Carrie Peterman says that birthdays were always an important day for her daughter, Madison. She and her husband would take Madison out of school for the day and enjoy all sorts of celebrations. After April 13, 2009, however, celebrating Madison’s birthday became more difficult for the family. On that day, Madison, her grandmother, Sandy Peterman, and her friend, Hannah Davies, were killed when a propane truck collided with their vehicle. Mrs. Peterman had pulled over on the shoulder, possibly to let the girls watch the firefighting efforts at the Hampton Inn, located on Route 1 just north of Milford.
“I don’t remember much about that day, but I remember gathering in the chapel,” Carrie said.
For the past five years, the Peterman family, along with many of Madison’s friends, have gathered at the cemetery on Madison’s birthday to celebrate her life. They tied notes to balloons and released them, symbolically sending messages to Madison in heaven. As the fifth anniversary rolled around on what would have been Madison’s 14th birthday, Carrie said she knew she needed to do something different. Last year on March 25, Madison’s birthday became a celebration of her life through encouraging the community to perform random acts of kindness.
“I just kept seeing the faces of her friends at the cemetery, they were always so sad,” Carrie said. “I did not want to keep making Madison’s birthday a sad day. I wanted a way to celebrate her life, not dwell on her death, and that is what I felt like we were doing. I talked to a family member and they suggested that I dedicate her birthday this year to doing random acts of kindness because that is exactly what Maddy would have wanted. I loved the idea, and I just ran with it.”
Carrie began posting the idea on Facebook for friends and family. The response was instantaneous and overwhelming, she said. “I challenged family and friends to honor Maddy with random acts of kindness,” Carrie said. “When she passed, Madison had a white board in her room that said ‘Love, Kindness, Hope,” and that was how she lived. She was a very giving and kind child who loved Jesus more than anything. She would say to me “I love you, Mom, but I love Jesus more.”
Carrie says she often hears of the negative aspects of social media, but that the extensive reach it provided her for the celebration of Madison was beyond anything she expected. “Originally, only people who were friends with me on Facebook could see my challenge until a few people asked me to make it public,” Carrie explained. “I honestly think it went viral as I received comments and posts from Canada, California, the Carolinas, Virginia and so many other places.”
On the inaugural celebration last year, the Petermans performed their own random acts of kindness in honor of Madison as well. “Madison had a ‘Betsy’ doll that she carried with her everywhere,” Carrie explained. “She took it on family vacations to Jamaica, to the movies, when she visited friends, just everywhere. After she died, that doll became my connection to her, and I began carrying it with me everywhere, almost having a panic attack if I couldn’t locate it. I had a connection at Milford Hospital, and we purchased 15 Betsy dolls and took them to the Emergency Room.”
Carrie explained that when children come into the ER, they are often frightened, so the staff often gives them stuffed animals or toys to calm them. The dolls were fitted with identification bracelets, like children would be given as a patient. In addition to the dolls, Carrie said they paid for lunch for two families at Bob Evans and placed white roses randomly on vehicles in parking lots. In addition, they handed white roses to people who appeared to be having a bad day. The family also donated 15 “My First Prayer” books, which the hospital placed in the chapel.
“To me, that was part of the Center of God’s Will,” Carrie said. “Because I do remember gathering in the chapel that day, it just felt like God wanted those books there to comfort families who are going through something similar to what we went through, and continue to go through.”
Carrie is very open with her grief through social media, and says that some people are upset by that. She says that she wants everyone to know that losing a child is a life-altering event that never goes away, and she is not ashamed to admit that she still struggles with the loss of Madison.
“One thing that keeps me upbeat is Maddy’s Mission Fund,” Carrie explained. “After she died, I didn’t want a ton of flowers sent to the funeral home and the house. I asked that people donate to our church to use for missions. Maddy was very involved in missions, and we were actually planning a mission trip when she died. We had taken several family trips to Jamaica, and we had decided we should go on a mission there to help others.”
Carrie says that Madison participated in mission drives and even held yard sales to raise money. With that money, the family was able to take a mission trip to Jamaica in 2010 where they told stories and sang songs about Jesus and worked in a local church. The family is currently trying to turn the Maddy’s Mission Fund into a non-profit organization in order to continue the Random Acts of Kindness Day and purchase the bracelets created in honor of Maddy that read “Love, Kindness, Hope.” Carrie said there were many acts of kindness posted to her Facebook page that day.
“A lot of people donated to veterinary hospitals and clinics, because Madison loved animals,” Carrie said. “One family donated funds so that a child who was going to have to drop out of dance could continue, because Maddy loved dance. Someone donated so that a family could stay in Ronald McDonald House while their child was hospitalized. The one that really got to me was a woman who took coffee to an area in the woods in Lewes, known as Tent City, where a large population of homeless live.” Carrie says she was unaware of the homeless area, and hopes the word will get out because of her challenge to family and friends. Milford resident, Ed Huey, was one who participated in the event.
“I saw many random acts of kindness that day,” Ed said. “People dropped off snacks, lunch and even gift cards to local businesses at the police station. But probably the best was people simply being kind to each other, holding doors, people saying thank you, even a car waiting for another to make a left turn into a parking space before moving on. Those, I think meant even more, and really did a lot to honor Madison’s memory.”
Just as the Peterman family hoped, the success of the first Random Acts of Kindness Day has evolved into an annual event. This year Random Acts of Kindness Day will be celebrated by the Milford community on Wednesday March 25 as individuals and families are asked to simply do something kind for a stranger, friend or neighbor.