Red Balloons for Ryan: How the Power of Social Media Brought Awareness and Love to a Grieving Family


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It takes a village—or at least an Instagram community—to virtually wrap its arms around a family who lost their son in a tragic accident last Friday. On Monday afternoon, after Diary of an Addict blogger Alissa Circle sadly announced on Instagram and her blog that Ryan Cruz, the beautiful curly-haired son of Dan and blogger Jacqui (Baby Boy Bakery), passed away after an accident on Friday, a community quickly grew and came together to comfort them.

The hashtag #redballoonsforryan was born this week, and word began to travel—repost after repost after repost within the social media community—captions such as “I can’t imagine the pain” and “praying peace for this family” offered into the void-turned-comforting-space where moms and strangers who knew that this boy could easily be their baby–and treated him as if he was. No doubt, evident from his mother’s feed, Ryan was selflessly and fiercely loved. She loved him like we love our babies. And yesterday, that love spread across the world. Within two days, over $40,000 has been raised to help this family through the donations of strangers, and over 20,000 Instagram posts have paid tribute to Ryan—his milky skin, red hair and palpable free spirit reappearing in the feeds of thousands.  Within my own feed, I’ve scrolled through the past two days and have seen this gorgeous boy living on through pictures reposted from so many that I follow. I’ve memorized each one and said prayers for this heartbroken family like many others.

This week, social media has allowed us to give the hug of Goliath to a hurting family who needs support. While the majority of the 20,000 people who have shared #redballoonsforryan have never met Dan or Jacqui or their son, they feel like they did. I know I do. And the online parenting community has embraced them as one of their own. Popular children’s clothing stores have scrambled to design T-shirts in honor of Ryan, all profits benefiting the family; artists have collaborated efforts to host an auction; bloggers and Instagram users have requested others’ support; and red balloon emoticons have flooded the comments by the thousands. Mothers know how to rally for another fallen mother in the flock, and the power of social media has given us all the opportunity to create a ripple effect. There is power and beauty in community. Though the thousands of posts and money raised to support this family during this difficult time can barely make a dent in their sorrow, we continue to show up from far away, believing in the power of community, in the strength of a hug. This boy will be remembered. We will make sure of it.

How can you help?

You can donate to Ryan’s family directly here.

A growing list of shops offering items where all profits benefit Ryan’s family can be found below:

Geo Fox Apparel Remember Ryan tee
Little Boozaweegin Remembering Ryan Cruz tee
Indie Nook Red Balloon for Ryan Cruz tee
Loved by Hannah and Eli Red Balloons for Ryan Cruz tee
Mulberry Press Co. Red Balloons for Ryan print

An Instagram auction will be held on Saturday, May 10 at @redballoonsforryan, and all proceeds will benefit Ryan’s family.

Search Etsy for #redballoonsforryan, and you’ll find many other Etsy shops offering items with proceeds to benefit this family.

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