Our brightest star

If only we'd put away the Christmas decorations...

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 12 January 2012

There were shrieks of laughter coming from the garden. Looking out of the window, I saw my son Lewis, eight, bouncing on the huge trampoline me and my hubby
John, 39, had bought him.
He was practising his wrestling moves by body-slamming his special blue teddy bear that went everywhere with him. My eldest son Sam, 22, was cheering them on, along with John.
Lewis was obsessed with wrestling. So just last month, his dad had surprised him by announcing he'd bought some tickets to a contest. They'd had ringside seats, and Lewis had been so excited to tell me all about it when he'd got home.
‘The wrestler actually picked up my chair and smashed his face into it!' he'd gasped, blue eyes as wide as saucers.
‘Ouch,' I'd grimaced.
‘It's not real,' he'd laughed.
‘Really?' I'd gasped, pretending I'd never known.
He was growing up so fast... it only seemed like yesterday I'd been taking him to school on his first day. He'd been so excited, but I'd had to wear a baseball cap to pull down over my face so he wouldn't see me crying!
If I could, I'd have just kept my little Lewis at home forever!
My thoughts were interrupted by the racket they were making outside. ‘Keep it down,' I shushed, running out there. ‘The neighbours will complain!'
Lewis jumped off the trampoline. ‘No they won't,' he giggled. ‘They love me.'
Cheeky little rascal! But it was true... even though he could be a naughty so-and-so at times, my lovely lad wrapped everyone around his little finger. He was always chatting to our neighbour Lauren, 23, over the fence.
All of a sudden, Whiskey, our Jack Russell, started yapping at my feet. ‘Go away, smelly!' I laughed. Whiskey had terrible breath.
‘He's lovely,' Lewis frowned, wrapping his arms around his beloved pet. ‘He smells of roses!'
John raised his eyebrows at me. Seemed our boy had lost his sense of smell when it came to his dog!
You might think we spoiled Lewis - and we probably did - but that's because he'd always been a miracle child. Our brightest star, we called him. I'd suffered from endometriosis after having Sam and my daughter Robyn, 20. Lewis had been a wonderful surprise, and brought such life into our family.  
Which made times like Christmas even more fun... autumn soon turned to winter, and Lewis found something else to do instead of leaping around on the trampoline. While we put up decorations, he ripped out pages from the Argos catalogue, so we knew what to buy him.
Suddenly, he looked up. ‘Hey, don't forget this, Mum,' he smiled, handing me a bauble.
Ah, the special one he'd bought me a few years before. It had a picture of him inside and, when you pressed a button, a recording of his voice played.
‘I love you, Mummy and Daddy,' he mouthed now - in time with the bauble's voice.
‘You're my special little fella,' I whispered, stroking his blond hair.
Later that day, John put all the decorations up at the front of the house. We had loads of fairy lights, as well as a big inflatable snowman that his mum Vicky, 59, had passed on. We hooked it on to the porch.
‘Ta-dah!' John called out, as the snowman lit up.
‘Wow!' Lewis gawped.
That Christmas was magical. We had the family round and, after dinner, Lewis entertained us with his Michael Jackson impression.
His top was off, and he was prancing around to Beat It.
‘Show off!' Robyn teased. But Lewis was in his element. He loved Michael Jackson, was forever moonwalking around the house.
He wasn't quite as lively after the Christmas period, though, because he was poorly with an ear infection. He was given antibiotics and had to have a week
off school.
‘I love you, Mummy,' he whispered, snuggling up with me on the sofa one night.
He was clearly a whole lot better because next morning I walked in the front room to find him swinging a lasso! ‘I'm Indiana Jones!' He watched the films constantly - only now he was using the blue plastic rope that had tied the snowman decoration on to the porch.
‘Lewis,' I scolded, taking the rope. ‘That's dangerous.' He'd obviously taken it from the bag John had left on the stairs - he'd been trying to dry it out.
‘Sorry, Mum,' Lewis mumbled, shuffling off. Tucking it safely inside the bag, I made a mental note to remind John to put it away when he got home from work as
a forklift driver.
The day flew by and, before I knew it, I was watching TV and waiting for John to get home. But at 11pm, Lewis suddenly popped his head around the door.
‘Hungry,' he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
‘Have a biscuit and a glass of milk,' I sighed, motioning towards the kitchen. ‘Just make sure you're asleep when Daddy gets in.'
Fifteen minutes later, John walked in. ‘Is Lewis still up?' he asked. ‘His bedroom light is on.'
‘It shouldn't be,' I said.
‘Don't worry, I'll turn it off.' Then he headed upstairs.
Seconds later, I heard a thudding sound, then a muffled cry. What was John shouting about? ‘He's tied something around his neck!'
What? I didn't understand...
Footsteps pounded downstairs. John stood in the doorway, Lewis in his arms. Limp, floppy, blue.
‘He's not breathing,' John gasped, his eyes full with tears.
‘I-I'll get help,' I spluttered. Lauren, she'd mentioned once she knew CPR, hadn't she?
It seemed like moments later, I was clinging to John as she desperately tried to breathe life into Lewis. ‘Please, wake up!' I sobbed hysterically.
All was a blur except my son's face. The paramedics arriving, the ambulance ride to hospital, the doctor pumping on Lewis's heart as John sobbed beside me.
