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A place to remember MJ Dyer: Smiley Aberdeen 11-year-old who left a legacy of love

His memorial bench sits in the spot where he enjoyed spending days out.

A Place to Remember 11-year-old smiler MJ Dyer.
A Place to Remember 11-year-old smiler MJ Dyer.

In a spot overlooking Deeside Golf Club where 11-year-old MJ Dyer once enjoyed happy days out, a memorial bench now stands in his honour.

Seven months on from his death, as part of A Place to Remember series, mum Mel pays tribute to her “gorgeous smiley boy” and shares with us the poignant story behind his memorial bench.

Longed-for firstborn

Matthew James Dyer – better known as MJ – was born on November 22 2011, the first son of Luke and Mel Dyer from Aberdeen’s West End.

A traumatic arrival, their longed-for baby boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, as a result of oxygen starvation at birth, when he was six months old.

“Initially we were just so relieved to have a baby to take home with us, such was the trauma we both went through,” said mum Mel, who begins a nursing degree in September.

Baby MJ Dyer shortly after his birth.

The former beauty therapist and her husband felt lucky MJ had survived the ordeal and were discharged believing everything to be okay.

“It was only when he wasn’t meeting his milestones and was struggling to thrive that it became clear that it wasn’t the case.

“Celebral palsy is an umbrella term, and within it there’s a spectrum of how much or how little a child will be affected by it. MJ was at the most severe end of that spectrum,” added Mel.

Infectious giggles

The reality for MJ was that although he was full of smiles and able to communicate what made him happy, he was never able to sit up unaided or to walk at all, would need to be fed via a tube, suffered muscle tone difficulties, and was non-verbal.

“He was really good at letting us know if he was happy. He had this amazing, cute, hearty giggle and his eyes were full of mischief.

Luke Dyer with his son MJ, who loved to be in water.

“MJ loved being at home with us, his sensory toys, especially his shaker, and being at school.”

At the age of three he started at Seaton Nursery, then moved on to Hazlewood School for primary one. This later merged to become Orchard Brae, where he continued his schooling until S1.

“Things did get more complicated as MJ got older,” said Mel.

Incredibly difficult to see him in pain

Diagnosed with epilepsy when he was five, it became a focus for the family.

“Of course we love sharing the beautiful smiley photos of MJ but the reality was that his needs were so complex, that some more worrying things like the epilepsy probably took a bit of attention off some other issues going on in his body.

“He was a brave boy because lived with a lot of pain. We always felt like he did understand more than he communicated. And sadly he did cry and would shout out. It was always difficult to see him hurting.”

Gorgeous boy: MJ Dyer who attended Orchard Brae School.

Both Mel and her husband Luke – who switched from an oil and gas career into nursing, inspired by his boy – came to accept that normal for their family was actually an incredibly difficult way of life.

“You absolutely normalise things. Looking back, he was our first, and so our life was just our life. We both worked and with the help of carers we just kept going.”

Special brotherly bond

But life did change for the family in “the most beautiful way” in the form of a new arrival, their second son Myles – a baby brother for MJ.

“He came bursting onto the scene in 2021 like a big ball of pure sunshine. And oh my goodness how we wish we had done it sooner because Myles and MJ just adored one another.”

The Dyer family, Luke and Mel with their sons MJ and baby Myles.

However, in March last year an operation to give MJ a baclofen plump – which the family hoped would help him deal with extremely painful muscle dystonia – resulted in a life-threatening septic infection.

As medics dealt with one infection another formed and the only way ahead was to give MJ complete gut rest.

“It became almost immediately clear that the way MJ’s gut handled food triggered his dystonia, so he had some of his most comfortable days ever experienced,” Mel added.

Treasured final memories

When the gut issues only intensified, a new medicine regimen was trialled, but by September Luke and Mel opted to give their son only less invasive interventions, hoping for increased quality of life.

They agreed to a different kind of feeding tube but by October he was deteriorating.

It was then Mel and Luke got to bring their beautiful boy home.

“But not before one incredibly special memory we all have to share,” said Mel.

“MJ loved the swimming pool, and hydro therapy. He just adored it. So when it came time to move to end of life care his doctors agreed not to put him on a syringe driver but instead to use other powerful medicines so we could make one final visit to the pool.”

Alongside two close friends the couple took both their boys for one last family dip.

Final moments captured just days before MJ, right, passed away.

“I can’t tell you how precious those memories – and the photo they captured – are to us now. I know MJ felt us there, and I know he appreciated that moment.”

He died in their arms

The family had five days together while MJ was coming to the end of his life.

“They were perhaps some of the most special days we ever had with him. We had family around us, and we each took turns lying with MJ, telling him he was loved.

Daddy’s boy MJ Dyer, with his father Luke.

“He had his eyes open the whole time – making the most of every moment until the end.

“He died in our arms on October 29th. Seven months ago.”

Celebrating MJ

Following Matthew’s passing his family held a celebration of his life at Baldarroch Crematorium.

His coffin was carried into the service by his dad and uncles, and, as she had done throughout her son’s life, Mel spoke on his behalf.

Mum Mel Dyer, with husband Luke and her two boys MJ and Myles.

“I felt he would want me to be his voice one more time; to share what he taught us, that the important things in life aren’t things at all… it’s about people and family. All you need is love really, he taught us that.”

Living a new reality

In the months that followed MJ’s death things “were often really difficult”.

MJ shared a birthday with his dad, so as a family they celebrated Luke’s 40th, then Christmas, without MJ.

“It just kind of hits you that there’s a new reality without MJ. All the firsts, all the milestones are so difficult. But we have tried to stay positive.”

The memorial bench to remember MJ.

To that end a family friend suggested a memorial bench may help the family journey through their grief by having a peaceful place to process their loss.

“One of my best friends, Susan, kickstarted it all. She knew we didn’t have the headspace for it. Susan and her mum put money towards it, and Luke’s colleagues from his ward also gave us money to do nice things with MJ before he passed, that we hadn’t been able to use. That also went towards the bench. ”

‘Brother bench’

And the spot chosen, overlooking Deeside Golf Course, is particularly poignant.

“There had been three benches there, and a space next to them. MJ and his carer Kim loved to go there and stop for a picnic.

“MJ’s bench now fills the space. It’s like it was meant to be.”

The Dyer family at their special spot where MJ is memorialised.

Because MJ wasn’t buried his family and friends use the bench as a way to visit MJ.

“I definitely feel connected to him there,” Mel said. “We like to run and sometimes I run out there and just spend time with him.

“Myles calls it ‘brother bench.'”

We were so lucky to have had him

A place where he can still hear about and be with his big brother, the bench is special for three-year-old Myles too.

“You know, when MJ was coming close to the end we explained to Myles that he was going to be a star in the sky. When we went on holiday we flew out in the dark and he got so excited to see his ‘brother star’.

Brothers forever, Myles Dyer and his ‘brother star’ MJ.

“It was really beautiful. There are times when we just want to cry, of course. Learning to live without our oldest boy is hard. But remembering them together on the sofa, and seeing Myles every day, means we get up and we keep going.

“We’ll keep sharing the message of Matthew’s life – that the simple things are what matter most. And from time to time you’ll see us on his bench, smiling, remembering how lucky we were to have had him.”