After the funeral of her 3-year-old son, Patti Murabito did what she had to do: the laundry.

And then she, husband John, and their three girls began life without Johnny.

"You're dealt the cards you're dealt," Patti says. "It's what you do with the cards."

What the family does now is help kids at the Ronald McDonald House in Camden.

In 2006, the Murabitos outfitted a bedroom there in the theme of Johnny's beloved SpongeBob SquarePants. And on May 4, they donated $35,000 for a new toddler playroom, the combined generosity of their family and hundreds of their friends, neighbors, and business associates.

The yet-to-be-designed "Johnny's Clubhouse" will feature a tree house theme. "When a kid walks in," John Murabito says, "I want him to light up."

The playroom is "a wonderful way to celebrate and remember their son's life," says Teddy Thomas, executive director of the house, which serves 1,500 seriously ill children annually.

John Murabito, 45, hails from South Philly. He and Patti, who's 43 and grew up in Ewing Township, Mercer County, own Ribbons Express Inc., a Cherry Hill computer and printer supply firm.

A stylish and down-to-earth couple, the Murabitos are raising Gianna, 15; Nicolette, 13; and Gabrielle, 12, in an enormous house in Mount Laurel. Whatever a home for tragedy looks like, this isn't it.

"Everybody told us, 'This doesn't happen to people like you,' " Patti says.

On Nov. 9, 2005, the entire family, along with Johnny's godparents, was vacationing in Naples, Fla. "It was a wonderful occasion," Patti says. "Everything was perfect. Johnny was perfectly fine."

They went to bed in their hotel suite and were awakened at 1:50 a.m.

"He was standing next to the crib. He had never jumped out of the crib before," Patti says. "I picked him up and put him in bed between John and I."

Shortly afterward, they heard their son exhale, long and loud.

Then he exhaled again.

"I said, 'Pat, he doesn't sound right,' " John recalls.

They turned on the lights.

"His eyes were rolling back," Patti says. "He was turning gray."

They summoned Johnny's godfather, a physician, and called 911.

"I just knew," Patti says. "I honestly felt it, the moment he left this earth. I knew."

At the hospital, she adds, "they worked on him for about an hour, and it was like you see in a movie: They come out, and they tell you, 'We're sorry.' "

Johnny's heart had stopped, for reasons unknown. The autopsy found nothing - no signs of insect bites, food poisoning, or toxins.

"My son was never sick," John says.

"Never sick," says Patti.

Their eyes fill up, but they keep their composure. They've been coping with this loss for a while now.

"It's like a cut, a really bad cut," Patti says. "It's really deep, and for the first three months, it just continues to bleed, and then it gets a scab, and now, once in a while, it comes off. It's just part of who I am."

Doing something tangible, such as contributing to the Ronald McDonald House, certainly helps.

"The pain we go through - not having him - I don't ever want another parent to have to go through that," Patti says. "At the Ronald McDonald House, the families are in a wonderful place to be together while their child is getting treatment. We were never given that chance."

The Murabitos also plan to buy a house in Orlando for Crossing the Finish Line, a charity that offers cancer patients and their families places to get away for a few days.

"We know enough people and have the means to do something. We don't want to just go through life and not make a difference," Patti says. "And it's easy not to make a difference, because today turns into tomorrow turns into the next day."

Plans call for the Ronald McDonald playroom to be open by Sept. 1.

As for Johnny's own room in Mount Laurel, Patti goes in there sometimes. Just to sit.

"I haven't touched anything," she says. "All his stuff. I haven't touched it."

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.