The thing Patricia Donahue wants most for Christmas she can find only in photographs.
The photos lie within a cabinet that she and her husband, Todd, had built in memory of their son Mason, whose life was cut short at 34 days, when he died of sudden infant death syndrome on May 23.
The Donahues, who live in the Wardtown Mobile Home Park Co-op in Freeport, stocked the cabinet with photos of Mason smiling, his baby clothes and other possessions. Their daughter, Raelyn, 4, and son, Tripp, 3, see their little brother all the time.
“I want to be able to remind the kids of their brother, so that they don’t forget him,” Patricia Donahue said.
And now, as Christmas approaches, she said she has a far different point of view on the holiday.
“We want everyone to hug their loved ones, and really rethink about what Christmas truly means,” she said. “It’s not about the money and gifts, and not even really what you have, but who you have. We want everyone to hug their kids, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and realize that at some point, one of them may no longer be here, and to cherish every moment with them.”
Donahue, 23, and her husband Todd, 25, will do their best to give their two young children a good Christmas. Money is tight, as Todd Donahue, a clam harvester, had to take several weeks off in peak season to get through the shock of their loss. Patricia Donahue, who is pregnant, stays home with the children.
The couple has sought no assistance with Christmas gifts from social service agencies.
“Money doesn’t matter,” Todd Donahue said. “We don’t like to ask anything from people. We’re more givers than takers.”
On Christmas Eve, the children will receive one gift each, and then they’ll do the traditional opening of gifts the next morning.
“The kids will get to see their grandparents and aunts and uncles and be happy,” Patricia Donahue said. The Donahues did not discuss the ordeal of the day their son died. Dale Whitmore, president of the Wardtown Mobile Home Park Co-op, which manages the property, remembers it well.
“It happened overnight,” said Whitmore, who lives nearby. “They had to leave afterward. They stayed with his father on Murch Road for some time. They’re good people. I cried. I cannot imagine how they felt. I don’t even want to imagine it.”
Burial expenses set the Donahues back. His cousin, Sherry Branch of Topsham, got a GoFundMe online fundraiser going to help with that.
“But they got well behind in their rent,” Whitmore said.
The park cooperative board is being patient.
“They’re paying us back,” said Whitmore. “We have two catchphrases at this co-op. ‘Neighbor helping neighbor” and ‘Together we can do more.’ They’ve been punched in the gut right to their knees and they’re climbing back out.”