EAST MORICHES, NY — In every one of his photos, Mason Hammil, 5, is smiling. A happy, giggling, sunburst of a little boy who loved the water, his family, the song “Jingle Bells”, his iPad, his playhouse, and hot sauce on everything — even his pancakes.
Mason died this week after being found unresponsive in his family’s pool, at their home on Woodcrest Drive in East Moriches.
His mother Wendy Hammil, 44, found him at about 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, police said. CPR was performed on Mason until first responders arrived, police said. He was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead before being transported to Stony Brook University Hospital in critical condition, police said. He died on Thursday, officials added.
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His death is a heartbreak almost too unthinkable to grasp, especially because his very survival was a miracle: Born a twin preemie six years ago this October, Mason and his sister Olivia entered the world at 24 weeks, Hammil said.
“I never believed in miracles,” she said, until her little boy came home. “With only a 10 percent chance of even surviving, my Mighty Mason never gave up.”
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On his birthday last year, Hammil wrote on Facebook: “You have brought so much love to this world and you never give up on anything. You always know how to make your mama smile and the love you have for me is unconditional. You have the biggest heart and your beautiful sister Olivia Faith is always watching down on you.”
A GoFundMe, “Mighty Mason,” was set up on Wednesday by Hailey, Mason’s sister. “Any small donation made would be amazing to help my family with . . anything my family will need to get us through this rough time. Mason is the sweetest little boy and an even bigger lover boy who will give you the best struggles you have ever had. No matter what kind of mood you are in, he will always find a way to make you laugh and smile.”
Speaking with Patch, Hammil described her beloved boy. “Our precious little Mighty Mason, who loved life more than anything. His contagious smile and giggle the lit the room up when anyone walked in.”
Hammil said she, her husband Antonio, and their surviving children Tyler, 26, a police officer, Hailey, 20, a Marine, Alyssa, 16, a student at Westhampton Beach High School, Jaden, 4, Layla, 13 and AJ, 10, are rocked by loss.
“This is just absolutely devastating — a mother’s nightmare,” Hammil said. “I feel like I’m walking in a nightmare.”
The pain is all-encompassing, her days engulfed by tears. “It’s not day by day, it’s minute by minute,” she said. “The house is so quiet. He was my little puppet shadow. He followed me everywhere. All I would hear was, ‘Mama, Mama, can I have a snack? I need juice.'”
Reflecting on the miracle of his survival, only to have to lose Mason at just five years old, Hammil is bewildered. “To lose both of my twins? Why?”
In the last six years, Hammil said she’s known incredible loss. Mason’s twin Olivia died, and then, both her father and mother, her brother passed away, and she lost a dear friend in June.
And now, her precious Mason.
Her children are struggling to understand. She and her husband let their youngest boy, Jaden, who keeps asking for Mason and wanting to call him, sleep in their bed Friday night, to comfort him.
“He keeps saying, ‘Mason’s in heaven,'” she said. “He asked to call Mason so we put the phone up to his ear, and he told Mason he loved him, and couldn’t wait to start school and ride on the bus with him.'” Her voice filled with tears, Hammil said, “It breaks my heart.”
Describing Mason, Hammil said he was a little boy who stole the hearts of all who knew him. “His smile and his giggle were just contagious — he just lit up the room,” she said.
Mason loved water, the bay, the beach. He loved the singer Luke Combs, especially the songs “Beautiful Crazy” and “Fast Car.”
“When he passed, I put him in my arms and sang ‘Beautiful Crazy’ to him,” she said.
Music was a hallmark of their time together, Hammil said.
“He would say, ‘Mama, can you sing to me?’ I loved the way he danced. He put his hands on his hips and bounced. I can see it in my head,'” she said, her voice breaking. “It was so adorable.”
He also loved his family’s blue Jeep, trips to Costco, and his cherished iPad, watching Blippi, and Ryan’s World. When he was an infant, he loved being swaddled.
Mason, she said, always had hugs and kisses for the people in his world.
Her son, due to being born premature, was not disabled, but was small for his age and received services at his school to help him learn; Hammil credited the staff at East Moriches Elementary School for incredible changes and strides. “He never felt different from any other kid,” she said.
Whatever challenges he faced, Mason tackled with steadfast determination, she said. “Whatever he wanted to do, Mason would figure out how to do it on his own. If he wanted to go up a hill, even if it took him 75 times, he’d do it, with a smile and a giggle every time. He was beyond determined.”
