Andrew and Mandy Goddard cannot forget the day they lost their daughter and son in a tragic fire. They returned to the site to find the Christmas gifts that were meant to make them smile.
When you buy presents for your loved ones for Christmas, you can't wait to see the joy on their face when they open it on the morning of December 25. The holidays are a time to celebrate with family. But for one couple, it continues to be a reminder of what they lost almost two decades ago, and the pain they have to live with.
It was Christmas 2001. According to Mirror, Andrew and Mandy Goddard were all prepared to celebrate Christmas with their kids, Jade, Alex, and Nathan. The family had decorated the house and the parents had bought the presents for their little kids. However, their Christmas did not turn out to be what they hoped it would be. But just days before Christmas Eve, on 17 December, 2001, the family was struck with a tragedy.
Andrew and Mandy were watching television when they saw smoke coming from one of their rooms. “That night, my wife and I were sitting downstairs watching TV. At about 10.20 PM we heard this massive bang and the lights went out. Smoke was coming from the dining room," said Andrew, now aged 55. Though they tried to escape, the smoke-filled rooms had made it difficult for them to navigate.
"I shouted 'fire' and ran to the kids. Smoke was everywhere and it was inky dark. The smoke alarm was ringing. Jade was standing at the top of the stairs. I grabbed her hand and turned towards the boys' room," recalled the father. Unable to breathe, they opened one of the windows to escape. The family also alerted their neighbors by shouting for help.
"The boys sat in bed crying. We could barely breathe. I opened the bedroom window and got out on the window sill shouting for help. I was still holding my daughter's hand but her hand left my grip," said the grieving father. Though the neighbors came to help, they could not save the entire family. “I turned to look for her when a neighbor, who had just climbed a ladder to get us, pulled me out of the room. We both fell about 20ft and landed on the car below," recalled Andrew. By the time, Andrew and Mandy were down, their kids were stuck inside.
"The house was in flames and the windows were popping. Mandy was screaming 'I want my babies!' while neighbors held her back from the burning house," recalled the father. While they struggled outside, a man went into the burning house to save their children. However, he could only save their youngest boy Nathan. “One man ran out of the house with his coat on fire. He was holding our youngest boy Nathan," said Andrew.
The parents, along with their youngest kid were taken to the hospital. Soon, Mandy and Andrew learned their other two kids were no more. "It's a father's responsibility to protect his children and I wish I could have protected them that night. I watched every news broadcast in the hospital that week, seeing what happened to the kids. The fire was all over the news at the time. I can't explain why I needed to watch it but I did. I had to watch all these people talking about my kids," said the father.
Meanwhile, Nathan, who managed to recover from the incident, could not remember his siblings. "When he came home and saw photos of them he never asked 'who's that?' He knew he had a brother and sister but he just didn't know who they were," said Andrew. The devastated family went ahead with the funeral and bid farewell to Jade and Alex. On visiting their house, they found the kids' Christmas presents and a ring that belonged to Jade.
“One of the only things that survived the fire were the kids' Christmas presents. They were hidden away in a cupboard. We've kept them all this time. My one wish every year is to be able to give Jade and Alex those presents. But I know I never can,” said Andrew, recalling that day.
A year passed by and Mandy became pregnant again. While the couple was happy with the news, they couldn't help but be reminded of the babies they lost in the fire. “But I was happy and sad at the same time. I was trying to be happy for Nathan at Christmas, I was happy to be pregnant but I was thinking about Alex and Jade all the time too,” said Mandy.
Mandy gave birth to a girl and named her Ellie-Ja, after her brother Alex and sister, Jade. Ellie-Ja is now 15 and visits the grave of her lost brother and sister with the family.
Though 18 years passed by, the couple cannot forget the incident that took away their babies. Every Christmas, they are reminded of their lost children. “I think of them every day. I'll never forget them," said the heartbroken mother.
"It's been really, really hard. But you either cope or you give up. If it wasn't for Nathan I wouldn't be here today. Without your babies you have nothing to live for. People say that they understand what we're going through but they don't. They can't understand unless they've been through it too," Mandy added.
Meanwhile, Andrew credits his wife for helping him get through the trauma. “My wife is a very strong person and she helped me through. Life goes on. You just have to take each day as it comes. Things don't get easier but you learn how to cope."