Joanne Cacciatore’s daughter, Cheyenne, was stillborn in July 1994. She says it was the worst day of her life.
Photo via Joanne Cacciatore, used with permission.
She briefly held her baby girl in her arms, but that was all the time she’d get with her.
It was then that Cacciatore decided to dedicate her life to helping parents like herself deal with grief.
But first, she had her own grief to contend with. She says in the months that followed, she couldn’t stop crying and found parenting her other three children to be an impossible task.
That Christmas, which would’ve been Cheyenne’s first, Cacciatore took the money she would have spent on presents and did something a little different with it. She bought a bunch of toys for underprivileged kids through a local charity.
"And in that moment [Cheyenne] was very much alive, because my love for her continued, and I was able to enact that love in the world," she told Yahoo! News.
That’s when she first became aware of the immense healing power of giving. From there, she started The Kindness Project.
The Kindness Project asks grieving parents to do good deeds in their communities in memory of a lost child (or parent, friend, or spouse).
They then leave behind a small note card so the recipient can channel their gratitude toward the deceased and know that person’s life and death continues to matter.
All photos provided by The Kindness Project.
Cacciatore says so far, over 2,000,000 acts of kindness have occurred because of the project around the world.
There’s Kamaria McDonald, who donated toys, baby supplies, and more to a domestic violence shelter in honor of her late-son, Dane.
There’s young Mackenzie’s mother, who paid for and left two giant stuffed animals for some unsuspecting kids at a Kohl’s in memory of her daughter.
A first-grade class in Richmond, California, wrote kind notes to their neighbors in honor of Teddy, a young boy who died of cancer.
Michael’s mom donated basketballs to her local community center in honor of her son, who loved to shoot hoops.
And then there’s Ann, whose story has stuck with Cacciatore for many years.
Ann tragically lost her baby, Joshua, to sudden infant death syndrome. One day, at one of her favorite restaurants, Ann stumbled across a young pregnant woman enjoying a baby shower. In her grief, it was almost too much to bear.
Ann headed for the door, feeling confused, overwhelmed, and inexplicably angry at this complete stranger. But "she paused, took a deep breath, took out a Kindness Project card, wrote Joshua’s name on it, pre-paid the bill of the shower party in full, and called me weeping," Cacciatore wrote in the book Techniques of Grief Therapy.
It was a painful thing for Ann to do but an important step in her healing process.
The Kindness Project’s Facebook page is flooded with incredible stories of giving — from cups of coffee to massive donations.
As beautiful as it is for a stranger to experience an unexpected act of kindness, the project is really about parents finding constructive ways to heal.
"While these good deeds do not eradicate grief, nor should they do so," Cacciatore wrote, "They do provide a means through which the mourner can redirect painful emotions into feelings of love and compassion and hope."
Losing a child is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Cacciatore just hopes that all of that pain and suffering won’t be totally in vain, and we remember that every life deserves to be remembered, no matter how short it might be.