Little Arteen Mosaferi had been counting down the days until he was 5 and could go to school.
His birthday was on Friday, but instead of it being a day of fun and celebrations, it was one full of dread and sadness for his parents.
Arteen, 4, and his 10-week-old brother Radeen were killed when the car they were travelling in with their parents was in a crash with three other vehicles including two truck-and-trailer units on the Desert Rd near Waiouru on Good Friday.
Arteen died at the scene. Radeen died from his injuries two days later at Starship hospital. Their mother, Dr Mohadeseh Sharifi, was taken to Waikato Hospital with critical injuries. She has since been discharged and is recovering.
She and the boys' father, Siamak Mosaferi, described celebrating Arteen's birthday without him as one of the hardest days of their lives.
"It was our little Arteen's fifth birthday, but we had to spend the day without his happy energetic presence, without seeing his beautiful face and cheeky smiles, without hearing his excited voice and without being able to feel him, to hold him and cuddle him," his parents told the Herald.
"Never in our wildest, scariest, most awful dreams could we ever believe that life can be so dreadfully cruel to take away such a simple wish from our gorgeous loving little Arteen and make the happiest day and anniversary of our lives into such an awfully difficult and heart-achingly sad day for us.
"There are no words to describe the deep ache and pain in our hearts, and nothing would ever make it any better for us."
Instead, wet eyes and fond memories were all Arteen Mosaferi's friends, family and teachers had as they celebrated his milestone birthday at his Hamilton childcare centre without him on Friday.
It was the first time his parents had been back to Kindercare Learning Centre on Peachgrove Rd since the tragic accident and they thanked the staff for a beautiful ceremony.
"It made the day so much more bearable for us being among people who knew and loved him," the parents said.
"Going through such a horrible, tragic disaster, the only thing which gave us hope and a reason to hold on to this cruel life was the amazing love and support we have received from so many people, from family and friends to neighbours, hospital staff, work colleagues and so many other people who can not all be named here."
Ever since Arteen's death, the teachers at his daycare had planned a memorial service for him. Centre director Tiffany Burley said last Friday - Arteen's fifth birthday - felt like the right time.
Staff, 70 children and about 10 of Arteen and Radeen's close family friends gathered for morning tea to remember the boys and celebrate Arteen's birthday.
Their mother and father took birthday cake for the other children and they all sang to him together, Burley said.
"They came into the centre. That was pretty hard as it's the first time they've been back to the centre since the accident. It was quite hard for them to come back to the centre where he spent most of his time."
A group of children from nearby Insoll Avenue School performed a karanga as a rose tree was planted in the boys' memory.
Arteen's father planted a white Iceberg rose near the entrance of the centre where the little boy spent his time riding bikes and building things.
In memory of the boys, Arteen's teachers placed a stone by the plant with the boys' names and the date their young lives ended.
Arteen had been attending the centre since he was 2.5 years old and 3-month-old Radeen had been due to start at the centre a few months after the accident.
Burley said Arteen was happy boy with a beautiful smile and big brown eyes who loved riding his bike and constructing things.
"We just wanted to plant a tree so we could look back on happier times and remember all the fun stuff he did at the centre."
Arteen was interested in architecture and would often be found building at the carpentry table or building train tracks or aeroplanes with plastic building bricks, she said.
"Any different things that connected together, he would be there. You could walk into the room and you would definitely find him making something ... He had quite a good imagination."
Arteen was always laughing and loved playing with his friends, she said.
"They all remember him as sharing, always being nice and giving him things to play with.
"He liked to have fun with his friends and a laugh with his friends, but he also had a sensitive side where he liked to give the teachers cuddles as well."
The service was a way of also helping everyone move forward because the entire centre - staff, children and their families - had been affected by Arteen's death, Burley said.
"It was a hard day. There were tears of sadness and tears of just remembering the good times we had as well."
A 70-year-old truck driver has been charged in relation to the crash and is due to go on trial in November at Taupo District Court.
Parents' hearts ache for son
"Friday was one of the hardest days of our lives, a day we had dreaded for months, a type of day which we can not wish for any parent to go through. It was our little Arteen's 5th birthday, but we had to spend the day without his happy energetic presence, without seeing his beautiful face and cheeky smiles, without hearing his excited voice and without being able to feel him, to hold him and cuddle him.
Since he got enrolled in our local school, he used to ask us every single night how many more sleeps till I'm 5 and can go to school? We would explain to him he has many more sleeps to go, thinking of the months ahead. Never in our wildest scariest most awful dreams, could we ever believe that life can be so dreadfully cruel to take away such a simple wish from our gorgeous loving little Arteen and make the happiest day and anniversary of our lives into such an awfully difficult and heartachingly sad day for us. There are no words to describe the deep ache and pain in our hearts, and nothing would ever make it any better for us."
Mohadeseh Sharifi and Siamak Mosaferi