We Gather Together

The strength of a child defines the meaning of Thanksgiving


Her name does not matter; only her story does. She was three-years-old the day before Thanksgiving 2005 when her mother asked if I could watch her at my house. She did not ask me to watch her daughter because there were last minute errands to run, or appointments to be met. No, she asked me to care for her three-year-old daughter because her only son would die that day. He was 16 years old. He had cancer.

“He has a weed growing inside of him that’s poison,” this little girl explained to me that day, “and he will be an angel soon.” She explained this to me while nodding her head very matter-of-factly between licks of a cherry red Blow Pop; her red-stained lips pursed together in solemn contemplation.   

I tried to hold myself together as I bent over the kitchen sink scrubbing it for no other reason than I could run the water to diffuse the sound of my sobs. I could think of nothing but this girl’s mother, my friend. Here I am in my cozy little house where just a few hours ago I was completely unnerved by the fact that the free turkey from Shop Rite would not be enough to feed the 30 people coming to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. While I was losing my mind, she was losing her child.

Time has passed, and days gone by, but from that day forward, every Thanksgiving this is what I remember—a child smiling and laughing and playing unaware that something of great value had been taken from her. Some part of her is gone and will forever be missing.

I just wish that I could tell her that when her brother died, she was playing, she was laughing, she was happy, she was whole. I like to think that when her brother’s spirit left his body he came to be with her, here, in the dim autumn light that seeped through the paned glass of my living room windows.

I wish that I could tell her how from that day forward her belief in better angels inspired me to be a stronger, more thoughtful person. She may not remember what is was like to have had him as her brother, but she knows with the certainty that only a child possesses that he is her guardian angel, and he will never abandon her. 

And I give thanks for my own life, for the health of my children, and for the grace of being with this precious little girl on that day, and gaining a lifetime of strength from the unwavering courage of her belief in heavenly angels.

I know what she did not, and what she may never come to understand; that the day her brother died was a crushingly sad day; a day of massive loss; a day she will probably never ever remember, but question for the rest of her life. And I want to tell her that she was okay, that she was loved, that she was protected.

I want to tell her that on that day, at that moment, she was not alone because every mother in the universe gathered together to hold her in their arms to protect and comfort her. Because that is what we mothers do—we put aside our collective differences to gather together to protect the child of every mother in the time of her greatest need.   

I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving. And I ask you to gather together all the people you love this Thanksgiving and take a moment to remember every mother who has an empty seat at her table, and an empty place in her heart, this day and every day.  

Lori Barton November 24, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Ann, I cried as I read this. I wanted to comment but it took me all of yesterday and today to be able to. This is so beautiful and so sad. Each time I came back to it, I cried again. Others may disagree with you, but I also believe that there is no better place for a child than in his mother's arms. While I am so glad to have you for New Milford Patch, I feel your talents belong where many more people can have the opportunity to read your words. Thank you for helping us to remember what we truly have to be thankful for.
Ann Piccirillo November 24, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Thank you for taking the time to write a comment, Lori. It's hard to know how my words land once I send them out into the world. Your words mean so much to me.


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