"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," Chloe Sexton says in her now-viral TikTok video, tears in her eyes. "Her whole class knew what happened, ok?"
Chloe is 20 years older than her little sister, Charlotte. She's always been like a second mom to her. But when their mom died in April, she became her guardian.
Their mom battled brain cancer for most of Charlotte's life, undergoing five surgeries over 11 years. So, Charlotte wasn't accustomed to celebrating her birthday with a big party. Chloe wanted to throw her a big one for her upcoming 8th birthday.
"Grief is wave after wave of firsts," said Chloe, who also has a baby of her own. "The month of May is her birthday, my baby's birthday and Brain Cancer Awareness Month. So, I thought the worst of the firsts had come. But my little sister's birthday, I hadn't anticipated how much that would hurt."
Charlotte had to move to a new school when her mom died. Chloe sent out birthday invitations to Charlotte's new classmates and was disappointed by the response.
She made a video explaining what happened – just one kid RSVP'd – and posted it on TikTok. "If a kid in your child's class gives out birthday invitations, just come. It's like an hour of your life," she said.
Chloe explained that she was trying to make all the decorations for the party herself. "It's not that I don't want to do it, it would just suck less if kids in her class even wanted to come," she says in tears.
The video quickly went viral, and now has 9.1 million views. TikTok users started conversations in the comments, coordinating with each other on how they could help out.
Those who figured out they lived near the sisters in Memphis started to contact Chloe. "The most help that I got locally, I started getting through Instagram," Chloe said. "So, fellow moms who were finding out they lived in the same city as me said, 'I have a kid the same age as Charlotte. Can we come to the party?'"
Chloe said she got at least a dozen of those types of messages. She said yes to everyone.
Another woman messaged to say she has a horse named Miss Gracie, who she offered to bring to the party for pony rides. "I said yes," Chloe said. "Pretty much I just kept saying yes, so it became this enormous party."
She said the most helpful part was that women were offering to come to her house and help set up the party.
Charlotte had no clue what was going on behind the scenes. "I didn't tell her 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."
Charlotte's party had a horse, pool, water slide, wall of balloons and a line of cars down the block. People showed up just to drop off presents. Charlotte said the party was even more beautiful than she could've imagined, Chloe told CBS News.
"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.
It may have been Charlotte's birthday, but the party meant a lot 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."
for more features.