Carol Todd is on a journey no mother should have to take — and it’s not over yet.
Six weeks ago, Todd found her daughter, Amanda, dead by her own hand and herself in the midst of a media storm that has not yet abated.
On Wednesday, when The Tri-City News visited Todd at her Port Coquitlam home, she was cleaning house for a barrage of media that would soon arrive on the heels of concerns she made public via Twitter that she hadn’t been invited to an anti-bullying conference held the day before. She apologizes for vacuuming the foyer while her dog, Mandy, scampers about, and offers tea or coffee.
Her comfortable living room is strewn with large floral displays and handmade tributes to Amanda, the 15-year-old girl who has now become a household name after posting a video of herself chronicling the mistakes she made online and the years of taunting and bullying that followed.
Todd says the flowers and cards represent only a fraction of the support she has has received from neighbours, friends, family, local businesses, and provincial and local government officials. Her freezer is full of homemade meals, too, she says, and thousands of dollars have been raised for anti-bullying and mental health programs for youth through Amanda Todd legacy funds.
Sunday’s memorial and “Happy Birthday” for Todd will be held at Red Robinson Theatre, a donation from Great Canadian Casinos, where cupcakes will be handed out — all donations from local bakers; as well, friends have scoured craft stores around the Lower Mainland for pink thread and little white snowflakes to make bracelets in memory of Amanda. Guests to the service are asked to bring an unwrapped toy for Share Family and Community Services.
“The support has been phenomenal,” said Todd, who thanks her family, including partner Rob Bridge, co-workers at School District 43 and her neighbours for helping her keep it together.
These days, as difficult as they are, are not without reward because of the profile Amanda’s death has given to important issues such as bullying, especially cyberbullying, sexual exploitation of youth and the need for improved access to mental health services for young people and more awareness about suicide prevention. Todd admits that she has become a public face for many of these concerns, largely because of her own adept use of the media, including Twitter, radio, TV and newspapers.
But she believes she is fulfilling her daughter’s wishes and says she gets her strength to be in the public eye while dealing with own grief from the same deep, impregnable place her daughter did when she posted her tragic video.
Rather than feeling exploited by the media, Todd says she’s trying to exhibit some control over the dozens of radio, TV and newspaper requests and get her message out while people are still interested. She believes in faith and destiny, and wonders if Amanda’s untimely death would have had the same resonance had it occurred in March, months before anti-bullying week and We Day, which took place the week after her death.
“What ever Amanda did went viral — she wanted it to,” Todd said.
Wearing a pink bracelet with the words “Stay Strong” and Amanda’s name on it, Todd says she has long been an advocate for special needs children but the urge to tell her daughter’s story is taking her to the next level, where she meets with politicians and policy makers about issues of concern to her. Working as the assistive technologies coordinator for SD43, it has always been her job to encourage schools to try new technologies that make it easier for children to learn to read. It’s no mistake that Todd chose teaching for a career; her daughter struggled with learning challenges as well, and Todd believes her difficulties in processing information were at the heart of her other challenges.
Amanda went to school in the Tri-Cities, except for a year when she lived in Maple Ridge, and for all those years, Todd says, Amanda received help with her learning challenges, and later, counselling with Tri-Cities Mental Health. It’s this network of support that kept Amanda going while many of her peers taunted and shamed her for revealing herself online to a cyber predator.
“I can be strong and I can advocate because I know I did everything for her,” Todd says.
But she worries about other families, those that don’t have extended health benefits, for example, or skills negotiating the system, and fears some children may fall through the cracks, especially in mental health services. When she lived in Maple Ridge, for example, Amanda didn’t qualify for mental health services, although she did in Port Coquitlam. “That is something I still need to look into. Why was that?” she asks.
But it was during Amanda’s year with her dad in Maple Ridge that mother and daughter reinstated their bond after the headstrong girl wanted more independence from her mom. The family got counselling and Amanda was able to move back to PoCo and re-enter high school at CABE, in Coquitlam, last spring because of its individually-paced learning structure that met her needs.
In many ways, Amanda was just like any other girl her age; She was looking forward to her 16th birthday on Nov. 27 and was planning to get a “Stay Strong” tattoo the next day like her idol, singer and anti-bullying advocate Demi Lovato. She was hoping to get a laptop computer for Christmas and liked nice clothes and makeup. Todd said she jokingly called Amanda “Princess,” which later became “Princess Snowflake” since a snowflake has become an anti-bullying symbol because each one is unique.
Todd’s journey is still about getting to know her daughter and trying to figure out why she did what she did.
“Amanda had anxiety and depression, it was all part and parcel of her feelings,” and although the girl shared everything with her mom, there were some things she held back.
Todd found out that her daughter was flashing herself to a cyber predator even before the police arrived on her doorstep but didn’t understand the severity at first.
When her daughter spiralled into depression with the constant taunting to the point where she wouldn’t leave the house, Todd was understanding and kept the conversation with her daughter going.
That’s when Amanda posted the video, Todd says, to try and regain some control over the situation, asking her mom for felt markers to complete the project and recounting to her some of the technical difficulties.
The Youtube video eventually garnered millions of hits but, by then, it was too late. Something pushed Amanda back into despair, leaving her mom to try to solve the mystery of her daughter’s state of mind and help other families in similar situations.
It’s what keeps her going, she says.
“My job is to talk to parents, to get it out and let it be known.”