LEWISTON — Last month, Michelle James cried happy tears in the hospital when she learned that her 11-year-old son, Kaden, was surprising her with jewelry for Christmas. She was touched by his thoughtfulness.

The Turner woman had undergone 16 operations in nine months as doctors tried to fight off flesh-eating bacteria that started as a blister on her left foot.

On Dec. 11, Day’s Jewelers in Auburn gave Kaden earrings and a necklace after the staff discovered the polite boy with a bright blond Mohawk was window-shopping for his very sick mom.

She died 10 days later, wearing his gift.

“Kaden wanted her to have it on,” said Diane Trepanier, Michelle’s mother and Kaden’s grandmother.

Michelle James, 45, became sick last spring after what started as a blister quickly led to having her left leg amputated. More than a dozen operations followed. It was tough on her entire family, especially sons Kaden and Lamar, 13.

“She never got rid of the infection,” Trepanier said, noting that it had spread throughout her body and attacked her daughter’s lungs and brain.

After the Sun Journal wrote about Kaden and Day’s Jewelers’ surprise gift, a television station picked up the story. Trepanier was in the room with her daughter at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston when their story came on the news.

“She said, ‘What’s Kaden doing on TV, in court?’ She was very confused, so we had to explain it to her,” Trepanier said. “She started crying, ‘I can’t believe he loves me that much.’”

James was shown the gifts. Over the next few days, her health declined rapidly.

When the family knew they would be at her bedside for the last time, Kaden brought along the jewelry.

“The nurses put it on her,” Trepanier said. “She passed with her necklace and earrings on.”

The next day, Dec. 22, Trepanier’s granddaughter was at Day’s doing her own Christmas shopping and told employees about Michelle.

Assistant manager Vanessa Phipps said the store owner and staff had already discussed doing something for Kaden and Lamar, perhaps surprising them on Christmas Eve.

“When his cousin came in and told us the news, we were heartbroken,” Phipps said.

They quickly changed their idea to something “more of a remembrance of their mother,” she said: two necklaces, each with a cross engraved “Love, Mom” on the back.

The gesture was beautiful, Trepanier said, and caught the family by surprise a second time.

The boys are taking their mother’s loss hard. The family is trying to heal.

“It’s been a long year,” Trepanier said.

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