Brief life of Michigan boy inspires torrent of giving

Jayden and Tom Lamb

(CBS News) MIDLAND, Mich. -- For a little boy's birthday party, it was a huge crowd. The boy's dad, Tom Lamb, and stepmom, Nicole, invited all of northeast Michigan to launch Chinese lanterns to celebrate what would have been their son's ninth birthday.

"I miss him so much," Tom says. "It's so hard. I just want him back."

Much of what so many people loved about Jayden Lamb can be seen in a home video. Although he had a rare form of cancer that attacked his central nervous system, he's seen lip-syncing a silly Christmas song, busting a Christmas move, right after a chemo treatment.

The kid had that kind of spirit. But it was his final words -- all his own -- that will forever stick with his father.

"He looked at me right in the eye and he said, 'I'm never going to get married, daddy,'" Tom says. "My heart sunk when he said that. I'm like, 'Why would you say that, buddy?' And he said, 'God needs me more.'"

"God needs me more" -- his last full sentence -- but the beginning of something truly remarkable.

Jayden Lamb's stepmother, Nicole, and father, Tom
Jayden Lamb's stepmother, Nicole, and father, Tom CBS News

A couple days after Jayden died, Tom and Nicole were in line to get some coffee when they decided, spur of the moment, to pay for the customer behind them in the drive-thru. It was supposed to be just a little, symbolic thank you to the community for being so supportive.

"We didn't think we were starting a chain reaction, that's for sure," Tom says.

But after posting it on Facebook, that's exactly what happened.

Waitress Sarah Mae Niemeyer got a $50 tip.

"It said, 'In memory of Jayden Lamb,' and underneath, it said, 'Merry Christmas,'" she says.

Jennifer Campbell got her entire layaway paid off. And at a Salvation Army kettle, an anonymous donor put in a diamond ring with a note that read, "Paying it forward Jayden style."

And those are just a few examples of what has become a phenomenon in and around Midland, Mich. Restaurant managers say they'll sometimes go 15 minutes without anyone paying for their own meal.

"It's an every day, all day kind of thing," says Sarah Mae.

A crowd gathered to release Chinese lanterns to celebrate what would have been Jayden's ninth birthday.
A crowd gathered to release Chinese lanterns to celebrate what would have been Jayden's ninth birthday. CBS News

Asked when they started to realize what was happening, Tom says, "I think when we went to lunch and we got our bill and it said zero owed -- pay it forward in honor of Jayden Lamb."

Full circle and now circling the globe. Through Facebook, Tom and Nicole are getting word of kind deeds being done across the country and around the world -- all in honor of Jayden Lamb, the boy who told his dad God needed him more.

"I've wondered that myself. Is this what God needed him more for -- a message of hope for humanity?" Tom says.

This holiday season, people have been asking themselves: How do you celebrate a holiday when so much has been taken? Well here, the answer is simple: Just give.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.