After son’s suicide, Mayo staff members channel grief into charity

On July 26, 2020, Ryan and Jennifer Hegge were days away from a graduation party and college sendoff for their oldest son, Brody, and excitedly preparing their younger sons for a new school year. The next day, that joy stopped when they lost their second-born son, Aidan, to suicide. They've since launched the nonprofit Aidan's Light, which will host an event in Rochester on Jan. 9.

Aidan Hegge was gentle, kind and compassionate. If a friend was having a bad day, Aidan would try to cheer them up with a gift.

Aidan "loved to make people smile," his mom, Jennifer Hegge, recently told KAAL-TV

That's one of many memories Jennifer, a nurse in the Clinical Research and Trials Unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, has of her second-born son, who died by suicide in July 2020.

"There isn't a second that goes by that I don't think about Aidan," Jennifer says. "It's kind of constantly there. You have this big hole in your heart, and you don't know how to fill it."

But she and her husband, Ryan Hegge, an event producer in Multimedia Production Services at Mayo, have found a way to try. In 2021, they worked with friends to establish Aidan's Light, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention in youth. 

"That was [one] reason we decided to do this charity," Jennifer says. "To give us a little bit of direction with our grief, to focus it on something."

The organization's name was inspired by a poem Aidan wrote for a friend titled "The Light Inside":

There is a light inside us all,
Some are big and bright,
Some are small and dull.
Some just turned on,
Some are old and going out.
But it's there.
That light is beautiful,
No matter who owns that light.
It's there for a reason.

Don't forget your light.

'Don't forget your light'

Aidan's death ripped a hole in the hearts of his family, friends and community. It also motivated them to try to help other young people.

"We don't want this to happen to another family," Ryan says.

Through Aidan's Light, Ryan and others work to shine a light on the mental health challenges that many young people experience. And show them options for dealing with those challenges.

"When I talk to kids, I say, 'It's OK to not be OK,'" Ryan says. "You're gonna have good days, and you're gonna have bad days, but there is always another day to make it OK again."

Ryan and Jennifer have shared that message at events, with small groups and in individual conversations. They also worked with Kasson-Mantorville High School to establish a Mental Health Awareness Club that their son Noah, now a senior, leads.

The Hegges have also worked to ensure Aidan's Light has an impact beyond their local community. They've raised money to support organizations including the American Foundation for Suicide PreventionNAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and the Southeast Minnesota Crisis Response Team.

Film, resource fair in Rochester on Jan. 9

Jennifer and Ryan Hegge with Emma Benoit.

In May 2023, Aidan's Light partnered with Kasson-Mantorville Community Education to sponsor a mental health resources fair and youth suicide discussion panel, coupled with the showing of "My Ascension," a documentary featuring Emma Benoit, a suicide survivor. 

"We could have stayed there for probably two more hours with all the questions," Ryan says of the panel composed of the Hegges, another parent who also lost a child through suicide, and mental health professionals.

"The amount and depth of questions people were asking was pretty amazing," Jennifer says.

They wanted to continue that good work. So on Tuesday, Jan. 9, Aidan's Light will bring the event to Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. Here's the schedule:

Mental health fair: 5 p.m.
Screening of the documentary "My Ascension": 6 p.m.
Q&A session featuring Emma Benoit: 7:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to the community.

For more information, visit Aidan's Light or email