real life

How I manage to endure Christmas after the death of my son

What seems like a lifetime ago, I had my first child, Jack.  Initially, it was just him and me, as his father had disappeared just before his birth. I made the decision that from his very first Christmas, Santa was not going to take all the credit for the presents he received.

I was a single mum, had just gone back to work as a nurse 5 days before Christmas Day  to keep us (and my sanity) and I wanted a bit of the credit. I figured it would also help me avoid those difficult conversations about why Santa didn’t bring him those expensive presents that he’d asked for. Santa had a budget in our house of $50 and anything else had to come out of Mummy’s wallet. As he approached 4 and then 5 – he got that. Santa brought him some presents, but Mum (and by then his Stepdad) bought him the big ones because they loved him so much. It was fairly easy to keep this up as he was the only grandchild in my family at the time.

The Christmas just after he turned 5 was to be my most organised Christmas ever. We had been on our first ever holiday – to the Gold Coast – at the beginning of November. We got home and Jack asked if we could put up the Christmas tree. I agreed, as I knew that the rest of the year was going to fly by and I didn’t know when would be a better time. Sometimes I’m sure that was a little prophetic. Our tree went up on the 6th of November (a record that has never been broken) and I had all my shopping with presents wrapped under the tree by the 9th! All except 2 Santa presents – a fishing rod to be used on our camping holiday after Christmas and a cricket set for the test match that was bound to follow the fishing. They were wrapped and hidden in the wardrobe.

Lunch was a leisurely one at the new Macca’s near us and then home to enjoy the rest of the weekend before the last week of preschool and all the hubbub that that entails. That night we turned on our Christmas lights on the house for the first time, then sat down to eat Chinese takeaway and watch the Power of One on TV. It was also the night that I decided to give Jack some worming medicine as he had been scratching his bottom – a lot!

At 8.50pm that night, my little serene world came crashing down.  Jack inhaled the chewable worming tablet which blocked his airway, went into cardiac arrest in my arms and could not be revived, despite the action of the ambos, paramedic (who I had grown up with), Westpac Rescue helicopter crew and staff at John Hunter Hospital (where I had worked for the previous 5 years and where Jack had been born) who kept trying until almost midnight. My beautiful little boy was laid in my arms for the final time just after midnight and I held onto him for the next hour and a half, knowing that life and Christmas would never be the same for us again.

The following day was the beginning of the rest of my life. That of a bereaved parent. Someone who had to bury a child. A Coroner’s case to endure. A funeral to organise.  Fortunately, my own parents stepped in and supported me through this. We had only lost my mother-in-law earlier that year and this was just too much for us to cope with. My parents had been my rock when Jack was born and so they were again in his death. I stayed in my old room until I finally went home 5 days later, after his funeral.

On returning to our home, I was faced with Christmas, though it was still 2 weeks away. The house decorated in lights. The tree decorated to perfection. The wrapped pesents under the tree. Jack’s Santa presents when I opened the wardrobe.

I had some hard decisions to make.  School uniforms that had already been purchased and labelled to get rid of.  A little boy’s bedroom to pack up.  And then the Christmas presents...


I decided to return all the electronic presents. The Playstation games, the kid sized computer mouse, the kids’ CDs. The guy at the electronics counter at DJ’s appeared to want the floor to swallow him up when I replied to his question about why I wanted to return them.

Clothes were donated with tags still on them. A couple of favourite things I put away, like the clothes he wore in his Santa picture – the one that graced the front page of the local paper that week. The school uniforms went to school with a specific note that they were to be donated to a kinder boy who would have otherwise gone without new stuff.

Which left me with the Santa presents. I probably should explain something about Jack. He was the most generous and giving little boy I had ever known. When his step- grandmother died, he told us that when he went to Heaven, he was going to teach her how to play the Playstation and make lots of cups of tea for her. He was 4 at the time and little did he know that he would follow her less than 10 months later.

I decided that in true Jack fashion, they should be donated to the Wishing Tree at Kmart. We had donated a present the previous year and had planned to do so again that year. So, Jack’s presents – his fishing rod and cricket set, went under the tree, for another little boy or two to have a present to open from Santa on Christmas morning.

Fast forward fourteen years to today. Jack would be nineteen now, but is instead forever five. The fallout of his passing was us running away to live in Sydney 5 months later and then splitting 3 months after that. We both have moved on, though neither of us have forgotten that wonderful little boy. We are no longer in touch though.

I have found happiness with my high school sweetheart. We got together a couple of weeks after my ex and I parted after he wrote me a letter.  He never met Jack, but has had to live with his legacy. He also has a son who is just 2 years older than Jack would be.

We have now been married 11 years and have had two little boys of our own who are now 10 and 8. They too have had to live with the memory of a big brother that they have never met and who they are now older than. I can’t say I have been overprotective though I know that I have parented them differently, but that may be because I was older when I had them. Each in their own way has a little bit of Jack in them. The older one in a look and his caring nature, the younger one in his can do attitude.

I have continued the Santa/parent budget with these two and it has worked. Especially last year when they weren’t gutted when someone slipped at school about the “Santa secret”. They knew that there were still presents because we loved them so much.

I have also continued the Wishing Tree presents. I did this myself until the boys were old enough to understand. The boys usually help me chose a present for Jack. Most years, it’s for a 5 year old boy. Sometimes I have chosen one for that year’s birthday, but the boys thought that was a bit dull. It’s our way of remembering a little boy who was so giving and touched so many lives. This year though, I have to find something other than the Wishing Tree as we don’t have a Kmart here.

So a little boy’s memory is carried on. In his family and by his family in the wider community. I’m never afraid to tell Jack’s story and I will never pretend for the comfort of others that he isn’t a part of our family. I will carry him with me till we meet again.

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