Leon Ashley Manners

Let me take you back to the day in question, July 17th 1999. A bright, warm, sunny day. My son Leon was excited as it was his final day at nursery school. He was due to start the ‘BIG’ school in September.

When we arrived at the school, Leon had to try on his new school uniform. I can picture him standing tall and proud. He looked so grown up in his little grey trousers, white shirt and blue jumper. I said, “Look at you my baby, all grown up!” He looked at me all coy with a big gorgeous grin.

After school, Leon’s friend came to play in the back garden. I worked on a Friday night as a part time barmaid. Leon would normally sleep at my mum’s on this night, but she had been invited to a party on that Friday so my brother came to babysit.

The last time that I saw Leon he was standing at my bay window. He would wave and blow kisses until I turned the corner and was no longer in sight. He would make me giggle as I walked along the road by doing this and I would blow kisses back.

As I am remembering this, there are tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat and my stomach is churning. The pain of losing my child will never leave me. I have somehow managed the pain and to work thorough it.

Big deep breath and begin again.

Whilst at work I called my brother Dean and Leon to see how they were, they were fine. The last call I made was around 10:30pm. Leon was tired and got a little upset. His last words to me were, “Mam I want you.” I responded by saying, “Don’t worry, Mam will be home soon. Now go to bed because it’s late. Mam will come and give you kisses and cuddles when she gets home.” He had a little moan but was OK when I said bye.

One hour later I returned home. Leon had fallen asleep on the settee. I picked him up but he didn’t quite respond in his usual way. Even when a child is fast asleep they always wrap their arms tightly around you as you lift them. I thought that Leon was dreaming as he was shaking very, very slightly as I picked him up, and I said to him, “Come on silly-billy you should be in bed.”

At this point Leon took a shallow breath. I asked my brother if Leon was OK and shook Leon as I felt that something was wrong. I laid him on the floor, my brother had already called an ambulance. I tried to give him mouth to mouth. Then it hit me that something was terribly wrong. I panicked and ran with Leon in my arms to my next door neighbours. All I can remember is saying, “Please help, he isn’t breathing.” At that point the ambulance was outside. My Mam came. We followed the ambulance to the hospital. Up until this point I thought that Leon would be OK. I don’t know, it doesn’t seem real and it all happened so fast. But, in the car I remember saying to my Mam, “He’s never going to be OK again.” I don’t know why I thought or felt this but I did so strongly in the pit of my stomach.

We arrived at the hospital and they rushed him into a room. I just wanted to be with my son. I begged them to let me in to the room while they tried to save him. I knelt on the floor praying over and over again with my eyes closed tight, holding Leon’s hand trying to will life back into him. I can vaguely remember all the chaos in the background as the nurses and doctors worked frantically to save Leon. But, as hard as I prayed, I knew he had gone. I cannot remember how I got from kneeling on the floor to sitting in the chair cradling Leon in my arms. I cannot remember them telling that he had gone. Maybe it’s something that one does not want to hear so you block it out.

I sat with Leon in my arms for a few hours. I did not want to let him go. I remember a very gentle lady. She was lovely, gently trying to coax Leon from my arms, but I would not let go. I must have sat with Leon for about six hours, in a daze. Even though it is real, it is not real. Your body must shut down automatically to protect you from the shock of what has happened. While I was holding Leon I asked myself over and over why I had gone to work. Why hadn’t I returned home when he had asked me to? Why? Why? I believed at that moment that it was my fault that he was no longer here. If I’d have got home sooner maybe I could have saved him.

If you’re not in enough pain, you punish yourself more with all of the ifs and whys and buts.

The kind, gentle nurse eventually persuaded me to let Leon go as she said she wanted to find out why he’d gone. I couldn’t understand why he had gone so suddenly. No warning, no illness. She said that I could return in a couple of hours to see him, so I agreed to lay him on the bed. Walking away from him was the hardest thing I have had to do in my life. All I wanted to do was take him home. We returned to the hospital a few hours later. We could only look at Leon trough a glass screen. I presume that the reason for this was the autopsy. That is when the full effect of loss hit me. It felt like someone had punched me in the chest and ripped my heart out. The pain is physical as well as emotional. Your whole body screams with pain.

One memory that stands out in my mind is while we were on our journey home. We passed a pub. It was a sunny day and everyone was outside drinking and laughing. I wondered how they could laugh as I felt that I would never laugh again. I wanted the world to end and for my life to end as there seemed to be no point in it any more. When you lose your child, you lose yourself. I felt as if I had nothing left inside. I was just an empty shell.

