Thuy Husmann, her husband Jamey, and friends are at Molly Stoffel’s Eden Prairie residence, organizing items for an upcoming sample sale.
They had a clear purpose: to raise funds for The Grief Club of Minnesota. However, as they work, conversations inevitably turn to Aaron, the son of Thuy and Jamey, who died by suicide last April during his junior year at Eden Prairie High School.
“I thought he was happy,” Thuy said of Aaron. “So now every time I look at a picture, I wonder, ‘Was he truly happy in that moment? Did I miss something?'”
Navigating the pain of Aaron’s death, Thuy has recently found a sense of purpose working on community events like powderpuff games, garage sales, and pop-up sales to honor Aaron and assist others with mental health challenges. She believes that suicide awareness should not only be highlighted in the wake of a death. These events have become her way of coping with depression, which she first experienced after Aaron’s passing.
“Is it helping me?” Thuy mused. “I don’t know. Ask me that after it’s all done. Right now, it keeps me busy.”
She added with a heavy heart, “I can’t find anything good out of what happened. I feel like the only way I can accept this was to find what was the good out of all this because, for now, there’s nothing.”
These events are not only part of Thuy’s healing process but also aim to assist others in their grief. The Grief Club of Minnesota, headquartered in Chanhassen, serves as a lifeline for families dealing with the tragic loss of a child age 25 or younger. The nonprofit provides grief support through various means, including individual and family counseling, peer support groups, and community education — all offered at no cost.
Two home decor sample sales in Eden Prairie have been organized to support this cause while honoring teens like Aaron, who died by suicide. The first sale is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 7, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., offering hundreds of fall and Halloween decor at the Stoffel family home located at 9293 Dartmouth Ave. Subsequent sales, featuring a variety of holiday and everyday home decor items, will be held during mall hours from Nov. 2 to Nov. 5 and Nov. 9 to Nov. 12 at Eden Prairie Center, situated on the upper level near AMC movie theaters, Sandbox VR, the food court, and Scheels.
Thuy said they will honor Aaron and other teens who lost their battle with suicide. At the mall space, they will have a banner with the names of teens who have died. People will be able to write other names on it to remember while shopping.
In addition, the annual Eden Prairie High School DECA-organized Powderpuff games this Saturday will support The Grief Club and emphasize mental health resources at the school. The event, scheduled from 4 to 9 p.m. at Aerie Stadium, will charge attendees $5 for entrance. The evening promises games, a donation raffle, food, entertainment, and a gathering centered around shared experiences and support.
‘We never thought it would be us’
Outside the garage at Stoffel’s home, Husmann recalls a sentiment Molly often shares: “If it could happen to you, it could happen to me,” referencing Aaron’s suicide.
“It’s true,” said Stoffel, who has four children. “I always say we’re all one phone call away from being Thuy. So we got to look out for each other.”
“We never thought it would be us or Aaron,” Thuy added.
“But you are no more likely than the rest of us, and you got to keep remembering that,” Stoffel said. “You were as good of a mom as there ever could be. And we’re all in the same boat.”
When asked about the impact of planning the fundraisers, Stoffel emphasized Thuy’s commitment to raising awareness. (All the items for sale were donated by One Hundred 80 degrees, a wholesale manufacturer and distributor of giftware.)
“I would say she’s amazing at realizing the promotion she could do about suicide and how to deal with grief,” Stoffel said. “It’s more than a fundraiser for you; it’s so much bigger.”
Thuy pondered the potential for the sales to become an annual occurrence, sharing her insights: “If this works and (One Hundred 80 degrees) continuously has samples, then it might become an annual event. It could take place at the mall, allowing us to host a fundraiser every year, particularly one that raises awareness about suicide and holiday-related sadness.”
Sarah Kroenke, executive director, grief counselor, and co-founder of The Grief Club of Minnesota, spoke about Thuy’s involvement in organizing the sample sales.
“It’s really giving her an opportunity, I believe, to put some purpose into her pain,” Kroenke said. “She feels understandably such significant pain since Aaron has died, and to be able to wake up in the morning and have a place to go and things to do helps her fill some of her time and certainly will benefit The Grief Club.”
Kroenke also pointed to the broader community support for the Husmann family: “They are really being embraced by a community of people that genuinely care about this journey of grief that they are going through.” She added, “We know that grief never ends, and there is this core group of people who stood by the Husmann’s side and continue to support them in various ways.”
Thuy expressed gratitude for the assistance The Grief Club provided her family during these trying times. In turn, Kroenke spoke of the ongoing relationship with the Husmann family: “Given the sad and tragic death of Aaron, we have been working with Jamey and Thuy and their family since the day that Aaron died,” she said, concluding, “We consider it to be a real privilege to be trusted by families that we serve.”
How it started
The idea for the sample sales fundraiser emerged during Thuy’s regular brunches with friends, including Stoffel.
“We started having third Saturday brunches just to help me get out of the house,” Thuy said. It was during one of these gatherings that Stoffel, who does some accounting work for One Hundred 80 degrees, suggested the possibility.
“Molly said this could take a lot of energy and time, but if you’re up for it, we’ll help,” Thuy recalled.
After Labor Day, the planning began in earnest.
“All the moms, we’re connected through our kids,” Thuy said. “I’ve always known Molly, but we’ve been more like peripheral friends. But when this happened (Aaron’s death), I was lost.”
