“Grief is wave after wave of firsts”
Chloe Sexton knew when she lost her mother to brain cancer in April there would be difficult times ahead. But loss colors life in unexpected ways.
“We thought May would be the worst month,” Sexton said, “It’s Brain Cancer Awareness Month, it was my mom’s birthday, it was my baby’s first birthday, and May has always been a special month in our family. We really thought that would be the worst.”
But the month of July came with its own painful circumstances. Chloe’s younger sister, Charlotte, faced her 8th birthday, the first without her mom.
Their mother, Jennifer, had been battling brain cancer for most Charlotte’s life. The constant stain her health meant that Charlotte’s birthday was a small celebration.
“My mom was generally pretty sick and tired and had done radiation and chemo five and six times each,” Sexton explained. “There just wasn’t a lot of room for her to party plan.”
Chloe threw herself into planning the perfect birthday party for her little sister. All she really wanted was for her sister to have a day of happiness and a reprieve from grief. Chloe sent out invitations to Charlotte’s entire class, the response was devastating.
Chloe turned to social media in tears, “My little sister turns eight tomorrow. Her birthday party is going to be this week. Our mom died of brain cancer 83 days ago. One. One child from her class RSVP’ed,” she said in a now-viral tiktok “Her whole class knew what happened, ok?”
@chloebluffcakes Just go to the birthday party youre invited to 🥺 #birthday #grief #kids ♬ original sound – Chloe
Her story was shared worldwide and the sisters quickly received an outpouring of support from hundreds of kind strangers. Chloe’s P.O. box has been “packed to the brim” with birthday cards and well-wishes. Dozens of families in the area messaged Chloe asking if they could come to the party, every single was happily invited.
“I had a family from Australia face-timing me asking what Charlotte liked and what they could send her,” Chloe said.
Chloe made sure to keep the details of the party under wraps. “I didn’t tell [Charlotte] anything about the kids not coming. I only focused on who was coming,” Chloe said, “So I told her, you’re going to meet a lot of new kids today. And it’s going to be amazing and you’re going to have the best birthday of your life, I promise you.”
“On the day of the party, kids just kind of showed up. Parents I had talked to just kept filing into my house and I was like, ‘Welcome!’,” she said. “We had our garage and yard full of people. It was a packed house.”
The flood of new friends wasn’t the only surprise in store for Charlotte. The highlight of the party came in the form of Gracie the pony, who’s owner drove from Mississippi to Tennessee just to be there. The 22-year-old horse got all dressed up with pom-poms and glitter decorating her mane. All the kids got a chance to ride on Gracie and feed her treats.
The party even reached the ears of a reptile wrangler who brought a selection of snakes and lizards for the kids the meet and learn about.
Chloe was ecstatic, the party was more than she could have hoped for. “It feels like it became something that was so much more than a birthday party,” she said.
“My sister went to therapy this morning, actually, and something that she had said was, ‘None of the day was sad. It was all very, very happy. I do wish that mommy had been here, but it was so, so happy.’ And that’s all that I was really looking for was it not to be a day where she was focused and sad on what she wasn’t going to have because mom was gone,” she said.
While the party may have been a celebration of Charlotte’s birthday, it meant just as much to Chloe.
“I think it changed my life. I think it saved something in me, which is that, it can be isolating in itself to be on social media and to never actually meet the people or see the people who comment on your life and on your grief. It can feel like none of it’s real,” she said. “And this was the first time that I ever really saw people all over the world see an opportunity to show me that they cared about me and … to make it happen so that I didn’t feel alone.”