Lives Remembered

Warm smile drew people to Aiden

AIDEN McAtEEr

AIDEN McAteer's smile drew people towards him wherever he went. Even on his death bed, the 36-year-old managed to smile as he thanked those who cared for him, continuing to give strength to others despite his own suffering.

The whole of Strabane knew Aiden, and his memory is preserved in photos on friends' walls and in special video tributes posted online. His death from leukaemia last month brought hundreds of people onto social media to express their shock.

One said he was simply "the nicest fella in the town". Another described him as an "inspiration of how to live life and be content and happy as a human being".

Fr Michael Doherty, recalling at funeral Mass the last time he saw Aiden, said that if he was to be canonised his title would be "St Aiden of the Smile". "Because that was what made him stand apart - a smile that was welcoming and reassuring,'' he said. "On that day that he came to see me, it was the smile that i recognised and he was coming to tell me that he knew that he was dying." From Carlton Crescent in Strabane, Aiden was a popular pupil at Barrack Street PS and St Colman's High School before making new friends across the town in a variety of jobs, including as a barman at dicey Reilly's and the Farmer's Home, and in Strabane's iceland store. His greatest commitment, however, was to Camp America, which combined his twin passions of travel and meeting people. Aiden returned to the States year after year as a youth leader and counsellor for almost two decades.

Fr doherty said he was a man who "never stood still". "He always had somewhere to go, someone to see and something to do," he said. "To finance his American trips he needed work here and he was never out of a job, maybe working in three or four places in the one day.

"Somebody passed the comment at the wake that one of the reasons that Strabane is known as an unemployment black spot was that Aiden McAteer had all the jobs."

The first sign of Aiden's illness came during a trip to Madrid last easter, which he initially passed off as food poisoning.

When the symptoms persisted, he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, an aggressive cancer normally only found in older men.

Aiden did his utmost to remain positive, refusing to burden others with his worries, and continuing to live life to the full while his

strength remained.

Friends responded in turn: a drive in the town to donate blood, prompted by Aiden's regular need for transfusions, threatened to overwhelm the transfusion service.

After his death patients who had shared his ward left emotional messages for the family describing the huge impact he had on them.

One card summed it up: "it takes a very special person to brighten up ward 10 at Belfast City Hospital but Aiden managed to do it." Aiden McAteer died on February 15. He is survived by his parents Eamon and Mary and siblings Eamon, Maria, Paul, Sinead, Damien and Conor.

Lives Remembered