The Little Boy in the Portrait

IN MEMORY of my son Andy Dunbar January 22, 1972 - October 24, 1977 Gone but never forgotten My Andy

In 1977, I lost my only child, a son, age 5, in an accident. To those who have lost a child, you know the feeling of depression, loneliness, and heartache so intense. I was not coping very well even two years after his death. I had clammed up with family and friends, knowing they would never understand what I was living with every day of my life. I didn't want to live with the pain.

My son's room was closed off after his death, untouched from the day of the accident. It still held all his toys, his favorite little red rocking chair, clothes, everything he had played with. His toy box was filled with Tonka trucks. He had picked out his own carpet the year he was three. Orange was his favorite color, so his room had a two-tone orange/rust color.

Andy was born on my 26th birthday on Jan. 22, 1972. I waited five long years to have a baby, and I think we all know the joy of holding our child when we want one so bad. Andy looked like me, exact same face. Only I called him my munchkin. He was a giggly, happy go lucky baby. I own my own business and took him to work with me daily. I never let him out of my sight.

Andy was born with a callous on this thumb, from sucking his thumb inside my womb. And he proved it the minute he was born, with his little thumb in his mouth. As he got older, nothing I said or did would make him stop sucking that one thumb. He had a blanket which he named, "Mr. B." He'd wrap Mr. B around his hand so no one could see him with his thumb in his mouth.

Finally it came time for him to start school. This was something he wanted and something I didn't. I didn't want him away from me. That first day of kindergarten, it was mom who cried, and Andy telling me everything was going to be ok, just go home and don't forget to come get him in two hours!! I was a weepy, stumbling mom as I walked out of that school with him looking at me through the glass door, with his "thumbs up" sign.

Andy was different. He had a way with people. Some used to call him a little saint. He cared about people. He always helped people. I used to make up bedtime stories for him, or type made up stories for him, which he loved. All the stories had a reason, a meaning behind them, so by storytelling, he also learned.

I used to work in a mall. I had a cotton candy stand in one mall in Michigan where I used to live. It was Christmas, that last one Andy had with me in 1976. There was a fountain in the center of the large mall. My stand was near the fountain. Many shoppers used to sit on the cement railing that circled the fountain and rest or just hang their feet. One day, Andy had walked over to the fountain. I could see it, it was about 40 ft. From where my stand was. A lot of shoppers were sitting on the cement ledge. I got busy, and a few minutes later, looked up and saw a whole LOT of people all in a circle on the one side of the fountain. Everyone was quiet, listening. I snuck out of my stand, and got as close as I could and I saw Andy kneeling before two elderly ladies. One was in a wheelchair and one was on a walker. Andy was talking to them. People had hankies, Kleenex and were wiping their eyes. I couldn't figure out what was going on, so I stepped between the people with my "Excuse Me's" and I saw Andy on the floor with the two ladies. I said pssst, Andy, and he looked up at me and I motioned him with my finger to "come on". The lady in the wheelchair looked up at me among all those people and she said, "Is this your child?"

I wasn't sure right then if I should say yes or not, but I nodded yes. She was wiping her eyes with a hanky. And then she looked up at me from that chair and said, "All my life I've been crippled, I've never walked, from polio. I always felt I was cursed. But now I know I'm not. Because your son just told me how special I am, and that God made me this way for a purpose."

I didn't know what to say and Andy looked up at me and said, "Mom, you always told me that people in wheelchairs are God's special people, and I just KNOW this lady is."

The lady looked back at him, smiling and crying both, put her hands on both sides of my son's head and kissed him and said, "No honey, YOU'RE one of God's special people. Because of you, I know that these old legs aren't so bad after all."

Everyone clapped, and a man raised Andy in the air, and everyone cheered him, and he looked at me with the biggest grin in the world. After he and I were in my booth and I said, how come you told that lady all that you did. He told me that he "knew" she was special and she was sad, and it was Christmas! He just wanted to tell her that he knew she was special, that legs weren't the only thing that made people. That was my Andy.

In the mall was an old man, Max, who owned a center card shop. Andy knew all his employees because the card shop was right in front of where I had my cotton candy stand. Max was a grump. He many times came over to me and told me to "Keep your kid here with you." I tried, and tried and I told Andy to stay away from Max. And all Andy said was, "Mom, Max likes kids, he just doesn't know it yet."

On Christmas Eve that year before the mall closed early, the card shop employees were having their Christmas party. One of the girls came over and asked me if Andy could walk the 20 feet to their stand and join in the party. Knowing Max and the way he was, I didn't think that was a good idea so I said no. About 10 minutes later, here comes Max, with slumping shoulders, and a mean look on his face. And I will never forget what he said. "Can Andy come to our party, he has a gift waiting for him?" I about fell over. I looked at Andy, and he said, "Mom, say yes, say yes."

I laughed and said, "OK." I watched as he ate cake and had a cold drink, I watched as he watched the employees open their gifts from each other, and I was looking when Max reached up on a shelf and handed Andy a big bag. I had no idea what was in the bag. I saw Andy peek into the bag, and everyone in the mall could hear him as he screamed out, "Oh thank you Max, I knew you weren't a SCROOGE!" And Max was smiling. I walked over to the card shop, and Andy proudly presented his gift from Max, a big hard cover book on animals that Andy had been eyeing for a few weeks. I looked up at Max, with a tear in my own eye and he was grinning from ear to ear as he said, "There's something about this kid of yours. I didn't want kids hanging around my shop here, but he wouldn't quit. And he called me a SCROOGE!" Andy was grinning from ear to ear as he hugged Max's leg and looked up at me and said, "See, mom, I told you he liked kids, but he just didn't know it."

