Peter Ashton’s family prepare for tough Christmas

Gemma Ashton, 12, and mum Mary are preparing for their first Christmas without Peter. Picture: Toby Williams

Gemma Ashton, 12, and mum Mary are preparing for their first Christmas without Peter. Picture: Toby Williams

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IT was tough enough facing what would have been his 15th birthday – and now they must cope with Christmas.

As most families prepare for one of the happiest days of the year, others are suffering from a trauma that those who haven’t experienced cannot possibly imagine.

Peter Ashton.

Peter Ashton.

Four months on from his tragic death following a battle with cancer, the parents and little sister of Peter Ashton have admitted they are “dreading” Christmas without him.

Peter, who would have turned 15 on November 18, sparked an emotional reaction from the community and his beloved Hearts when he died in August.

While in hospital, he became friends with 15-year-old fundraising champion Jak Trueman, who also succumbed to cancer.

“I’m absolutely dreading Christmas,” admitted mother Mary, from Mayfield, Dalkeith. “I think [Peter’s sister] Gemma will feel it the most, on Christmas morning, opening her presents herself.

I’m absolutely dreading Christmas. I think Gemma will feel it the most, on Christmas morning, opening her presents herself.

Mary Ashton

“Peter would be the first one to come down the stairs – he loved Christmas. This was his favourite time of year.”

A hut which Peter’s father, Jason, had started to build in their back garden as a “den” for Peter during his illness has now been completed with the help of cancer charity CCLASP.

The charity said it wanted to support the family by helping them finish the project, which is now a place for Gemma, 12, to go and feel close to her brother. They have also planted an apple tree in the garden in his memory.

Mary said: “It will always be a part of Peter, so on Christmas Day, if she doesn’t feel up to it, she can go to the hut. CCLASP sent a joiner up to us and we’ve got the flooring down, electricity in it, a Christmas tree, tinsel, and Peter’s Man Utd photo. The den is so cosy.”

Newbattle High School students present cheques to Mary and Gemma Ashton. Picture Toby Williams

Newbattle High School students present cheques to Mary and Gemma Ashton. Picture Toby Williams

SEE ALSO: Jak Trueman’s relatives aim to look on the bright side

The Ashtons are preparing for a quiet Christmas at home, and they will go to Peter’s grave at Newton Parish Church, Danderhall, to put flowers down and reflect on precious memories.

They know it is going to be an agonising time, and thinking back to spending last Christmas Day in hospital with Peter makes it more difficult.

He had been diagnosed with leukaemia on October 8 last year, and although he was in hospital over the festive period, he was still in good spirits and determined to beat the illness.

Mary recieves flowers from Newbattle headteacher Colin Taylor. Picture: Toby Williams

Mary recieves flowers from Newbattle headteacher Colin Taylor. Picture: Toby Williams

Despite the heartache, Peter’s family has been spurred on by the overwhelming support from his school and the wider community – with more than £12,000 being raised in his memory.

Peter’s fellow pupils at Newbattle Community High embarked on a series of sponsored challenges including a ten-mile cycle and 10,000-metre walk.

Mary spent an emotional morning at the school last week, presenting certificates to those who had raised the largest amounts, or contacted the most individual sponsors. First-year pupil Gemma was hailed for raising the largest sum in memory of her big brother, a total of £419.

Her mother said: “She was hoping that she would be one of them, but didn’t expect to be the overall winner. She was nervous but she did well. Peter would be just gobsmacked. He wasn’t one for attention.”

The school fundraising day – held on October 8, exactly a year after Peter’s diagnosis – had a health theme, and pupils took part in a range of activities, including an army assault course and a dance extravaganza.

CCLASP, the Sick Kids Foundation and the John Hartson Foundation will be given £2600 each. The remainder of the money will go towards a headstone for Peter’s grave, and to help fund extra opportunities for young people in the school.

Student council Pupil Voice will decide exactly how the money will be spent at Newbattle Community High, however it is hoped that sporting trophies will be dedicated in his name.

Mary and Allison Barr, who lost her son Jak to a rare form of blood cancer in February, have been supporting each other as Christmas and New Year approach.

Jak, from Mid Calder, who raised huge sums for charity in his final days, met Peter in Ward 2 at the Sick Kids in Edinburgh.

Due to the severity of their illnesses they were often confined to their rooms, however they kept in touch by shouting through the doors and sending upbeat messages via their relatives.

They were united in their love of football and enjoyed a friendly rivalry as Peter was a Hearts fan while Jak was a Rangers supporter.

Mary said: “Allison has been fabulous, keeping in touch and helping us. We are both having our first Christmas without them. When you were on the ward I didn’t know what to say, it’s a hard, hard situation to be in. But you have just got to get on with it.

“I probably keep in touch with the hospital folk more than my other pals. Even though Peter is not here any more we can still go to CCLASP events. Gemma felt self-conscious at their Christmas party – but they told her, ‘you’re a sibling, you’re representing Peter’.”

She said the family would always be grateful for the support they received from charities throughout Peter’s treatment.

“Peter wasn’t well enough to come out of hospital so they would order a pizza to the ward for him,” Mary said. “They went on a shopping trip and he wasn’t fit enough, so they brought him presents back. There’s so much behind it all.

“And we can’t thank [Newbattle headteacher] Mr Taylor enough. I don’t even know where to start by thanking him, he’s an absolute gem of a man.”

And Peter’s parents are still overwhelmed by the gestures from Hearts and their fans.

His favourite players, Alim Oztürk and Jamie Walker, visited Peter in hospital, while fans arranged applause in his honour at a home match just days before his death, and high-profile club figures including owner Ann Budge, head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein attended his funeral.

Newbattle headteacher Colin Taylor said: “Reflecting on the situation, Peter has been an inspiration to the youngsters and the staff of the school.

“As a result there was a massive effort on the part of staff and pupils to ensure that there was a really good legacy that we can remember Peter by in terms of fundraising, but also inspiring to have house sporting events in his memory, with trophies in his name so he will never be forgotten.

“The pupils and staff certainly rallied to support Peter’s family and his younger sister. I think that while it’s been a really tragic event, something positive has come out of it in relation to how the school and community has responded.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com