Stoffel mentioned that One Hundred 80 degrees typically conducts its own sample sales, but due to COVID-19, they found themselves with surplus samples that couldn’t be sold. As a result, they decided to donate all of these samples to The Grief Club of Minnesota.
Amy Anderson, whose son Isaac was Aaron’s best friend, has been helping Thuy with the fundraising sample sales.
“It’s a good way to process things,” Anderson said. “I’ve been thinking about Aaron a lot since starting this project. While I’ve always thought of him, this has brought those memories to the forefront. It feels like a way to move forward, bringing Aaron along with us. He’s still leaving his mark in the world.”
A green bracelet for Aaron
Anderson said Isaac wears a green bracelet daily, a simple yet profound tribute to Aaron. Green was Aaron’s favorite color.
“Isaac doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry,” Anderson shared. “But after Aaron passed, he wears that bracelet. It’s his quiet way of saying, you know, he’s with me.”
The two had been friends since the fourth grade.
“You knew one, you knew the other,” Anderson said.
Aaron’s father, Jamey, echoed the sentiment. “Aaron said Isaac was no less a brother than his own brother,” he said.
The boys shared a myriad of interests. “They both liked sports, playing and watching,” Anderson said. “They bonded over cars, especially Formula One and model cars. Aaron always gifted Isaac model cars for birthdays. They still occupy a special place in his room.”
Thuy remembered Aaron’s kind nature.
“Aaron would always help others,” Thuy remembered. “At the ribbon ceremony (honoring Aaron after he died), a student said, ‘Aaron was the first person to talk to me the whole school year, and that was in January.’ She said that she was kind of leaning toward suicide until Aaron said hi to her and talked to her, making her feel like she existed. And it was bittersweet to hear her say that. We lose Aaron and she’s still here.”
“Because of him,” Anderson said.
Yet, despite the lives he touched, Aaron’s own struggles remained hidden. “Some of them (at the ribbon ceremony) would say you don’t know me, but I’m only here because Aaron saved me,” Thuy said. “And yet he didn’t let anybody know that he was on that downswing.”
Homecoming, which took place last week, has been particularly challenging. Isaac is now a senior, a milestone Aaron would have shared.
“This year is really hard,” Thuy said. “For me it all coincides with all of the things that should have been. His last year in high school. So (Aaron and Isaac) talked about going to college together. Aaron said I’m going to apply to Kansas because Isaac is thinking of Kansas. They both like Wisconsin.”
For Isaac, his mother believes the bracelet is his daily nod to a friendship that meant everything.
“He thinks about him every day,” Anderson said of Isaac. “He may not talk about him, but he thinks about him, and he has talked about him a lot this homecoming. They would go to the games together.”
Social media and teens
Thuy believes social media poses challenges for today’s teens.
“When we were growing up in the ’80s, you could break up and no one would know. Now, there are pictures of your ex with their new partner everywhere,” Thuy said. “Teens aren’t mentally or socially mature enough to handle that.”
Asked whether social media was a factor in Aaron’s life, Thuy responded, “I don’t know.” Thuy and Jamey mentioned that an investigating police officer combed through everything on Aaron’s phone. “If you want to understand what’s happening in a teen’s life, check their phone,” Thuy said. “The history of their social media activity, and the time they spend on it, can be revealing.”
A major concern for Aaron was medication. “He was prescribed medication for ADHD, but he despised how it made him feel,” Thuy explained. “He’d only take it when he had a major assignment. He left a letter expressing his desire to be true to himself, without the fog of medication.”
Aaron had been in counseling. “After his passing, I reached out to his therapist,” Thuy said. “She expressed shock, saying Aaron would have been the last of her patients she’d expect to take such a step.” Jamey added that Aaron’s progress was evident, “She believed he was improving.”
Thuy recalled a visit to their pediatrician earlier that year. “She’d seen all our kids since birth. In January, she felt Aaron was doing fine. He showed no obvious signs of distress.”
The mystery of Aaron’s inner turmoil baffles many, including Stoffel, who said, “It could have been any of our kids. No one saw it coming.” Jamey pointed to teens’ ability to mask their true feelings, “They’re adept at hiding what they don’t wish to reveal.” Stoffel pondered, “Perhaps Aaron was in denial, too.”
Aaron died the day after Easter Sunday.
“Saturday, we had gone to the Saints game,” Thuy said. “Friday he went to the car show. Tuesday, the next day, he had a big track tournament at Hopkins.”
Anderson noted the Husmann family had recently been on a trip to Italy.
He went to go fishing at Miller Park.
“That’s where we found him,” Thuy said.
Thuy and Jamey trusted him.
“He was a good kid,” Jamey said. “He was our good kid.”
Recently, every piece of mail they received at their Shakopee home was from colleges, all addressed to Aaron.
“Eight pieces of mail,” Thuy said. “Eight (different) schools.”
“We were active, involved parents,” she said. “And yet I couldn’t help him.”
Jamey echoed, “We were blindsided.”
Thuy’s voice trembled as she reflected, “Did he not realize how much we loved him?”
She’s left wrestling with the paradox of Aaron’s outward affection for others and his apparent inability to recognize the love surrounding him. “If you ever find what good comes out of such tragedies in your research or articles, let me know. I haven’t found it yet.”
If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, please call or text 988, Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text MN to 741741. Talk to trained counselors who care, 24/7/365.
If you or a loved one is at imminent risk, please contact 9-1-1 and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer.
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.