Carmen Faith Huskilson was just five years old when she died, but she's left behind a wake of generosity that is spreading in her community.
The little girl from Welshtown, N.S. died on Jan. 12 at the IWK Health Centre after spending much of her life in hospital.
At his daughter's funeral, Andrew Huskilson challenged people not to be broken by the loss, but to "do it Carmen's way."
"We can dig deep and instill the sense of her best traits in one another and make this a better place to live in her [name]," he wrote in his eulogy.
In response, more than 2,500 people have joined the Facebook page Paying it forward, in memory of Carmen Faith Huskilson.
There's been a steady stream of people commenting on the steps they're taking — from gifting toys to the IWK to local lobster fishermen donating the equivalent of a 100-pound catch.
"It's an outpouring of kindness. It's pretty inspiring … that little girl touched the hearts of so many people," said Erika Goulden, Carmen's primary teacher.
Huskilson says he expected small gestures, like picking up a coffee or shovelling a driveway, but he and his wife Jennie say they're overwhelmed.
"This is going a lot bigger than we thought," he said.
Local businesses respond
Following the appeal from Carmen's parents, the owners of TLC Pharmacy in Shelburne decided to gift people their purchases Friday afternoon after the funeral. The pharmacy paid for everyone's prescriptions and supplies, which totalled about $1,500.
Some people have committed to donating money to a memorial fund the family set up through Scotiabank. The family plans to use the fund to support a local health care initiative.
The Ship's Galley Pub in nearby Shelburne decided to donate the tips raised on Friday and the owners pledged to match them. In total, they raised $2,350 for the memorial fund.
Owner Laura Torak says the dining room was overflowing after a social media post about the plan was shared widely.
"One guy came in, bought a can of pop and left $100," she said. "We were slammed busy all day. People were just dropping twenties and fifties, it was just so overwhelming."
A funeral director himself, Huskilson says he wanted the community "in a very dark day, to find a way to feel better," something he says his daughter did well.
"I see the community broken. We've had some very bad times on the South Shore, and it leaves the community feeling empty," he said. "It was for them and our community to make it better, to get past it. Maybe it'll be a better place."
Strong and determined, despite illness
Before she was born, Carmen Huskilson was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia, or a hole in her diaphragm. Some of her organs compressed her lungs and heart, causing them to be underdeveloped. All her life she was more vulnerable to lung diseases, including the pneumonia that caused her death.
She spent eight months of her first year at the IWK and much of her life in and out of hospital in Halifax and Yarmouth — including 40 ambulance rides and several medevacs.
An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Carmen Huskilson was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia at four months. In the fact, she was diagnosed before she was born.Jan 18, 2016 2:54 PM AT