'There’s still good in this world': Bereaved mother's random act of kindness goes viral

·Senior Editor
The birthday girl, left, and the card explaining why her cake was paid for. (Photo: Twitter/KyleJauregui)
The birthday girl, left, and the card explaining why her cake was paid for. (Photo: Twitter/KyleJauregui)

After anonymously paying for a stranger’s birthday cake to honor the memory of her own daughter, a bereaved mom’s act of kindness has gone viral.

“There’s still good in this world,” tweeted Kyle Jauregui, brother of cake recipient Madison Jauregui, who turned 11 on Dec. 27.

In the tweet, which has since been shared more than 61,000 times and liked more than 206,000 times, Kyle shared a photo of his sister with the cake and the card from the do-gooder, Ashley Santi. “So today is my sister’s birthday and when we went to pick up her cake someone had already paid for it. It was left with this card… my family was speechless and we just want to say thank you to McKenna’s mom and wish McKenna a Happy Birthday.”

Santi, 33, of Scottsdale, Ariz., had explained in a card left with the bakery that her own daughter, McKenna, had died at just 9 months old, and that Dec. 27 was her birthday. “Dear birthday girl family,” she wrote, “In honor of my daughter’s 10th birthday I have chosen your birthday cake to pay for. Each year I do this random act of kindness because I am unable to buy my daughter a cake of her own. Today is her big double-digit birthday. Please enjoy your day.”

Along with the greeting card, she left a signed business card explaining her gift further — this one from the Kindness Project, which is a part of the MISS Foundation, a national support organization for parents who have lost children. Through that card, Santi was found on Facebook by a family friend of Kyle’s, who then put the families in touch. They all plan to meet each other on Saturday.

“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Santi tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They seem like such an awesome family… And it’s gotten to where it’s not so incredibly painful to be around kids McKenna’s age.”

Her daughter, she explains, died in a horrific accident. “I was moving a television and it fell on her,” she says, “so she died of traumatic brain injury.” Speaking out to other parents about the dangers of furniture tip-overs has been helpful for her, she explains, adding that the support of the MISS Foundation has been paramount to helping her work through her grief. “I don’t think I’d be here without them,” Santi says.

Mom Ashley Santi and her daughter, McKenna. (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Santi)
Mom Ashley Santi and her daughter, McKenna. (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Santi)

Santi says that she goes to a bakery counter every year on McKenna’s birthday and asks to pay for a cake that’s already been ordered. “It’s always kind of comical when you explain what you want to do,” she says, as people don’t immediately grasp that she’s trying to buy something for a stranger. And while the recipient is usually “pretty random,” she says, “this one just happened to be close to McKenna’s age.”

Kyle, 23, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he went with his sister — as well as their mother, brother, father, and grandmother — to pick up the birthday cake, and that they were “shocked” when the woman behind the counter said it had already been paid for. “We were extremely moved by it,” he says. “We were really thankful and we wanted to reach out to express our gratitude.” His mother, in particular, he says, “really wanted to give [Santi] a hug, from one mom to another.”

Santi, who has no other children, says she enjoys doling out random gifts with the Kindness Project cards several times a year — paying for meals at restaurants, buying Starbucks gift cards and asking baristas to pass them on, and sometimes buying movie tickets, which she usually has to hand off face-to-face, though she prefers the anonymous approach over seeming like she’s looking for recognition.

“It’s just something so special that I do,” she says. “It makes you feel like it’s going to brighten someone’s day, and they’ll get a chance to meet a little girl who’s awesome and amazing.” Plus, Santi explains, passing on kindness in McKenna’s memory shows that “we all matter — she was here, she existed. And in the past nine years she’s impacted so many people’s lives.”

MISS Foundation founder Joanna Cacciatore tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she started the Kindness Project after losing her own daughter Cheyenne, who was stillborn, and impulsively buying toys to donate to underprivileged kids in her honor. She realized it was a healing experience to carry on her daughter’s memory while being kind to others and has brought that message to those she now serves through her role as a psychologist and grief counselor.

“Grief is a very inward focused experience,” she explains. “You can’t imagine that anyone — in the history of the world — can know the depths of your pain. But at some point, our heart softens and turns outward and we start to see others again.”

Making that connection through such acts of kindness, says Cacciatore — who is currently in the midst of fundraising to open a care farm to help serve the traumatically bereaved through animal therapy — can be powerful. “It helps to soften the edges, stay connected to the child you’ve lost, and remember that child in a tangible way. It also reminds others of the finitude of their own lives and the lives of those they love… And how much more likely are we to cherish every moment we have with those we love if we fear it will be the last?”

Thinking about that all the time would be paralyzing, she says, but staying in occasional contact with that reality, Cacciatore says, gives us perspective. “It helps grieving people, it helps others, and it helps soften the space between the two.”

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