POPE COUNTY, Ark. – It has been one year since a Pope county teen wandered away from a home and drowned in a pond.

Carson Tanner, 15, lived with special needs. His family says he was legally deaf and legally blind.

“This is Carson reaching out up to heaven,” Robert Mikkelsen says pointing to a piece of artwork that was done in Carson’s memory.

Mikkelsen was Carson’s step-father.

While Carson couldn’t hear or see, his radiant smile was all the communication that was needed, according to Mikkelsen.

In the year since Carson’s tragic death, Mikkelsen and Carson’s mother Stephanie have found smiling harder to come by but find a way to make it happen daily.

“I think we’ve learned to laugh more and to appreciate more,” Mikkelsen says.

“I think that’s really the main takeaway.”

In the weeks after Carson’s death — and in his honor — the family helped round up 300 teddy bears from the community and donated them to first responders — to give to kids.

Stephanie has partnered with the NADSP or National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, which helps care for people with special needs. She’s is also two weeks away from getting her Master’s degree with an emphasis on special needs education.

So she’s become active in that, and that’s become very therapeutic for her,” Mikkelsen says.

“To me, it’s absolutely phenomenal that she didn’t miss a stride.”

Mikkelsen admits the family has become more sensitive and guarded but also has learned to appreciate the present, just like Carson did with a Teddy Bear in tow.

“I thank God every day. I do,” Mikkelsen says.

“I have been tremendously humbled by this.”