Tucker Howard was born with multiple heart defects and had to undergo surgery when he was a child. This Elmo toy was beside him through it all, until his end.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 4, 2019. It has since been updated.
There's nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent to outlive their own child. One Tennessee mother experienced an incredible moment when a toy that belonged to her toddler, who died 10 years ago, was returned to her 12 years after it was lost. For a parent who has had to outlive their own child, even the slightest reminder of how their baby can bring back the pain two-fold. But for Candy Scarbrough, it felt more than a coincidence and thinks "it was almost like a message.” It was a piece of her toddler returned to her.
Candy Scarbrough said that her son, Tucker Howard, who died in 2009 at age 3½, had an Elmo stuffed toy which he lovingly called "Melmo". The Sesame Street character was with the young boy even when he was in the hospital for surgery related to his heart. It was a hand-me-down from his older sister, said PEOPLE.
When a tattered Elmo doll lost a decade ago found its way home to Candy Scarbrough, she felt like she had a piece of her son back too. https://t.co/2MNspiqUN1— Good Morning America (@GMA) September 27, 2019
“All my kids were Elmo kids, so yeah, he was pretty special to us,” Candy said, adding that after Tucker suffered a stroke, the bright red toy was one of the things he responded to. The mother told Good Morning America (GMA) that he even had an "Elmo chair in his room and he carried Elmo everywhere he went."
Born in 2005 with multiple heart defects, little Tucker underwent many surgeries and eventually died due to a stroke in 2009. However, during his short life, he was like any "typical kid". His mom did a photoshoot of her son to immortalize him, and his favorite Elmo toy was part of the shoot in a JC Penny studio in 2007. Unfortunately, the doll was left behind.
"It was awful! [Elmo] was old and scruffy, so I couldn’t just go to the store and buy a new one," Candy told PEOPLE. "I think I ultimately ended up finding one maybe on eBay to try and replace it. I called the studio and whoever answered said that they didn’t have it, so I just gave up on that." She told GMA it was "devastating".
Without her knowing it, Candy Scarbrough's son's favorite toy carried on his legacy for more than a decade after his death.— WTHR.com (@WTHRcom) September 28, 2019
Now, Elmo is back home. https://t.co/ChSFOJF8EK
She was reminded of the toy's importance in her son's life when her mother showed her a photo of Tucker that even she didn't have. The photo encouraged Candy to post about her late son on Facebook, something she does a few times a year. What followed next was a positive twist of fate.
Megan Flanagan, a photographer Candy knows, responded saying she used to work at the same photography studio in the West Town Mall in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2007, when Tucker's photos were taken.
"Candy and I met through mutual friends in Knoxville," Flanagan told GMA. "When I saw her post, I saw pictures from the studio I worked in, and she wrote that on the day of the pictures the Elmo was lost. I thought, 'This is too much of a coincidence.'"
Flanagan had found the toy years ago and used it to make kids smile. She even took it with her when she started her own business as a photographer. Eventually, the toy came full circle back to Candy.
When Tucker's mom got the bag she opened it up and the intense emotions washed over her. "I just couldn’t help but smile. I guess it’s almost like a piece of my son was coming back to visit. I’ve said that it was almost like a message," she said. The day the toy was returned to her was one day short of what would have been Tucker's 14th birthday.
Once she had the toy, she posted on Facebook, "I feel like I'm in some kind of Toy Story scene. 😂 Today I'm celebrating the day Tucker was born with allllllllll the feels. How has it been 14 years? Thank you, Megan, for making my heart smile BIG on this special day. Our family has been touched more than you will ever know."
This was a gift her family can never forget.