When Kyle Daniel walked into Georgia Square Mall in Athens in early December, he had somewhat of an odd request for the man in the Santa suit.
Daniel, of Statham, wanted a holiday photo of Santa with a picture of his young son, Hayden, who died last December.
"I was so nervous," Daniel said. "I tried to explain that I lost my son last year and then I just couldn't get anything else out."
Hayden was born in June 2014 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect, and died before he was seven months old.
The man in the Santa suit — 22-year-old actor, illusionist and speaker Caleb Ryan Sigmon — has been helping out as a professional Santa for the past five years. But, he said, nothing like this has ever happened to him.
With no hesitation, Sigmon jumped in and said, "Absolutely."
"I looked down at the photo and realized this was the first time Hayden will ever have his picture made with Santa," Sigmon said. "So I sat him on my knees like I would any other child that came to visit."
In that moment, the noises inside the mall — from holiday music to boisterous laughter — seemed to fade into silence. In that moment, Sigmon said, all that was heard was the click of the camera.
As he watched the photo shoot unfold, a teary Daniel said he could feel and imagine Hayden really sitting on Sigmon's lap. The photo would be a gift for his wife, Daniel said.
Sigmon and the crew, moved to tears, gave the photo to Daniel for free and let him know they would be praying for his family.
"I couldn't have asked for a better person than Caleb to have been there to do that for us," Daniel said. "I felt like I couldn't tell him at the time how much it meant to me."
A few days later, Sigmon documented the experience on Facebook, and his post has been liked by more than 86,000 users and shared more than 56,000 times.
When the post went viral, Sasha Daniel, was able to connect her husband with Sigmon through Facebook. And Daniel was finally able to thank Sigmon for the photo.
Both Daniels and Sigmon said they hope their story reminds others that the holidays aren't always a happy time for everyone.
"People may be hiding that they're hurting, so be kind and reach out to someone in need," Daniel said. "Sometimes it's just a simple smile and hello. More people just need to do that."