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...