BY AMANDA COLLINS BERNIER
Pictures of little Easton adorn the walls of Ryan and Melissa Malone’s Wilbraham home. Typical first-time parents, they captured it all: beaming in the delivery room, a trip to the beach as a family of three, and baby’s first Halloween.
There’s a sparkle in Easton Marc’s eyes and his mouth is open, grinning, in most of the pictures. The happy baby was almost always smiling, Melissa recalls, even on the day he was born.
That infectious grin and joyful spirit is how the Malones will always remember their baby boy. Little Easton passed away unexpectedly in November at just four months old.
“Wherever he went he brought a smile to people’s faces. I know everyone says that about their baby – but really, people everywhere couldn’t help but smile at him,” said Melissa. “He warmed everyone’s heart. He was so happy, so laid back.”
Everything about Easton was easy, in a meant-to-be kind of way. The Malones found out they were expecting just a couple months after their wedding, and Melissa’s pregnancy smooth and comfortable. Baby Easton arrived, healthy and perfect, on hot evening in July.
It was just days before Thanksgiving that Melissa got the phone call at work – Easton, who was at daycare, had stopped breathing in his sleep and had been rushed to Baystate Medical Center. He was revived shortly, but he did not survive.
Even through the blur of grief, the couple remembers the kindness of the medical team who cared for Easton.
“They were amazing,” Melissa said of the staff at Baystate PICU. Their gestures on that day – cutting a lock of Easton’s hair and making imprints of his hands and feet – have given the couple cherished reminders of the baby boy.
The Malones keep those precious treasures in Easton’s nursery, a grey and mint green room accented with elephants. The animal, which Easton dressed adorably as for Halloween, has become an important symbol for Melissa. Since Easton passed away, she’s noticed that she sees elephants everywhere.
The Malones started Elephants for Easton to help spread his infectious smile to other children and families in the hospital. Putting the word out on Facebook, they hoped a few people would donate stuffed animals that they could deliver to hospitals on what would be Easton’s first birthday.
But, they arrived by the herd. Boxes of plush grey elephants were dropped on their doorstep day after day, eventually taking over their living room. They came from people all across the country; family, friends, and complete strangers.
The Malones spent the days leading up to Easton’s birthday attaching tags with his smiling face to more than 300 donated elephants.
“It’s unexpected and overwhelming, but it makes me feel so good to know that so many people are seeing his face,” Melissa said.
The Malones plan to collect and donate stuffed elephants every year for Easton Marc Malone’s birthday, July 6. To find out how to donate, go to Elephants for Easton.