‘He already reminds me of mum‘: Manchester bombing victim‘s daughter welcomes ‘ray of light‘ baby son
Lauren Lees faced a particularly difficult this year, despite welcoming a new baby into the world, it was her first Christmas without her mother.
Lauren‘s mother, Lisa Lees was one of the 22 victims that died in the Arena terror attack in May.
When Lauren had her first son, seven-year-old Jayden, Lisa was her mother was her rock and birthing partner.
Lauren says her and her mother ‘could have been sisters‘ but thinks her Lisa, who was only 43 when she was killed, is watching over them even now like a guardian angel.
In a tearful first interview since the bombing, Lauren, 26, says: ‘Dylan will bring joy to people. He is beautiful and he already reminds me of my mum.
‘When my mum found out I was expecting she sent me a text saying: ‘I‘m so excited about this baby, I can‘t stop thinking about it‘.
‘When I found out I was pregnant I was having a difficult time in my career. My mum‘s support meant everything and she loved and encouraged me.
‘She‘d have loved to have had a son herself and call him Dylan, so I wanted to pay tribute to her with the name.
‘Our first Christmas without Mum has also been our first with Dylan so it has been so bitter-sweet. I wish nothing more than for her to be here to see the grandson she will never meet, but I know she is looking down on us.
‘Now we are determined for this New Year to be one of positivity and love. The bomber will not beat us any more.‘
Lisa had learned Lauren was pregnant just days before the fateful Ariana Grande gig at Manchester Arena.
Dylan‘s dad Chris Dugdale, 29, stepped up as birthing partner at The Royal Oldham Hospital, where the tot weighed in at 8lbs 15oz on December 23.
‘I was thinking about Mum when I was in labour because the last time, she was there. It was very hard in that respect. I felt I had to be strong because I didn‘t have her there. The emotions kicked in afterwards, I had a good cry when I got home, I was just hugging Dylan on the settee‘ Lauren said.
‘My mum was so excited about Dylan I think it‘s made my bond stronger with him. I feel so close to him because I knew how much she wanted him.
‘I wish she could have met him but my mum believed in angels, she was very spiritual. She believed her grandma and grandad were still around her, she‘d see a robin and think it was her grandad.
‘We spoke about life after death. She believed she would still be around after she passed away so now I believe it, too.
‘Christmas was my mum‘s favourite time. She loved angels and dragonflies so I‘ve decorated the house with them.
‘Dylan has brightened all of our Christmases up a little bit, he‘s brought a lot of cheer and we feel a little happier.
‘It‘s good I had him to distract me and he timed it right because I wouldn‘t have handled it if he‘d been born on Christmas Day. That would have been too much.‘ The Sunday Mirror organised gifts for Jayden and a visit from Santa a couple of days before Christmas.
Lauren told him that the special day had been arranged by his grandmother, Lisa,up in heaven.
‘I was in labour but my relatives sent me videos of Jayden meeting Father Christmas,‘ she laughs.
‘And to see him looking so happy after the horrible year we have had was wonderful because it‘s him I have worried about most. He talks about suicide bombers, not normal for a child.
‘His behaviour has changed, he has days where he‘s a monkey and others where he goes into moods. He can‘t handle talking about Nana but I tell him she‘s an angel watching over him. We lay flowers at the cemetery.‘
Recalling May 22, Lauren says she and Lisa went shopping for a new washing machine.
Lauren laughs as she says: ‘We were so similar we clashed sometimes, we could have always been sisters! We were big shopaholics, with very similar tastes. My mum was very glamorous and she had a contagious laugh. Not hearing her laugh any more, that has been one of the hardest things.‘
Lisa was excited about taking younger daughter India, 16, to see Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. She planned to dine out with pal Alison Howe, 45, before the pair would pick up their daughters. Alison was to die in the blast too.
Lauren goes on: ‘The last time I saw my mum was when she dropped me off. I realised I had left my coat in the back so I ran up the road and banged on her car window, I made her jump out of her skin.
‘My last memory of her is pulling my coat out and hearing her laughing. She waved and offshe went.‘
That evening, Lauren was at home with Chris when her phone rang.
She adds: ‘It was my sister, saying she thought a bomb might have gone off. She was all in a panic and she said she couldn‘t find our mum. Chris and I began to ring and text my mum but there was no answer.‘
The family shared Lisa‘s picture on Facebook and rang round hospitals, desperate for positive news. But after 18 hours it was clear all hope was lost.
The next day, May 24, was Jayden‘s seventh birthday – and Lauren had already decorated the house with balloons, banners and gifts.
They kept the news of Lisa‘s death from him for a week. She sobs: ‘My mum‘s gift, a guitar, was sitting there in front of me. There was a card with her writing in it. To watch him open her present, read her card and think everything was okay on his birthday was just awful.‘
Lauren, factory worker Chris and Lisa‘s mum Elaine, 63, later visited the crime scene where terrorist Salman Abedi, 22, detonated his nail bomb close to the box office. ‘I ask myself ‘what if‘ all the time,‘ adds Lauren. ‘I always think ‘If she didn‘t stand so close to that door‘ or ‘If she‘d just waited outside‘.‘
Lisa‘s funeral took place in Royton, Oldham at St Ann‘s Church.
A few days before, Lauren visited her mum in the chapel of rest. ‘That‘s when it hit home,‘ she says. ‘I prefer to remember her when I hear her favourite song, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, playing in a shop. Or when I go to a place that reminds me of her. When I talk to her at the cemetery, tell her I miss her.‘
Like many, the bombing has left Lauren anxious about public events.
But she isn‘t weighed down by hatred for killer Abedi, explaining: ‘I don‘t even think about him because that‘s what he wanted. He wanted recognition. He doesn‘t get that from me.‘
To add to her struggles, former nursery worker Lauren was released from her job in September.
But with a new bundle of joy in her arms, she is more determined than ever to stay strong for her family.
She insists: ‘My priority is Jayden and Dylan. They‘re my children and they‘re a part of my mum too.
‘One day, when Dylan‘s a lot older, I‘ll tell him the whole story about how we lost her. But for now, I‘ll tell him he‘s got a Nana and she‘s an angel who looks down on him from heaven.‘