Ethan Taylor is putting on a brave face but his grief-stricken eyes give him away. They are haunted with the image of his mother drowning.
Suzanne Rowse, 47, gave her life trying to save her son.
It was a hot, blustery afternoon in Opoutama, on the Mahia Peninsula, when Ethan, 11, asked his mum to take him and a friend swimming on Sunday.
The boys bounded into Blue Bay while Rowse watched from the shore.
They got caught in a strong undercurrent that dragged the boys further out. Scared, they yelled for help.
Rowse dived into the waves without giving her own safety a second thought, her partner of 22 years, Aaron Taylor, said. "She's my hero, she saved my boy."
Australian surfer Ross Shields was alerted by a screaming boy, and he and Isaac Shaw pulled Rowse out of the waves.
The incoming tide meant they had to keep moving further up the beach while Shields' wife Fiona performed CPR until Mahia emergency services arrived.
Ethan and his friend watched in horror as the resuscitation efforts failed. Rowse was pronounced dead at 2pm.
"It was like a bad nightmare, but I was awake," Shaw said.
Shields couldn't stop thinking about whether he could have done more. "It's just a tragedy . . . I feel sorry for the kid, left without a mother."
Police said the drowning was similar to when a 22-year-old and 7-year-old died trying to rescue a young girl at nearby Whakaki.
Yesterday, Rowse's family sat around a kitchen table with a box of tissues and a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
They looked down in disbelief at the bay that was one of her favourite spots.
Ethan didn't say much as he sat at the local bed and breakfast that had opened its doors to family members arriving from around Hawke's Bay.
"It's just horrible. I thought she'd be alive for a lot longer."
Aunty, Angela Rowse, worried that Ethan blamed himself for the accident, and said family would all be there for him when reality hit hardest.
Rowse's mother, Marilyn Te Paa, said she was struggling to think she would not hear her eldest daughter's raucous laugh, but realised how close they were to losing three lives.
Rowse, a care worker, would do anything for anybody. "She was selfless," eldest son Jamie said. She was a doting mother and grandmother to his 3-year-old son.
Taylor would fondly remember their last Christmas together, when they tucked into Rowse's homegrown potatoes.
She was proud of herself, but not as proud as she was of Ethan, who topped his year 6 class last year.
- The Dominion Post