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How Viral Generosity Is Helping My Family Move on From the Boston Tragedy

05/01/2013 10:25 am ET
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I grew up in a big, Irish family just outside of Boston. My mom is one of 10 Corcoran children and when I tell people we're a close group, I mean that literally. Cramming 50 to 80 people into one house on any given holiday often leaves you with a rather unique familiarity to one another. Our group rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is unparalleled. Our annual family golf tournament, a 20-year tradition, is a two-day event.

We never saw it coming, but the fabric of my family would be tested by tragedy after two bombs were detonated at this year's Boston Marathon.

Schools are closed on Patriot's Day, the day of the race, but I still had to work, so my children went to my parent's house. I went over to visit them around 3 p.m., and casually checked Facebook on my phone. The out-of-context comments in my News Feed gave me goose bumps.

"Oh my God, praying for Boston," "Hope everyone is safe," "Can't believe this is happening."

We made our way in the house and turned on the news. Our stomachs dropped as reports of explosions and chaos at the marathon filled the screen.

Not long after, we got a call to say that my cousins, Kevin & Celeste, along with their daughter Sydney, were at the race. No one had heard from them.

We waited, hoping that our anxious thoughts would soon be relieved with reassurance that they were all safe. We, like so many other families that day, weren't that lucky. "Celeste and Sydney are badly hurt and currently in surgery" - was our shattering piece of news.

Updates on their conditions came slowly and in pieces.

Celeste has lost both of her legs below the knee.

It was a close call for Sydney, but she will live, and keep her legs.

I cried. I was nauseous with grief. I held my kids and squeezed them tightly. I couldn't believe someone would do this.

What kind of world are we living in? Why our family? Why them? This is not fair.

As word spread through the family, a cousin acknowledged that while it was early, we needed to start thinking of a fundraiser because they would desperately need it. I quickly volunteered to lead the online effort.

My heart was broken and my head spinning, but that next morning, I knew we had to get to work. I started to research online donation platforms, and eventually settled on GoFundMe, on a recommendation from a coworker. It was the easiest, cleanest interface that I had looked at so far, and had the best backend user interface. I went with my gut and decided I had found my site.

I set up the page with a modest goal of $20k and sent the link out onto my Facebook Timeline and our Corcoran Family group. Within an hour, people had already donated more than $1,000.

We saw the page being shared over and over by friends, then good-hearted strangers and before we knew it, Chelsea Handler had donated $25,000. By Wednesday night, donations passed $200,000. The tears that night were of utter joy.

2013-04-30-CelesteandSydney.jpg
Sydney (bottom left) and Celeste (bottom right) Corcoran surrounded by family at the hospital.

We saw people spreading the site over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr -- you name it. Generosity had gone viral, and we couldn't believe it. For as unsafe and scared and absolutely sick to your stomach you feel when something this terrible happens, the generosity -- both monetarily and emotionally - of complete strangers reassured us that we do live in a good world filled with compassionate people. That week, good outweighed the bad, and it always will.

We've always considered ourselves a tight-knit family, but the past few weeks have taught us that you don't really know how much you love someone until you realize you could have lost them.

Hugs no longer get skipped - they are tighter. "I love you" is no longer occasionally left out of goodbyes. I think of all things, we've realized that even though some of us fall in and out of touch, we are so lucky to have the family that we do; that we actually like each other; that any one of us would do anything for any other. We are Corcoran strong.

When inexplicably bad things happen, the world can make you feel small and unsafe, but the words and heartfelt feeling of kinship from people near and far is truly healing. Social media made it easy for people to send us help in what felt like a helpless situation, and I can't thank them all enough.

In the few weeks since the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Corcoran family fundraiser for Celeste and Sydney has seen more than 10,000 people donate nearly $700,000. To follow the family's road to recovery, connect with the Celeste & Sydney Corcoran Support Page on Facebook.

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