It took a few days for us to find out the cause of death. Unknown to us Leon was born with a congenital heart defect (Aurotic bicuspid valve). One of his valves was very narrow thus restricting his blood flow, which eventually led to his premature death. But to us he was fit and healthy. He only ever suffered from a few colds now and then. Leon was so full of energy most of the time but occasionally he would become tired. At the time I thought that it was just because he was so active. Maybe he was tired because of his heart defect. I blamed myself again. If I’d have carried him more, if I hadn’t taught him to ride his bike, etc.

Leon is the most beautiful person I have ever set eyes upon. When he was born, for the first two days we lay looking into each other’s eyes. I couldn’t believe he was mine. I was so proud. He grew into an extremely loving, mischievous, vivacious little man. He was so charismatic. One of his looks could melt your heart. And he knew it. We had a very special bond. We still have and always will. My heart bursts with pride whenever I think of my son and that’s at least a hundred times every day.

Through death Leon has taught me a lot. I have been introduced to Reiki, crystal healing and meditation – all of which have helped me cope with my loss. I have also completed my counselling skills level 1 and 2 with CRY, which has helped me immensely. These have helped me to work through the awful stages of grief that we are forced to go through. I will be eternally grateful for CRY’s help and now work for them as a voluntary bereavement support worker, providing other parents with support in their time of need.

The real reason behind writing this story is that I want to give hope to those who have experienced such loss. Leon has shown me that life does continue after physical death. Two days after Leon died, myself and Leon’s father were sitting on the settee and an icy cold breeze was circling us. I know it was Leon’s spirit and asked if it was him letting mummy and daddy know that he was there.

When I was in Leon’s room one day, I was laid on his bed sobbing my heart out. Leon has a computer that you have to switch on manually. Anyhow, I’m laid there and this computer suddenly switched itself on. It says ‘Hello how are you?’ when it starts up. I looked up and said, “Is that you Leon?” I couldn’t see him but you can somehow feel their presence. It then switched itself off.

Toys have flown from shelves for no reason. One day was extremely painful. I lived alone. I came downstairs and sat in the living room chair, staring into space for a couple of hours. Then I told myself to come on and get ready. I returned upstairs and forced myself to get dressed. When I came back downstairs, there lying on the stairs was Leon’s bandana, folded exactly the same way that I fold it on the little chair that he has in the front room. Oh my god!

It just stopped me in my tracks and I laughed and cried at the same time. How on earth had Leon’s bandana moved from the front room to the stairs all by itself? I promise you I didn’t imagine it. It happened, it was real. How I don’t know. I believe that spirits can move objects. Leon and the spirit world made this happen to show me that he was ok and give me hope that there was an afterlife. When I was on the stairs laughing and crying, I said, “Is that you letting mammy know that you’re still there somehow?” I went icy cold. I felt my son’s energy wrap itself around me.

By far the most amazing psychic experience I have ever had was during a meditation exercise. I was deep in meditation. Leon came by my side. We embarked upon a journey to where he now resides in the spirit world. He showed me himself now, an array of magical colours and energy. He showed me a beautiful garden where young children go once they leave this physical world and die. It is a kind of resting place. I lay in Leon’s energy as he gently spoke to me in my mind. We had a little argument because I was asking him to show me the Leon who was here on the earthly plain, to show me Leon aged 4½ with the curly hair and big brown eyes. He would not. He just said that this was him now and that this is what he did most of his time, helped the children. I felt as though I was the child and Leon the adult. I will treasure that experience forever. I would never have imagined that the experience would have been possible.

I could write lots more but don’t have the time at the moment. I do understand that we all have our own beliefs about the afterlife and I hope that I have not upset anyone who reads this. I can honestly say that I am not mad, nor have I imagined any of what I have written about. I have not made it up to make myself feel better as someone suggested. I’m not that sad! I do know that when my time comes to die, Leon will be waiting for me and that is something to look forward to. I’m going to wrap my arms around him and smother him with love. And he’ll say “Maaaaam!” as he always used to.

Eight years after losing Leon I have managed to build a new life for myself and am pleased to say that I am happy once again, something that a few years ago did not seem at all possible.

Thank you for reading my story. I only hope and wish that it will bring some comfort to bereaved parents.

Julie Hatton