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'He brought the light to people with a smile': Muscular dystrophy activist Daniel Arsenault, 18, mourned

Daniel Arsenault
Daniel Arsenault - Contributed

TRENTON, N.S. — Lynn Arsenault says her son was her strength – an earth angel.

Now her angel is looking down from above.

Trenton’s Daniel Arsenault has passed away at the age of 18, leaving hundreds in Pictou County who knew him to mourn.

Lynn confirmed that Daniel who had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at a young age, passed away on Friday, Dec. 7, suddenly. His death came without warning and they believe it was caused by an embolism.

But as Daniel taught them to do through the way he approached so many of the trials in his life, the Arsenaults were focused on the positive on Saturday and spoke of the joy the young man brought to their life and the lives of so many others he encountered.

“Daniel had such a positive outlook. He always found the good in things,” Lynn said.

She described one day going through some clothes with Daniel that he had outgrown including some socks and shoes.

“What should we do with these old ones,” she asked.

He suggested they give them away to someone else who could use them.

“You can tell them they’re barely used because I don’t even walk,” Daniel said of the shoes.

He was a person who could see the positive, even in being confined to a wheelchair.

“He was never a child that was down on life,” she said. “The way he faced the world was unbelievable, too, in the face of adversity.”

For someone who had every reason to be discouraged at times, he seemed to naturally choose to smile instead.

“He may have had weakness in muscle, but he had strength in character,” Lynn said. “He brought the light to people with a smile. It just filled the room.”

Something else that always stood out to her, is how he never thought about himself. She recalls how he’d ask when they were opening their Christmas presents, “Did we remember to give a gift to the needy kids?”

In her own life, Lynn found him to be her strength.

“If I was ever having a bad day, all I had to do was to look to Daniel for my inner strength. It made me realize to not sweat the small things.”

He helped her realize the important things: loving family, loving friends and making memories.

And that’s something they did to the fullest.

Hockey was one of Daniel’s greatest loves. Locally he was one of the Weeks Jr. A Crushers' most loyal fans. In the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs were his team and he’ll be buried wearing a Maple Leaf jersey.

Christopher Cameron, a former sports reporter with The News, remembers talking regularly with Daniel.

“Covering a Weeks Crushers game routinely included a pre-game chat with Daniel, asking him his thoughts on how the game was going to go and what he thought of the team in recent games,” he said. “There were very few people in that arena that cared as much as Daniel about the Crushers or knew the roster the way he did. You could tell from the smile on his face and the way he talked about the team that it was one of his favourite things to do, especially with his dad.”

Cameron said what stood out to him was how much he loved the team and how genuinely happy it made him.

“He was always smiling at every game and never missed warmup or a minute of the game. I'm sure it wasn't the only place he was happy, but it was definitely one of his ‘happy places.’”

Daniel was also interested in firefighting, and looked up to his father Kenny Arsenault, who is a firefighter. He was a regular part of the local fire department's boot drives for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. 

He became a poster boy for the muscular dystrophy campaigns, helping to fight against the illness that would ultimately claim his life.

Lynn recalls the day she first found out her son had MD. As a nurse, she had noticed that he seemed to be going to the bathroom a lot and suspected he might have diabetes. The diagnosis they receivde in Halifax, that he had MD, came as a complete shock however. They knew the diagnosis meant a shortened life and many challenges ahead. Broken by the news, Kenny had a heart attack on the way home from the hospital. A few months later, Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer. But despite the challenges, they discovered with the help of Daniel that there was still joy in every situation.

As people reflect on Daniel’s life, Lynn hopes that they will try to learn from the way Daniel lived and enjoy their time with loved ones.

“Tomorrow is never promised,” she said.

The family will receive visitors 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10 in P. & K. MacDonald Funeral Home, New Glasgow. Mass of Christian Burial will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11 in Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, Stellarton, with Father Barrett Clare-Johnson presiding. Interment will be in the parish cemetery.

Donations may be made in memory of Daniel to Muscular Dystrophy Canada or The Children’s Wish Foundation.

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