A desperate young mother is pleading with the public to help her find something irreplaceable that was lost during a recent trip to Disney World: the ashes of her late son, Gabryel.
During a trip to Disney World in late April, a small stuffed elephant containing the ashes of a little boy named Gabryel were lost, leaving his mother, Iowa resident Liz Atkinson distraught, unable to sleep, and desperate.
The light blue stuffed elephant toy, lovingly named “Bruce,” was originally given to Atkinson’s son, Gabryel, when he was a newborn in intensive care after his birth. Bruce the elephant stayed by Gabryel’s side through more than 50 surgical procedures performed in an attempt to save his life. Sadly, Gabryel did not survive.
“He slept with it every night, and since his passing, my husband and I have had it in our bed with us,” Atkinson said. The young mother also explains that after Gabryel passed away, his ashes were placed inside a pouch that’s sewn onto Bruce’s back. In remembrance of Gabryel on his birthday, Atkinson says that she and her husband took their surviving son, Sebastyan, to Disney World. It was only natural that Bruce accompany the family on their trip to the parks as well.
“Bruce, of course, was brought on our trip, and a small bag of our son’s ashes was inside the pouch on Bruce’s back,” she wrote in a post on Facebook. “The trip was a bit hectic with three different cities and hotels, and grief-brain kicked in at some point with all of the emotions, making me really struggle with simple memory tasks.”
Gabryel’s mom says that during the family vacation, they first stayed at the Beachside Resort in Cocoa Beach. They were there from April 22 to April 24. Atkinson says the family went parasailing while at Cocoa Beach, and she remembers seeing Sebastyan, her son, holding Bruce.
“This is where the trip gets hazy in my memory due to emotions and grief,” Atkinson said. “Thinking back, I don’t recall Sebastyan bringing [Bruce] back to our vehicle.”
On April 24, the family spent the day at Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort. Then they were at the Palazzo Lakeside Hotel in Kissimmee, Florida, until April 25.
The young mother doesn’t recall carrying the stuffed elephant toy to the hotel that day. She says Bruce was normally packed in a suitcase, but that didn’t happen as the family had been parasailing. It wasn’t until April 25, when the Atkinson family checked into Disney’s Art of Animation Resort that they realized that Bruce was missing–Bruce and the irreplaceable pouch of her late son’s ashes. They stayed on Disney property until April 30.
“Because vehicles get messy on trips, I kept thinking maybe he was just mixed in somewhere,” Atkinson explained in her post. “[It’s] very unlike me; I know where everything is 100% of the time, even on trips (thank you, grief), but once we got home May 1, I searched EVERYWHERE. Every bag. He’s gone.”
Atkinson says she is “completely desperate” and hoping in earnest that the family is able to be reunited with Bruce and the very precious cargo he carries on his back.
She says she has called every location the family visited during their trip. She has even filled out a lost and found form with Disney World, but Bruce is still nowhere to be found, and the loss is taking a toll on the already grief-stricken young mom.
“I feel sick, struggling to sleep. I’m desperate,” she said.
Atkinson says the stuffed elephant could have been dropped or fallen out of their vehicle in the parking lot near Cocoa Beach Parasailing or at the Palazzo Hotel. Bruce might have even ended up on the ramp to the Orange Parking Garage at Disney Springs–if he fell out of the family’s car somehow. Gabryel’s mom can’t believe her grief would have such an effect on her that she would leave the toy accidentally.
“I never in a million years would’ve thought that struggling with grief would have impaired my memory enough to forget him somewhere, and I tried very hard to make sure he was always in a bag or in my arms so this didn’t happen,” she said.
Atkinson is reaching out and sharing her story in the hopes that someone who visited one of those places during the same time–or perhaps since the family was there–might recognize Bruce and take the first steps in getting him back home with his family. She says anyone who might know where Bruce is can contact her via Facebook.
Bruce the elephant is light blue in color and features a red “heart” or “pulse” on his chest. He also carries a pouch on his back where baby Gabryel’s ashes. We’re hoping and praying along with the Atkinsons that Bruce is returned safe and sound.