Andy was one of the most gentle children I have ever seen. He wanted people to be happy. He hated sadness. Just before he died, I picked him up from school and I always listen to country music, and a song titled "Roses for Mama" came on. He sat quietly in the truck listening to the song as I drove home. The song is about a little boy five years old whose mama died, and the little boy is in a florist shop trying to buy roses for his mama's grave but he only has a dime. A kind man told the florist to give him what he wanted and as the man was driving out of town, saw the boy kneeling at a grave. He had ordered flowers to send to his own mother on Mother's Day, but went back to the shop and told the woman, don't send them, I'll deliver them in person myself. When the song ended, I heard a sob come from Andy and I looked over at him, and I will never forget the words he said to me "Mom, I'm so glad you're not dead, and I'm so glad we have each other. I don't want to be that little boy with no mama."

Little did I know, in less than a month, I would be a mama without her little boy. On October 24, 1977, I was working in my kitchen. Andy wanted to go outside in the fenced in backyard and something told me not to let him go. I didn't understand WHY I felt like that, it was a warm fall day, sun was shining. Matter of fact, he and I were going out after supper that night to go "wish shopping". I used to take him out that time of year. We'd look in the stores in the mall, and he'd let me know what he wished Santa would bring him. It was a big event and I looked forward to it as much as he did.

That day, my dad was due out on the property (we had an 80 acre farm) and he had promised Andy he'd paint his red wagon orange, bright orange. Andy LOVED the color orange. He once told me God had made a mistake when he made the grass green, and I said, how come? And he said, "Because it would REALLY be pretty if the grass was bright orange." He even used to take his apples, and use his water paints and paint them orange, then look at the apple a while, then we'd have to wash it all up so he could eat it!

He had his tricycle in the yard and he had his wagon "tied" to the back of the bike. He wanted to go out in the yard and watch for grandpa. He didn't know my dad had already arrived and had used our back drive way. He didn't know my husband was out back behind our big barn, getting ready to cut down a large tree, making way to clear land for a new barn we were going to build. Neither did I.

The last thing Andy said to me when he went out the door was, "Mom, Grandpa is here." Nd out he ran. I went into the wash room to throw a load of clothes in the washer. He next thing I heard my dad screaming my name "Call an ambulance."

I didn't know who for, or even what for, but I dialed and told them to get one out to my place fast. I looked up and saw my dad running, with my husband and my husband was carrying Andy. I remember screaming, not even knowing what had happened. The tree had fallen the wrong way, fell into our property instead of into the woods and had struck my son. I remember screaming and screaming his name as they brought him into the house. I collapsed on the floor, but screamed. "give him to me." I was holding my son when he took his last breath. I lost the dearest person to me in my life. I lost my future. I lost my mind.

For the next two years I didn't cope well at all. I didn't care about anything, life, people, nothing. I just wanted to be MOM. I wanted a child so bad. When I had Andy the doctor told me I did not conceive easily and chances were very slim I'd ever have another child. In January of 1979 I adopted Amy, my daughter at 48 hours old. In 1981. I had one more son, Randy. I'm "mom" again but I'm mom to 3 children. When people ask me, "How many kids do you have?" I always say, "Three, but one died as a child." Some ask how? Some say nothing. Sometimes I don't even want to tell them what happened.

At Andy's funeral, his teacher came to the funeral parlor. Miss Evans was her name. And as I was falling apart, she held me and told me something I will never forget. She said no matter what she did in the classroom, Andy always told her she was really good, but his mom could do it better. She told me he idolized me. She told me she'd never seen a child so young brag about his mom. And I'm a mom who will never quit bragging about her son.

Andy ~ May his light forever shine!

Sharon Bryant

About Me:

I am Sharon Bryant. I am almost 58 years old and I reside in Alabama. I'm originally from Michigan but have lived in the south for eleven years now. I have always loved to write since grade school and had hopes years ago of one day writing professionally. I never dreamed I'd write about the things I do today. I lost my child in 1977 when he was five years old and I write articles on bereavement, poetry, and now have a website for bereaved parents and online support to help those who have to walk the road that' I've had to walk.

I am a chocolate/candy maker and have my own chocolate shop in a historic state park. I am also a wood crafter and knitter.

I like to read, play scrabble, cook, work with my scroll saw, paint, and create crafts for my shop. I really love working with chocolate and creating truffles, and all kinds of candy.

I write for 2theheart, Storytime Tapestry, Angels on Earth, Warm Fuzzy Stories, Hugs From the Heart, Illustrator, and my own online support called Whispers of the Heart.

I am married to a wonderful man, and have two remaining children, a daughter 25, Amy, and a second son, Randy, age 22.

My main goal in life is to help those who have lost a child. The road is long and hard, and it is my hopes that through writing, I may be able to help someone who is hurting from this tragedy. My website is: Angels Remembered My poetry site is: Poetry site for bereaved parents He bought the little plant for me just to say "I love you." It cost him one dollar. How proud he was when he handed it to me, and how proud I was to receive his gift. It had three little leaves on it. I promised him I'd take care of it the rest of my life. I've kept that promise for the past twenty-seven years.

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