FREEPORT — Patricia Donahue said pageantry has helped her feel a sense of community and purpose since the death of her son Mason three years ago.
Mason’s life was cut short at 34 days, when he died of sudden infant death syndrome on May 23, 2015.
“I had a lot of things I’ve wanted to do since Mason died and each time, they’ve kind of just nosedived,” Donahue said.
Not her goal to be crowned Mrs. Maine America 2018.
Donahue holds the title of Mrs. Freeport. On April 22, three days after what would’ve been Mason’s third birthday, she’ll compete on stage in South Portland against 14 other women for the title.
“I needed to somehow figure out a way to feel better. This pageant has done that,” Donahue said. “It’s given me a way to get my confidence back and has given me another reason to keep pushing.”
Women must be U.S. citizens, 18 years or older, reside in Maine, and be married to be eligible to compete.
Donahue, 25, and her husband, Todd, have been married since 2012. She said her two oldest children, Raelyn, 6, and Tripp, 5, helped her through some of her “darkest times” after Mason’s death.
Not long after he died, Donahue found out she was pregnant.
Her youngest daughter Leilani, a”rainbow baby,” will be 2 years old in May. A rainbow baby, Donahue said, is a baby who is born after a loss.
“Holding my son and losing him was gut-wrenching … still mortifying,” Donahue said. “But Leilani taught me that I don’t have to be stuck in that part of my life to still love my son.”
Along with her family, one of Donahue’s greatest support systems since her loss has been the Colby Fund – a Lewiston-based nonprofit that provides services for grieving individuals, couples, families and friends who have experienced a pregnancy loss or death of a child under the age of 3.
Along with having representatives in nine hospitals from Norway to Augusta, the Colby Fund offers doula services, a monthly support group, financial support, and photography sessions.
Co-founder and grief counselor Tammy Brule said eventually the fund – formed by David and Leanne Langlois, who lost their son Colby at 32 weeks gestation in 2002 – would like to work throughout New England.
Donahue teamed up with Smitty’s Cinema in Topsham on Feb. 22 for a split fundraiser to benefit the Colby Fund and her campaign for Mrs. Maine America.
She stood at a booth at the entrance of the theatre telling her story, spreading the word about the Colby Fund, and selling raffle tickets; she raised around $300.
Though she wore her Mrs. Freeport sash and was excited to promote her candidacy for Mrs. Maine America, Donahue said Mason was the driving force behind the fundraiser.
“My son is more of the reason I’m doing this. I kind of lost myself when I lost him,” Donahue said. “I don’t want to make it just about my title.”
Donahue said without help from the Colby Fund, emotionally and financially, through help with planning and funding Mason’s funeral, she doesn’t know where she would be.
“Losing a child, in my opinion, is the hardest thing someone could ever go through,” Donahue said. “You can feel very alone and I don’t ever want anyone to feel how I did when I first lost Mason. (But) it could’ve gone a lot differently for me, and my family, and I owe it all to Tammy and the Colby Fund.”
Donahue said she’s excited to compete on April 22, but is also nervous to see how she conducts herself during the judged interview segment of the pageant, two days after what would’ve been Mason’s third birthday.
“It’s been difficult to get back out there and talk about Mason,” she said. “With the Colby Fund being my platform and bringing up my son, I’m a little nervous to see how I am … I think I might cry a bit.”
Tammy Brule, left, of the Colby Fund, and Patricia Donahue, Mrs. Freeport, at Donahue’s booth during a fundraiser at Smitty’s Cinema in Topsham on Feb. 22. Donahue plans to donate half the money she received from ticket sales and a raffle to the Colby Fund and the rest towards costs associated with the Mrs. Maine America 2018 competition.