Several years ago at Thanksgiving, my mom died unexpectedly, so this time of the year has since carried an emotional asterisk.
I'm sure others who have lost parents, especially around a holiday such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, can relate. And I'm also sure they would support my feeling about how that holiday was never quite the same after such a loss.
But, finally, there is a different feeling in the air at our house. That pall has been lifted, something I did not think would ever be possible.
This year there will be a special celebration, a very special thank-you and plenty of smiles. Probably a few tears, too. But those tears will be of the joyful type.
Baby Ella, our only granddaughter among four grandkids, will be at our family's Thanksgiving table. And she will entertain us with her fractured phrases and rolling blue eyes. Not too long ago, I would never have thought that to be possible.
As most of you probably know, this little 2-year-old should not even be here, but I won't belabor the point of the house fire earlier this year, or how grateful we are to the firefighters and hospital personnel both in Quincy and Springfield. That has all been documented multiple times.
What has not been talked about are the looks of relief now seen in the eyes of people who are around her on a daily basis, especially her mom and dad. It doesn't take a genius to read their thoughts when they are watching her play or torment her older brother. Their eyes tell a wonderful story. No words are necessary.
Ella will always have more than her fair share of problems to deal with as she grows older. It won't be easy to grow up as a young girl when you are missing half of your hair and much of your body is scarred.
It's difficult to see her look in the mirror and know something is not right. She tries to wipe away the scars.
But this incredible little girl has such resiliency that she infects everyone around her. If you watch her and listen to her long enough, there is no doubt she will conquer every obstacle that awaits. Trust me on that.
Often when she is looking in the mirror, we all wonder what might be racing through her head. And many times, she will turn around and tell us, talking as she often does in third person. (None of us are quite sure how that started, but it fits her crazy little personality so well.)
There are times when she will look away from the mirror and announce, "Ella is gorgeous."
Yes, she is.
There is a special heart inside that little girl, one that beats with an extraordinary kind of tenderness. Need a hug? Just see Ella. She'll be glad to oblige.
My mom, who passed away before Ella made her way into our family, had that same kind of heart, that same kind of tenderness we see, hear and feel from Ella.
And that, more than anything else, is why this year's Thanksgiving will be special.
The black cloud has finally been lifted.
Thank you, Ella.