When Inverurie tot Dylan Findlay suddenly passed away, his mum turned to art and nature to stay connected to the 22-month-old.
What Alison Findlay didn’t realise was that painting Dylan’s favourite television characters on pebbles could lead to his memorial stones being taken all over the world.
Now, just four months since she began leaving Dylan’s stones at the top of Bennachie, 400 painted pebbles now exist in more than 50 countries.
Inspired by her little boy
“When Dylan passed I was left in a bit of a limbo. I never worked after having him because he had health challenges. So I was just sitting in grief wondering what to do,” said Alison, who is wife to Robert and mum to Niall.
“I’m quite creative and I love Bennachie, I feel close to Dylan there. So I started painting his favourite characters on pebbles from our garden and leaving them up there.”
When she returned to the spot a few weeks later some of the stones had been taken.
“At first it upset me. I thought ‘who on earth would take something that’s there to remember a child?’ But then my friends said in lockdown people were painting stones and were encouraged to take them to pass on.”
With that in mind, Alison went to work painting her first dedicated batch of pebbles hoping others would do the same for Dylan’s stones.
In June she started her own Instagram page (@Dylans.stones) so she could share the story of where they ended up.
To her amazement, it captured the imagination of friends and family then people from all over the world.
“I was gobsmacked – and still am – whenever anyone sends me a message or tags me in a photo of one of Dylan’s stones somewhere far away. They’ve made it as far as China and New Zealand!”
Bubbly blonde Dylan was born early on May 4 2021. Attempts to insert a feeding tube in his nose revealed a rare health complication: tracheo-oesophageal fistula (TOF). A condition affecting one in 5000 children, it prohibited Dylan from swallowing.
At just two days old he received life-saving surgery leading to three months in hospital.
The family split their time between their boys and despite all his challenges Dylan was a happy, confident little boy. Though there would be repeated hospital admissions, some more serious than others, he was rarely without a smile.
“Full of beans” he loved to run, play on the slide, and spend time with his brother.
In April 2022 Dylan was fitted with a tube to feed him directly into the stomach. He managed to start eating small amounts orally.
“For most of that last year he didn’t need any hospital stays. And because he hadn’t been unwell recently, doctors allowed us to go on holiday. Both the boys love superheroes so we booked to go to Disneyland Paris in March.”
The day they arrived Dylan started vomiting, which isn’t unusual for children with TOF.
“By the evening he was exhausted. We put him to bed early but his breathing became rapid.”
It took hours for a doctor to get there, and then Alison and the GP had to perform CPR on Dylan until paramedics arrived.
Sadly he couldn’t be revived.
Dylan passed away while on holiday, on March 13.
Lost without him
“We’re still a bit lost. I think we always will be,” said Alison. “The stone painting was a way for me to do something for Dylan. Niall gets involved too so it keeps him connected to his little brother.”
From those first stones left at Mither Tap the family now take them anytime “they go somewhere nice”.
“I stood back one day after I had put one down and watched as a lady picked it up, read it to her daughter, who then gave it a wee kiss before taking it with her.
“That means so much to me that Dylan is being thought of all over the world.”
Spanning the globe
Now in more than 50 countries the pebbles feature images of rainbows, kids’ characters and other imagery connected to Dylan on the front. The reverse then explains what to do.
“Basically we ask people to take stones with them, take a picture and post to Instagram tagging us in. They then leave them there for others to find. I now number them so I can track the journey of the stone.”
Painted pebbles have so far found their way to Qatar, Niagara Falls, Tokyo and have even been to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
‘I hope Dylan is proud’
“A lady reached out asking if she could take one to the Enchanted Forest. I sent her one with Iggle Piggle on it. She messaged to say her daughter was the same age as Dylan and also loves the Night Garden character. It’s like Dylan’s helping me know what to paint and where to leave them,” added Alison.
A man from Glasgow who recently lost his wife also got in touch to ask if he could emulate the idea for his late partner.
The project has become more than a hobby for Alison.
Sparking her artistic passion once more she now started a business via her Facebook page Dylan’s Hand-painted Pebbles. Unlike Dylan’s Stones which are free, Alison has developed a range of products and makes bespoke items too.
“I’ve been so touched by the support I’ve received. And it’s been lovely to create stones that people leave on graves, or in memory of loved ones. I’ve even done pet portraits.
“Once again, Dylan has given me a reason to get up in the morning on the tough days. I hope he’s looking down and is proud of me.”