Last Christmas eight little lives were shattered when super dad James died weeks before festivities.
But this year 28- year- old widowed mother of eight Cloe is determined to put a smile on their faces.
AS the children gaze up into the star filled night sky this Christmas, their little eyes will be searching for a very special star. Their daddy.
But as I hang their eight little stockings over the fire I know James will be watching over us.
I never imagined being a left a widow with eight children at just 27 years old. Last year Christmas was cancelled as I struggled to accept my husband was gone. There was no festive cheer, just eight lost little faces. Nine if you include mine.
But this year will be different….
I was just 17 when James and I first become proud parents to our son Leo.
I’d been on the pill so it was a shock but James took it in his stride and loved being a dad.
By the time he was two I was pregnant with our second baby Levi.
James loved family life so it was no surprise when I fell pregnant again with Oliver. Life was hectic with three kids but when Oliver was just six weeks I fell pregnant again with our first daughter Megan.
I was seven months gone when we finally tied the knot and moved our brood into a bigger house.
She hadn’t been born long when James decided she needed a sister. ‘You’re so broody,’ I teased him. While all my fiends had to convince their partners for more kids, in our house it was the other way around.
Six months on I was pregnant again with another girl and in time Miley was born. But she was 10 weeks early and there were complications.
‘We’ll get through this Clo,’ James told me squeezing my hand.
Every night when he finished work as a chef he’d drive straight to hospital to be with her while I looked after the other kids at home.
She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy but it didn’t matter to us. But we did decide that she would be our last baby so I was fitted with a contraceptive implant.
Eventually Miley was allowed home and with James doting on her she thrived.
At eight months she was sitting up unaided, something we had been told she might never do: ‘ She’s amazing,’ James beamed proudly.
But for weeks I had been feeling ill and the doctor soon discovered why. I was pregnant again. In time I gave birth to Lacey, quickly followed by Lexi.
Life with seven children was hectic but fun, especially at Christmas. In December 2014 with Leo, then 8, Levi, 6, Oliver 3, Megan, 3, Miley 2, lacey, 1 and Lexie three months, James was more excited then ever.
Every night he came up with a new pose for our Elf on the shelf. ‘You’re mad,’ I laughed.
As the big day drew closer he was busy every night assembling toys and fitting batteries.
On Christmas eve after slotting the final piece of Lego into the castle, James turned his attention to the seven little stockings hanging over the fire.
‘They’ll be another one of these next years,’ he winked. James had convinced me to try for another baby to round our brood up to eight.
On Christmas morning as they tore through their presents, James carefully organized al the rubbish into the recycling.
After that he cooked a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings and spent the afternoon playing games with the kids.
Christmas had been perfect.
And come January we had another reason to smile. I was pregnant again.
As my stomach swelled for the eight time James so excited. And in September 2015 Elijah was born early weighing 3lb 5oz.
Finally at seven weeks he came home. With four boys and four girls our family was finally complete. Before we knew it we were planning Christmas again, it would be our best yet…
James had even planned a day out in London for the older kids On December 4th 2015.
But in the early hours of the morning he sat bolt upright in bed and gasped. ‘ Are you ok,’ I said.’
No,’ James said then he collapsed back. I tried shaking him. Nothing. I grabbed my mobile and dialed 999. ‘My husband’s not breathing,’ I cried.
They told me to get James on the floor and start CPR. Then paramedics arrived and took over. Half an hour passed.
‘I’m sorry there is nothing more we can do,’ a voice said and my knees went weak. Elijah was just 12 weeks old.
James was just 31. Telling the kids was too hard. No words came so my sister said: ‘ Your daddy is in heaven now.’
The older ones began to cry.
I wanted to break down too but I had eight little lives depending on me. From that day the Elf on the Shelf sat untouched.
Mum moved in to help but in my darkest hour I wondered if I could cope. James was cremated and we brought him home. But Christmas was cancelled. None of us felt like celebrating without him.
The kids granddad bought them a star named after their daddy and I thought my heart would break as they scoured the sky looking for it.
Last year we had been trying for a baby to complete our family – now he was gone.
In time post mortem showed he had died of hypertensive heart disease – a condition associated with high blood pressure.
I did my best to try and fill the huge hole in their lives. I learned to drive so I could get them to school.
Elijah recently turned one and already Christmas is coming and this year I will give the kids the Christmas they deserve.
The Elf will be back on the shelf and I’ll build all the Lego too.
Then on Christmas Eve I’ll take them to a grotto and on the way home we’ll stop and look for James’ star.
When the kids are in bed I’ll fill the stockings. I just wish with all my heart he was here to see the eight of them lined up in a row just as he imagined.
On Christmas morning we’ll walk to the beach the kids will each write a message to their father and release it so it can fly to him in the sky.
He really was superdad and we will never stop missing him, especially at Christmas.
A fund has been launched to help Cloe finished the garden project James had started for the kids. To donate visit https://www.gofundme.com/g3r6kbus <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.gofundme.com_g3r6kbus&d=DQMFaQ&c=B73tqXN8Ec0ocRmZHMCntw&r=cnPmK_paTm4ShbSnIp78-yOX1IjPwFa1rS0IS9u6c5o&m=_KObHCaRvDfKKSCzABW71W4jKDTZ6qVXADv8_ze83Sk&s=pr_RhtoxvLD944KZCwirS2NRAjcS7VALlV15cKkx1EY&e=>