Is a Graveside Sandbox Tribute Imaginative or Inappropriate?

Let’s get a little business out of the way. First, I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a child. I can’t because I never have. So I pass no judgment because no one can understand that kind of grief unless they’ve experienced it. In addition, I don’t think there’s anything funny about a mother having to bury her child. It’s a heartbreaking gut-wrenching tragedy that no one should have to experience.

But when I read the recent story in People magazine about 24-year-old mother Ashlee Hammac, I didn’t know what to think.  At five-days-old, Hammac’s baby boy Ryan passed away from a rare disease called HIE, which causes a lack of blood flow to the brain. Already the mother of a 3-year-old boy Tucker, Hammac wanted to make Ryan’s grave a place that Tucker could visit. So she built a sandbox on top of baby Ryan's grave so he would always be a part of the family.

When I read the story, my first thought was how odd it was to have a sandbox on top of grave. I couldn’t help but think that a three-year-old playing at a cemetery borders on inappropriate. I wondered what I would do in the same situation. When a family with young kids faces a tragedy of any kind, it must be challenging. No matter how sad, kids still need and want to play, laugh, and keep on being kids.

That’s when it occurred to me just how remarkable Ashlee Hammac was to make her baby’s death a celebration for her other son. The truth of the matter is, I don’t know if I would do the same. I don’t think I’d have the guts or the foresight to recognize that very sad things can happen and that our kids still need life to go on. I’m touched that she so kindly thought of her older son and how to keep him happy while connected to the sadness his family endured.

I’ll always remember this story and how this young mom managed her own grief to keep her son’s life as pain-free as possible. By giving her son a place to play at his brother’s grave, she made her little baby’s short life something to celebrate rather than a tragedy to be endured. Baby Ryan’s death will define this family forever. But how wonderful and thoughtful of this Mom to make it define the family with joy rather than just sadness. What a good lesson for us all.