His sister Alyssa was Mason’s world, his mother said. Even on the day he died, Mason woke up Alyssa at 6 a.m., excited about learning something new.
And he was close to his mother, joined by a bond forged during his earliest, precarious days of life.
“I couldn’t walk out the door without him saying, ‘Mama,’ and crying,” she said. “It’s going to be a very long road ahead. The house is too quiet.”
Mason, she said, also delighted his family with the hysterical things he’d say. “He’d say, ‘Holy mock-a-mole,’ because he couldn’t say guacamole,” she said. “He’s say, ‘Sissy, I need cash.'”
And his sister always gave him a dollar.
He loved playing with empty bags, and he loved eating, his face covered joyfully with the food he savored. He loved hummus and pretzels, mac and cheese, pizza, graham crackers, Skittles. “He absolutely loved eating,” Hammil said.
He also loved to say “ice cold lemonade,” Hammill said.
That’s why his siblings, in honor of Mason, will hold a “Mighty Mason Ice Cold Lemonade” stand at 17 Woodcrest Drive on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Mighty Mason became his nickname when he was in the neonatal intensive care unit, Hammil said.
Mason lived a life marked by happiness, his mother said. “If he had a simple meltdown because he didn’t get something he wanted, he’d stomp his food. But two seconds later, he’d be smiling. He was happy every day. Nothing fazed him. He loved life. I think he was a child who was just so appreciative to be here, after all that he went through.”
Looking back on the dark day that she lost her son, Hammil said they were both outside their East Moriches home. “I was power washing a rug outdoors and he was there, playing with me, water spraying everywhere, Mason giggling and laughing. He loved it, the dirt and water going everywhere.”
And then came the moment that changed their lives forever.
“I turned for two seconds to spray dirt off the deck. I turned around and he was gone. It was seconds,” Hammil said.
The pool had a gate but, somehow, Mason managed to get inside; she believes Mason, who loved to be dunked in the water, jumped from the top step.
“I screamed, ‘He’s at the bottom of the pool!'” she said. “I jumped in and grabbed him and Alyssa started CPR.” They immediately called 911 and Hammil also ran to get her neighbor, an EMT, who also performed CPR. The ambulance arrived and EMTs worked tirelessly to save her boy, Hammil said.
At first, there was hope; Mason was breathing. “He fought so hard,” she said.
But the odds were too steep: Mason was on a ventilator at 100 percent, he wasn’t urinating. “He barely had a pulse,” his mother said. When staffers at the hospital prepared him for a chest X ray, Hammil said, “His heart stopped.”
And although they hadn’t left his bedside once, at the moment when he passed away, they were outside in the hallway, she said. “We weren’t in the room,” she said.
Faith is helping her during the darkest of days, helping her to go on even though the pain is immeasurable, Hammil said.
“I believe there’s a heaven,” she said. “We tell Jaden that Mason’s twin Olivia needed him. His grandparents are there — Papa finally got to meet Mason for the first time and my mom got to be reunited with Mason. Even at the funeral home, we talked about it: God has a plan for you. We just don’t know what those plans are.”
Since the day he died, Hammill said she’s felt signs that her boy was with her: An iPad that went on unexpectedly. A butterfly.
Mason, she said, taught her how to live. “He was my child that made me learn so much more about being a mom,” she said.
A mother since she was 17, Hammil said she’s blessed by all of her children. But with Mason, there was an inexplicable and fierce bond, likely because of his prematurity and those early days, heavy with uncertainty.
“There was just something with Mason. Just the fact that I bonded with him in the hospital, skin to skin, for two to three hours a day,” she said.
Mason, too, was close to his father; he entered the world, so tiny, with their loving voices guiding him forward.
He gave his family their greatest gift “by surviving,” when he was born,” Hammil said. “He was a little boy that needed a little more attention, who just had a special place in everyone’s heart.”
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Antonio, Mason’s dad, also expressed his love for his son: “If I could, I’d tell him I’m very proud of him,” he said. “I’m proud of the man that he became in five years.”
While funeral services are not yet finalized, they will likely not be traditional, Hammil said. Instead, there will be a gathering at Newport Beach in East Moriches, near the bay that her boy adored, with a service at Eastport Bible Church. And there will be lanterns illuminated in the sky for her smiling, giggling Mason.
If she could speak to her little boy just one more time, Hammil tearfully shared words that are filling her heart: “I’d tell him, ‘I want to hold you forever in my arms and never let go.'”
To donate to Mason’s GoFundMe, click here.
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