Doorway to disaster

My boy Evan paid dearly, just for wanting to be close to me...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Jennifer Hyland
Published on: 28 March 2013

Watching my son Evan tuck his younger sisters Yasmin, four, and Nya, three, up in bed, I could hardly believe he was just nine years old. Evan had always seemed older and wiser than his years. He was definitely the man of the house since I'd separated from his dad, and he even bossed his 14-year-old sister Talia about!
‘I'll make you some cheese on toast before bed,' he grinned at me.
‘Sounds lovely,' I smiled. Evan was a little chef in the making and he was always rustling up tasty treats. Afterwards, we'd always snuggle up on the sofa and watch Come Dine With Me together.
But in many ways, Evan was also a typical little boy. He was very close to his brother Zac, six. They shared a room and they were constantly building dens in there together. However, Evan was always really tidy and would be the one clearing all the bits away when they were finished.
Evan hated being away from his brother. So, when Zac went off to my mum Eleanor's one evening, I fully expected to have a visitor in my bed that evening.
I didn't mind though. It was nice to spend some time with him.
‘Are you looking forward to going back to school?' I asked Evan, as we sat chatting.
‘Can't wait,' he grinned. ‘We're going to start planting flowers.'
He was the manager of the pupil garden and he took his role very seriously.
When it was time for bed, Evan wriggled in beside me. Although it was late, I let him play on my laptop .
‘You don't like sleeping without Zac do you?' I sighed.
‘Not really,' he admitted to me.
We started listening to a Taylor Swift song. Evan absolutely loved her and he was forever singing her song Love Story.
‘I'm never going to get married, Mummy,' he suddenly whispered, snuggling close. ‘I'll stay with you forever.'
‘You might change your mind when you're a big boy,' I giggled.
‘I'm tired now,' he yawned. ‘Night night, Mummy.'
‘Goodnight sweetheart,' I smiled, as he clambered out of bed. I was surprised he hadn't asked to sleep in my bed. I listened to the creaking floorboards and could tell when he'd got in bed. He always left the door open when he slept alone, it made him feel closer to me.
I was soon fast asleep myself. But then, an hour or so later, I stirred in bed. I could hear a faint beeping sound.
Jumping up, I realised the smoke alarm was going off. I flicked on the light in my bedroom but nothing happened.
The electricity must have cut out, I thought.
But when I opened my bedroom door, I was in for a massive shock. I was met by lots of thick black clouds of smoke.‘Fire!' I shrieked.
In a panic, I scrambled around for my phone. But I couldn't find it in the dark.
Looking out of the door again, I could see the fire was raging in the kitchen. As I couldn't find my phone, I needed to get help. So I ran out the front door, which was just by the bedroom, to raise the alarm. ‘Help!' I screamed.
A crowd of neighbours were already gathering outside.
‘I've called 999,' I heard a voice say to me.
With that, I turned to go back in for the kids. But, firm hands grabbed me and held me back. ‘No, please!' I spluttered.
Within seconds, the fire had got even worse. I froze at the sight of the heavy black smoke that was pouring from the upstairs window. Fear clenched at my insides.
I heard sirens and then firemen appeared and began tackling the flames. Again, I desperately tried to push my way into the house.
‘You need to let us do our job,' one told me gently.
I was led towards a neighbour's house and told to wait.
Half an hour later, a firefighter walked in the room.
‘We've got your girls out,' he reassured me. ‘They're just being checked over by paramedics.'
‘Thank god,' I croaked. ‘What about my son Evan?'
‘He's in an ambulance on the way to hospital,' he replied.
‘I hope he's not been burnt,' I gasped.
I was then whizzed to the hospital. But when we got there, a doctor took me to one side.
‘Evan inhaled a lot of smoke,' he said. ‘I'm so sorry. We just couldn't save him.'
No, please no... I shook my head. Then the doctor took both my hands in his.
‘I'll take you to be with Evan,' he said. ‘You have to say goodbye to him.'
As he led me into the room, my little boy looked just like he was sleeping. Except he had soot all over him, and there was a tube in his mouth. That's when it hit me. He would have been in the most danger because his bedroom door had been left open.
‘Evan, please wake up,' I sobbed.
Leaning close, I opened his eyelids. But his eyes were all glazed over.
‘Time of death, 4.47am,' the nurse said behind me, echoing what I already knew to be true.
It was the single most heart-wrenching moment of my life.
Telling the children, though, was harder still.
‘Evan's in heaven now,' I tearfully explained. ‘He's a star up in the sky.'
‘I should have looked in his room,' Talia sobbed, utterly heartbroken. ‘When I ran past and saw the door open, I thought he'd already escaped.'
‘There's nothing you could have done,' I sobbed. ‘Don't ever start blaming yourself.'
Of course, I was wracked with guilt, too.
Why did I run straight outside? What if I'd let him sleep in my bed that night?
We stayed with my mum while our house was repaired.
The fire, caused by a suspected electrical fault, had destroyed all our possessions, including all my photos and memories of Evan. But as I picked through the wreckage, I found a soot-stained Mother's Day card that he'd given me the year before.
I wept with relief that I still had a memento of him to keep.
Thankfully, Mum had photos of the holiday we'd taken in Tenerife a few months before Evan's death. It had been Evan's first holiday abroad and he hadn't stopped smiling the whole time we were there.
We buried him in his pyjamas, and some neon pink and green boxer shorts with smiley faces on that my mum had bought.
Afterwards, we were all at such a loss without him.
Evan's school dedicated the pupil garden to him and put up a special plaque in his memory.
I knew that he would have been so proud of this.
A year had passed when I got the call to say that our council house had finally been refurbished and we could move back in.
But I wasn't sure I could face going back. And I was worried about how Zac would cope in his old room without Evan.
However, as soon as I walked in the door, I could almost feel a weight lift. We were back where we belonged.
Zac ran straight upstairs to his old bedroom.
‘This was mine and Evan's room,' I heard him tell one of the workmen. Tears welled up in my eyes, but in that moment, I knew we'd be okay. I was lucky as I still had four lovely children.
Now, I can't imagine ever leaving this house. It holds so many happy memories. Life without Evan doesn't get easier, but I'll always be grateful for those precious years I did have with him.
Sheree McGill, 35, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire