The generous spirit of an 8-year-old Longmont, Colorado, girl who recently succumbed to bone cancer continues to inspire legions of supporters to perform acts of kindness in her honor.
Maddy Grayless, one of Brian and Jessica Grayless' six children, was described by her parents as curious, energetic and wise beyond her years. "She was very grounded," Brian said. "She was so engaged with life every day."
But perhaps more than anything, she was known for her kindness. "She was one of the kindest souls I've ever known, and I don't just say that because I'm her mother," Jessica told TODAY.com. "She was just very tenderhearted."
Maddy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma June 2, and doctors told her family she had only weeks to live. One of her dying wishes, according to her mother, was to make a difference. But as it turns out, she already had.
"A lot of the memories that her friends' mothers shared with me over the last week were about how she was the only one who was nice when someone was having a bad day, or how she would be friends with everyone, and include people on the playground who were sitting alone," Jessica added. "One little boy in her class, his favorite memory was the day that she got between him and a bully. She was a little girl, but she was pretty feisty. She had this very acute sense of injustice and unfairness, and she couldn't stand to see people get hurt. She was always a defender of the underdog."
Added Brian, "She stood up for people. She could tell when something was off or wrong. She could tell when somebody was sad, and she would comfort them."
Right around the time of Maddy's prognosis, members of her church group named themselves Maddy's Mighty Minions, and started performing acts of kindness in tribute to their friend.
Before long, supporters and total strangers from around the world were posting their good deeds, ranging from donations and surprise gifts to gestures that didn't cost a penny but were full of emotional value.
"We were able to show her, while she was still [healthy] enough to watch, what people are doing with her name," Jessica said. "It was a help during that time, because it helped her to know that that wish wasn't going to be unfulfilled."
While it wasn't Maddy's idea to launch the good-deeds campaign in her name, her father says her spirit inspired thousands to make it happen.
Every gesture meant something special to the Greyless family, but two came to mind when the parents were asked about the topic Monday.
"There was a person who paid for groceries behind them," he said. "And that person paid for the groceries behind them. No big deal, right? But that person whose groceries were paid for was a lady whose husband was sick, and really needed that blessing. And that, to me, is what these pay-it-forward things are really about."
Jessica was also moved by Samaritans who'd read about Maddy's life and let that frame the way they gave back.
"Someone saw a hiking picture of her, and made a donation to Colorado Trails," she said. "Somebody else saw what had happened and directly made a donation to [a regional] children's hospital, which was where she was diagnosed. I've seen a few who have donated to a humane society, because our little girl loved animals. Those to me are especially touching because they had taken the time, even though they don't know us at all, to read about that little girl and know what she would have liked them to do."
Maddy died on June 16, just two weeks after her diagnosis. A day before Monday's funeral service, Jessica gave Brian a Father's Day card that Maddy had made for him six weeks ago.
"My heart just exploded with emotions," he said. "The card was a little teeny paper pocket, and three little slips of paper of things that she wanted to do for me. And that was typical Maddy: She was always thinking about serving people, and always being kind to them. It broke my heart in one sense, but at the same time, it's another special gift from her that she created."
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