ABRAM-VILLAGE — When she was born, Helen Arsenault was too afraid to hold her daughter, Destiny, afraid that she would break.
© Journal Pioneer photo
Helen and James Arsenault hold a picture of their daughter, Destiny, in a room that has become a tribute to her memory. More than 240,000 pennies make up a floor that the late teen had once envisioned but never truly thought would come to life. Pennies, more than 400,000 of them, have been donated from people from across the Island and beyond.
“I was 16. I was just so young. I had never held a baby before. When I held her that first time it was really scary.”
What’s scary for Helen now is the reality that she can never hold Destiny again.
Almost a year to the day since her death, the mother wishes for nothing more than to have her precious daughter in her arms just one last time.
Each day Helen wakes thinking of her. And each day she’s brought to tears.
“That feeling of loss never goes away,” she said. “It’s there every morning you wake up. It just doesn’t go. You hope you’re dreaming and you wake up and it wasn’t a dream.”
But a dream of Destiny’s has helped ease that pain and turned into a lasting legacy to the girl who loved life, family gatherings and to laugh.
On June 24, 2012, a car accident only a few kilometres from home took the life of the outgoing 15-year-old who loved figure skating, playing pranks and hanging out with her friends.
Almost immediately after the accident the idea for a penny floor was born.
It was actually Destiny who first came up with what Helen and her husband, James, thought was an outrageous and unattainable project.
Months earlier, she started collecting pennies, only gathering enough to cover the bottom of a huge water bottle prior to her passing.
“We never thought we would do a floor,” said Helen. “We never thought she would get enough pennies. We just tried to encourage it.”
In the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, the mother began talking to family about all of Destiny’s dreams, the things she hoped to do but would now never get a chance to fulfill.
Family and friends quickly took up the cause, putting the word out that pennies were being sought to fulfill Destiny’s dream.
Quickly, the pennies came in from across the Island and beyond.
“For me, it was just nice to know that everybody saw her and it was something they were talking about,” said Helen. “I liked hearing her name. I wanted to talk about her every day. I want to do something. That’s when I wanted to get involved.”
* * *
The days and weeks that followed the accident were a blur for Helen
On that sunny Saturday in late June, she and James were spending a rare day and night together at a friend’s cottage.
It had been a rocky few weeks, with Destiny being caught breaking house rules, resulting in her being grounded.
She was to stay at her grandmother’s house that night but ended up staying at home and snuck off with two friends.
“We were in bed by 9 o’clock. I think it was 1:36 in the morning when I received a call. It was some lady, I didn’t know who it was at first,” said Helen. “She said ‘Helen, there was an accident. You need to go to the hospital.’ That was all that was said.”
Her heart sank and she and James ran out the door, got in their car and drove.
“On the way, heading to the hospital, we were almost in Linkletter, my Mom called, crying. She wouldn’t talk to me and I knew right then,” said Helen, overcome by tears. “I lost it. I was mad at my Mom. I was mad at everybody because they knew before me.”
Quickly, they made their way to the accident scene, which was blocked off by police.
“I didn’t even think about running up there. We went to the hospital and it was the longest frigging four or five hours.”
Just days ago the family finally got some closure, learning from RCMP exactly what happened that night, details Helen didn’t wish to share.
“I was more happy to hear that she didn’t suffer. I thought about that every day.”
* * *
Time has eased her pain but it will never take it completely away.
Now, when Helen thinks of Destiny she remembers the cranky baby who rarely slept, the daredevil toddler who loved to sing “Barbie Girl,” the teen who loved to torment her younger brother, Keegan, who idolized his older sister. The girl who played pranks on her mom and dressed in costume to roam the mall just for fun.
“She had a very funny personality, very outgoing. She was really into figure skating and had been in it for seven years. She was almost in every rink competing. She met a lot of people and loved to help,” said the mother. “She was a strong girl. She didn’t care what people thought of her.
“She was really good, a good kid,” she added, her voice trailing off.
Each penny in the one-tonne, 900-square-foot floor has been a step in healing.
“I didn’t sleep well at night so I was constantly counting pennies. I thought it might help me to start to heal.”
There are some stories Helen is eager to share, like the 86-year-old Kensington woman who made her daughter drive her to the home so she could donate $2 in rolled pennies in Destiny’s memory.
“There are all these little stories that made me think, wow, someone is being so generous and thinking of my daughter,” she added.
Words cannot express her gratitude.
“There are not enough words to thank them because they made her dream come true,” said Helen, breaking down. “If it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t be done.”
More than 400,000 coppers were donated, some coming from as far as Newfoundland. Each of the 270,000 pennies making up the floor has had its own journey, a story no one will every truly know.
“Everybody’s penny is going to be used. We have double the amount of pennies needed so we are going to be using those pennies to make picture frames. They will be part of something that will never happen again,” said Helen. “I wish I could name everybody that was here.”
Money was even dropped in donation jars, funds that were used for materials.
Helen’s proud to show off the final product, which glistens in the late spring sun. Scattered throughout the floor are photos of a smiling Destiny, hamming it up for the camera with friends or sharing an embrace with Keegan.
“She would really put a pounding on me knowing the pictures that I put here,” Helen said with a laugh. “I put pictures in there that she would not show anybody. But that’s what I wanted. I wanted her friends to come and say ‘I remember that.’”
Destiny’s friends stop by the home often. Helen loves hearing their stories and learning new things about the daughter she has lost.
They helped celebrate Destiny’s Sweet 16 and will be at the home this weekend to celebrate the floor’s completion and Destiny’s life.
“She always wanted to be a famous figure skater. Then, she wanted to be a singer in Hollywood,” said Helen, quickly adding Destiny couldn’t sing. “Then she wanted to be a social worker. That made me happy. She wanted to follow in my footsteps.”
It’s hard for Helen as the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death approaches.
“It gets harder because everything dies off. The first three or four months, for me anyway, you are still in shock and everybody is around,” she added. “Every morning it is hard to get out of bed.”
Helen can feel Destiny’s presence. She talks to her often, sharing a joke or story.
“I talk to Destiny as if she is here.”
So, what would she say about what has been done in her memory?
James, who sat quietly as Helen spoke, is quick to speak.
“She would say ‘you guys are smart asses’.”