Earlier this month Alyssa Josephine O’Neill, 18, made what appeared to be an everyday kind of request — she asked her mother to take her out for a pumpkin spice latte the following day.
But her request turned out to be anything but everyday.
O’Neill died the next day, Sept. 4, of an epileptic seizure…and she never got her latte.
“There isn’t a protocol for when you lose a child,” he tells the Erie Times News. “We didn’t know what to do or how to do it. But we knew that lying in bed and crying didn’t feel good. We wanted to feel good and honor Alyssa’s memory.”
So the O’Neills decided to try and fulfill the last thing Alyssa asked for — if they couldn’t get her a pumpkin spice latte, they’d get them for other people and try to pass the kindness forward.
Two days after Alyssa’s funeral, her family went to a Starbucks in Erie, Pa., their hometown, and bought lattes for 40 strangers — all O’Neill asked of the store manager was to pen an #AJO hashtag with a purple marker (her favorite color) on each cup in his daughter’s memory.
The Starbucks staff didn’t merely comply; they went over the top, donating an additional 50 lattes in addition the the drinks the O’Neills purchased.
“It just kind of exploded at that point,” O’Neill recalls. “We had somewhat of a following, but nothing like this.”
The “it” Alyssa’s dad refers to? A viral movement that’s not only keeping her memory alive but also raising awareness about epilepsy — and the #AJO juggernaut has reached beyond Erie.
“It was just random acts of kindness. People have been paying others’ Christmas layaways and buying meals,” O’Neill tells CNN, adding that his daughter’s initials have practically become a verb. “People are saying, ‘I got AJOed this morning,’ ‘Have you AJOed today?’”
The proof of its reach is evidenced by posted photos from Mexico, Germany, Afghanistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Iceland, South Korea, and other far-reaching lands paying forward the #AJO message:
The night of Alyssa’s viewing was also the night of a football game at McDowell High School, from which she graduated just a few months ago. Alyssa was a cheerleader at the school, and her family showed up at the field before the viewing…and the stands were filled with students wearing purple.
“The family walks in … the place goes silent. The band stops playing and teams do not take the field. The family walks up to the student section, all painted in purple, and ultimately gets a standing ovation for 15 minutes,” family friend Mike Gallagher told radio station WCTL.
“My wife and I have said the words ‘amazing,’ ‘awesome,’ and ‘magical’ more than we ever have in our entire lives. We never thought it would spread like this,” Jason O’Neill told Today.com. “We’re still in disbelief, and every time we think, ‘There’s no way they can top this,’ something more amazing happens.”
A first-semester student at Penn State Behrend, Alyssa hoped to become a nurse and help others with epilepsy.
In addition the Facebook page, the O’Neills launched the AJO Forever Fund to assist families of children with epilepsy and add to a scholarship fund for local cheerleaders looking to go into nursing.
Check out this report from WTAE-TV:
(H/T: Daily Mail)