‘His door was wedged shut,' he croaked. ‘I thought Lewis was playing a joke...'
The little prankster was forever leaving all his black Lego out in the hallway, so I'd tread on it in the dark! John had just assumed this was another little trick.
‘When I finally got in, I found him hanging six feet off the floor. He'd hanged himself with that blue rope, on his dressing gown hooks behind the door.'
The rope from the snowman decoration. ‘He must've just been mucking about,' I gasped.
‘I should have packed it away...' John wept. But this was no time for blame.
There was a terrible noise, the hospital machine making one long bleep.
We clung to each other, knowing what it meant, but hoping that we were wrong.
‘No!' John yelled. But the doctors all stopped suddenly. They gave the slightest nod to each other. Then one turned to us. ‘I'm sorry...' he started to say.
‘My baby,' I cried. Slid to the floor, grief drowning me. Beside me, John was sobbing uncontrollably. ‘How could you let him die?' he kept screaming.
Slowly, I crawled to Lewis's bed, forced my legs to work, and pulled myself up beside him. ‘I'm sorry,' I wept, stroking his cheek. A thin red line snaked around his throat, and his peachy skin was mottled blue... death had dug its claws deep into my boy.
Every bone in my body ached with grief. John was beside me now, his head buried in Lewis.
Over the next hour, the family all started to turn up. Telling them Lewis had accidentally hanged himself was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I just wanted to die too, but suddenly I had to be Mum.
‘I'm so sorry,' I whispered, tightly gripping Robyn and Sam. ‘There was nothing we could do.'
Back home, I closed his bedroom door. ‘I can't see it,' I wept. We stumbled around in a haze of grief until, two weeks later, we held his funeral at St Francis Church in Welwyn Garden City.
Lewis's white coffin was taken through town by horse and cart, and we all followed behind wearing our football shirts for him.
He was buried with his special blue bear - he'd carried it with him everywhere because John had bought it for him the day he was born. On his headstone we called him ‘the brightest star in the sky'.
‘I'm going to miss the glory hunter,' Sam wept. It was what we'd always jokingly called Lewis because he'd only ever supported the winning football teams. ‘He was the best little brother in the world,' he added.
The truth was, Lewis's death was just a tragic accident, which only made it so much harder to bear. It was a prank gone wrong. Yet I knew John felt blame for not putting the Christmas decorations away.
‘This wasn't your fault,' I kept reminding him. ‘You were a great dad to Lewis, and I don't blame you in any way.'
He'd just nod, broken.
At our beautiful boy's inquest, the Hertfordshire coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death. ‘Lewis was probably just playing around,' he told us. ‘He was knocked unconscious almost instantly and would have felt no pain.'
It was a small comfort.
On February 9 last year, on what would have been his ninth birthday, we all went to Stanborough Lakes and let off Chinese lanterns. ‘Oh my God!' I shrieked, as I watched one almost set a tree alight.
‘Lewis would have laughed at that,' Robyn giggled.
Just a week later, a miracle happened. Robyn popped over with her boyfriend Adam, 28. ‘I'm pregnant!' she blurted. ‘We didn't plan it. I think it's a gift from Lewis.'
So through those long, difficult months, we had something wonderful to look forward to.
Of course we didn't forget Lewis. We cherished his memory.
Every day, I took roses to his grave. ‘You used to say Whiskey smelled of roses,' I told him. ‘So I'm bringing you the real thing!'
We've made a little area to remember Lewis in the garden, too. At his old school they've created ‘The Brightest Star' room. In there, they've made a paper memory tree in honour of him.
All the kids have written lovely messages about Lewis on it. It's wonderful knowing that our son touched so many lives.
Over time, I hope that life for us will get more bearable.
But silly things happen all the time, and all the sad memories come flooding back.
This Christmas, we were determined to celebrate but, as we got the decorations out, I found the bauble Lewis gave me with his voice on. Trembling, I pressed the button.
‘I love you, Mummy and Daddy,' came his voice. For a moment, it almost felt like he was still there with me. I played it over and over.
‘I'm worried the battery will run out,' I sobbed later to John. ‘Then I won't hear his voice again.'
‘I know what it's like,' he sighed. ‘I can't even clean the back windows of my car.
‘Lewis made some silly smudges on there and, if I wash them off, it's like I've lost another part of him.'
At moments like these, the grief just comes flooding back. But we finally had a reason to smile when we welcomed baby Louie, now two months, into the family.
Robyn named him in memory of her brother, as Louie and Lewis have the same meaning - fame.
This month is a year since the tragedy. I haven't been into Lewis's bedroom since the day that he died.
My heart feels hollow, and not a day goes by when we don't wish we'd just put that bag of decorations away. But I know Lewis wouldn't want us feeling guilty, or blaming each other.
Sometimes I go out into the garden at night and talk to my boy. I tell him we miss him, that we love him... that I'm sorry.
Then I look up into the sky and see him - my brightest star shining in heaven. I close my eyes and hear him whisper ‘I love you, Mummy,' and I know then that he'll always be beside me.
Elizabeth McGlynn, 45, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire