A Canadian mother will be heading to India to watch the premiere of a film inspired by the story of her seven-year-old son, who got to celebrate Christmas in October before he died of a terminal illness.
The town of St. George, Ont., came together in October 2015 to throw a parade — complete with artificial snow and Santa Claus — for Evan Leversage, who had an inoperable brain tumour and had asked his mother for one last Christmas. His mother, Nicole Wellwood, worried her boy wouldn’t live until late December. He died on Dec. 6, 2015.
Evan’s story is being adapted by Indian filmmaker Srijit Mukherji in a movie called “Uma.”
Mukherji said he came across a news article on Facebook about Evan’s final Christmas and was instantly inspired.
“This act of incredible humanity moved me to tears and immediately I decided to tell his story to a greater audience,” Mukherji said from Kolkata.
The film tells the story of Uma, Mukherji explained, a girl with a terminal illness who wants to travel to Kolkata to see Durga Puja, a religious festival with the Hindu goddess Durga that takes place in the fall.
But it’s March and Uma’s father gets in touch with an out-of-work filmmaker who recreates the festival with the help of his film crew.
Mukherji, an award-winning filmmaker, said he wants Wellwood to be part of the experience, which is why he’s invited her to attend the film’s opening festivities in early June in Kolkata.
“I think in these times of violence and hatred all across the world, Evan’s story is a kind of incredible exception,” Mukherji said.
About a year ago, Mukherji reached out to Wellwood, telling her about the movie he was working on.
She was skeptical and dealing with the emotional fallout from her son’s death. But Mukherji kept updating her along the way.
“I eventually believed him,” she said. “He has a huge heart. I see that through my conversations with him. He’s truly inspired by Evan.”
The film will conclude with a slide show about Evan when the credits roll.
News of the film came at a rough time for Wellwood.
She had been dealing with anxiety and major depression following Evan’s death. Her life was devoted to him, taking him to hospitals, doctors, MRI appointments, and everything that comes along with a sick child, staying on top of his symptoms, she said.
“That was my life. Then was all gone. It was wiped away,” Wellwood said, tearing up. “I didn’t know who I was. I was lost.”
She found herself trying to survive by the minute, unable to look far into a future without her son.
“There was some days where just breathing was the best I could do,” she said.
And the Christmas holiday was a difficult time.
“Christmas is not a happy memory,” she said. “It’s that reminder that it was Evan’s favourite holiday.”
But the film has re-invigorated Wellwood, she said. She has turned her attention to the future and her two other sons.
She has finally put away the big Christmas tree — the one Evan helped decorate in 2015 — in order “to make Christmas special again.”
“That tree almost became Evan,” she said.
In early June, Wellwood will make the trip to Kolkata to watch the premiere of “Uma” before its theatrical release. Mukherji said the film is slated to appear at three film festivals in Canada later this year.
Wellwood and Mukherji are also hoping to bring St. George together one more time to watch the movie in the park where Evan’s bench sits.
“I’m happy and so ridiculously proud of Evan,” Wellwood said.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press