Thousands of strangers from around the world are rallying around three siblings who lost both of their parents within the span of five days.
Their heartbreaking story spread online last week after the siblings — Oliver, 13, Hannah, 18, and Luke, 21 — shared a photo of their parents’ final goodbye at a hospice in Merseyside in the U.K. Nurses at St. John’s Hospice pushed their beds together so Mike Bennet, 57, and his wife, Julie, 50, would be able to hold hands one last time.
“It was a really unique situation,” family spokesperson and friend Heather Heaten Gallagher told CBS News. “People kept asking the kids, ‘How are they? How’s mom? How’s dad?’ This was their way of sharing the news.”
For the past three years, Mike, a cabinetmaker who loved to make wood furniture, had been fighting a brain tumor. He tried every treatment doctors suggested, but the tumor kept growing.
Then in May, Julie, a primary school teacher, was diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer. The cancer spread “everywhere,” but that didn’t stop the mother of three from putting her children and husband first.
“It was hard for Julie to nurse Mike while she was sick, but she did,” Gallagher said.
When Julie became too weak to help her husband make it up the stairs in their home, the family put his hospital bed in the living room. Julie never left his side, sleeping on the couch next to her husband every night.
“Everyone loved them. They were very supportive and equally challenging — always challenging their children to ask more, always encouraging them,” Gallagher said. “To Luke and Hannah’s friends, they were known as the cool, laid back parents — the mom and dad that you’ve always wanted.”
Shortly after Mike died last Monday, family and friends worked together to launch a fundraising campaign for the Bennet children. Within days, more than £26,000 (about $32,500) was raised to support the children’s education. As of Monday morning, two days after Julie died, nearly £150,000 (about $187,500) in donations have rolled in to support the kids.
“They shouldn’t need to grow up so fast right now,” said Gallagher, emphasizing that all funds will go toward the kids’ future.
The children have always loved dance and acting. The worst case scenario would be Luke having to drop out of university to pay the bills, Gallagher added.
Before Julie died, Luke, Hannah and Oliver told their mom about the kindness they were receiving from strangers.
“We really appreciate it and would like everyone to know that our mum takes a great amount of comfort from knowing that we are being supported so well by friends, family and kind-hearted strangers,” the children posted on the crowdfunding site Wednesday.
Julie was a great believer in her kids and wanted to see them achieve and live their dreams, Gallagher said. With the help of this money, Gallagher hopes the kids will make their parents proud.
“I’d like to say a huge extended thank you across the world for people who have donated to the family, to the kids,” Gallagher said. “They messages they have read give them hope and have left them absolutely astonished.”