have been there among the welcoming faces.


This thought, this attempt to weave hope into the fabric of my despair, is all I have to cling to amidst this overwhelming pain.

Tempestuous Air

A part of me challenges the existence of God or heaven, spurred by the devastation consuming me. Yet, another part, inexplicably, finds a glimmer of solace knowing that my son is free from pain. How can there be a semblance of joy in my spirit when my heart is utterly broken? This contradiction baffles me.


Why am I writing this? Why am I sharing these raw, unfiltered thoughts with the world? Everything feels disjointed, surreal. The numbness enveloping me is a grim comfort; I dread the reality awaiting me beyond this protective cocoon.


The prospect of facing days, weeks, months, and years filled with relentless guilt and paralyzing grief is unbearable. I admit, the allure of numbness, of not having to confront the forthcoming agony, is a tempting sanctuary. I am consumed by a deep longing to be with my son, to escape this excruciating reality.


JJ is now asleep, and I can’t bring myself to disturb his rest; I needed this solitude, accompanied only by the aggressive dance of my wind chimes in the tempestuous air. I wish for the earth itself to mirror the tumultuous grief writhing within my soul, almost wishing it to consume everything in this moment of despair.

Reflections on Appalachian Literature-Ron Rash

A fragment of my consciousness, upon awakening, recalled the Cherokee tradition of “going to water” at dawn. There was a fleeting desire to immerse myself in the frigid embrace of Sunburst’s waters before daylight, to feel anything other than this numbing sorrow—to allow the cold streams to lash against my skin, hoping they might jolt me from this nightmarish reality.


But this is no dream, is it?


I’m grappling with the unanswerable question of why my son was taken from me. The pain is relentless, a maelstrom of bitterness, anger, and sickness overwhelming my being.


What I can articulate now is the newfound understanding of why Ron Rash penned “Saints at the River” following the near loss of his child; he was navigating through his own labyrinth of emotions. This morning, my mind also wandered to his novel “The Cove.” In it, after the tragic end of Laurel, Walter, the German musician once detained as a prisoner during World War I in Hot Springs, NC, finds liberation. Journeying towards New York to rekindle his relationship with his flute, he comes to a profound realization. The essence of truly playing his instrument was intertwined with experiencing genuine, soul-deep anguish — an ordeal that stirred his dormant creativity.


Perhaps this is the path my spirit is desperately seeking — a conduit for the tempest within, urging me to transfer this tumultuous grief onto paper. My sorrow is unrefined, a primal force that has rendered me physically incapable of lifting my camera. The very thought of touching it fills me with an indescribable dread. Yet, in this written release, I find a sliver of solace.

My Final Words to You Aidan

Aidan, my love for you transcends what words can convey. You are eternally etched in my heart, and I yearn for the day we will be reunited. My son, you possessed a bravery and boldness that I could only aspire to match. I promise to strive to live by the standards you set, to embody the courage you showed. How I wish I could cradle you in my arms once more, run my fingers through your hair, and hear your voice. But as many remind me, you are not here in physical form, just your earthly vessel remains. Though that vessel was unjustly marred, in the depths of my soul, you forever remain radiant, greeting me with your cheerful, “Hey Mom!”


Son, I love you.

The task feels somewhat distasteful, but a friend urged me to adopt a pragmatic approach at this moment. Heeding her counsel, I’m proceeding. Presently, I find myself indifferent to any response this post may garner. My current state of mind renders everything inconsequential. However, for those inclined, a link for a “Go Fund Me” is available for perusal.


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