Mom, places sandbox at his gravesite so son can spend time with lost sibling

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This was posted previously but for reasons known only to Internet geeks, in the space of a month several people saw it online and wrote me about it. I believe it’s worth a second read.


Some of the items that go “viral” on Facebook most people would sincerely wish wouldn’t. But occasionally, like Ashlee Hammac’s tribute to Ryan, her son who died at five days, are so overwhelmingly life-affirming that they spread balm on hurting families around the world.

The first picture you will see is of her other son, Tucker.

Three-year-old Tucker is playing in a sandbox added to his brother’s grave, times that Ashlee Hammac says Tucker cherishes. She told People magazine’s Kelli Bender that her first thought was to decorate Ryan’s gravesite with glass pebbles but came to see that Tucker “needed his own place to mourn.”

“The more I thought about it, the more I wanted something my other son Tucker could be incorporated in,” Hammac told Bender. The Lake City, Florida, mother filled a sandbox with blue sand and trucks placed in front of the baby’s tombstone so Tucker can spend time with his little brother.

“He always goes out there with me, and sits out there, and sings lullabies, and talks to him just like he was there,” Hammac said. “So I wanted it to be special for him too. His favorite thing right now is trucks.”

When Hammac first posted a photo of Tucker playing in Ryan’s sandbox, there has been “an overwhelming outpouring of support from other mothers who have lost children,” Bender writes. Hammac “says the virtual response has been particularly moving given her own difficulty in finding an outlet for her grief when Ryan passed away. “

Ryan was born in October 2013. He died five days later due to Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephlopathy. Bender explained what HIE is and Hammac’s refusal to allow death to have the last word.

“HIE is a brain dysfunction that occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain. Hammac and her family have now committed themselves to raising awareness of HIE through their new nonprofit Pages to Memories, an organization that donates supplies to neonatal intensive care units and provides emotional support to struggling families.

“’I wanted to help. I wanted other people, because I know it wasn’t just me, to have someone to talk to…to have a place they could depend on,’ Hammac explained. ‘And I wanted to feel like Ryan was helping still, because in those five days he changed our family so much.’”

I won’t rob you of the experience of reading the story in full. Let me conclude with the last paragraph in the story:

“Hammac says what’s most important to her is that Ryan continues to be a part of her family. For now, in Tucker’s sandbox, Ryan’s spirit endures.”