Amber Shoemake was selecting the clothes that her son would be buried in when she heard her husband Tim break down. The tears had barely stopped since meningitis stole their child only hours before, but this was something else. Tim had found something in their living room and what followed was the terrible sound of an already broken heart being torn in two.
Six-year-old Leland, the boy with the most beautiful smile, picked up a meningococcal infection simply from playing in the dirt. Doctors tried everything to save him, but he died on September 25. Touchingly, Leland wanted his parents to know they were not alone and left a handwritten note for them to find after he was gone.
On the living room table – where Leland liked to draw – was a note, scrawled in red marker: “Still with you. Thank you mom and dad. Love mom and dad. Good day.”
Tim found the note and went running to his wife to show her what he had found. Amber had been gathering Leland’s burial clothes and some toys to place in his casket. “To say I lost it was an understatement,” Amber told Today. “We cried together for the longest time.”
Leland frequently wrote his parents notes, but this one will be their most treasured. It will be framed and hung in the family’s Atlanta living room, alongside a drawing Leland did in hospital.
“When Tim and I came home for the first time to get him clothes to be buried in, this is the note we found from him on the table in the living room. We have no idea when he wrote it, but you can tell he was always a special child,” Amber says in a Facebook tribute.
Leland’s mother said her boy was smart and curious and had the Statue of Liberty and Pearl Harbor on his travel wish-list. “He had a hunger for learning,” Amber tells Today. “He was an old soul.”
He was a doting big brother to baby Logan.
On the tribute page, Amber writes that she tried her best to keep her son safe. “The one thing he loved most was playing in the dirt. I never imagined that would be the thing that would take him from me,” she says.
“He was my world. He made me a mother. We struggled so hard to have him. He was a preemie baby but came out screaming and healthy. He loved school and loved to learn. He loved the history channel, the weather channel, documentaries and anything about history,” she recalls. “He loved ships like the Titanic and learning about things like WWII. He was perfect. His favourite movie was Jaws. His favourite director was Steven Spielberg. And his favourite actor was Adam Sandler. He loved his brother and his family so much. He was the life of every party. His smile could light up a city.”
Amber says her son was the smartest, most caring, loving little boy there ever was: “He was taken from us too soon.”
“No-one should ever have to bury a child. I always said I hope it’s me that goes first because I don’t think I’m strong enough to handle something like this. It still doesn’t seem real to me,” she says. “I find myself sitting here remembering things he would say and quotes from movies he would repeat.”
“He was the light of our life and the centre of this family. I count the days until I can see his sweet face again and hear that beautiful voice,” Amber says. “We will love you forever Leland. Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
A fundraising page has been set up to pay for Leland’s hospital bills and the family is encouraging people to sign a petition to have Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis included on the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance list in the US.