The Compassionate Friends, an Illinois-based support network for parents who have lost children, will sponsor its 18th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting service Dec. 14.
Details about the service, sponsored by The Empty Room, a Penn Hills support group:
• When: 7 p.m. Dec. 14, arrive by 6:40 p.m.
• Where: 3 Lakes Golf Course, 6700 Saltsburg Road, Penn Hills
• Highlights: Outside on the practice putting green, weather permitting; bring a battery-operated candle and a photo of your child. Event will include music, prayer and fellowship. Family and friends are welcome to attend.
• Contact: Marilyn Babuscio, 412-407-2551 or by email
Asked to write down what he would do if he had $1 billion, 11-year-old Christopher Myers once wrote in a school journal that he would make sure everyone had a roof over their heads, clothes to wear and food on their tables.
His mother, Anne Long, said she found more than solace in her son’s generous words in the months after Christopher drowned in June 2011.
She found inspiration.
The same year she lost her son, Long started “Christopher’s Blessing,” which is in its fourth year of gathering family and friends to prepare and deliver Thanksgiving meals to people who are sick, disabled or have no family to help cook during the holidays.
“His journal is what really helped me with getting Christopher’s Blessing started,” Long, 39, of Penn Hills said. “It’s a decision I made. I’m not going to let this beat me up. I’m going to take something so bad and make something positive.”
Christopher drowned June 3, 2011, while swimming with friends at the Rosedale Beach Club in Penn Hills. He was a student at St. Joseph School in Verona. He had just finished fifth grade. The boy’s death was ruled an accident.
Anne Long and her husband, Bill, learned of Christopher’s journal after he was gone. She found his writings to be full of purpose and meaning.
“Everyone knows their child is awesome,” she said. “I didn’t know how amazing he was. Some of the stuff he wrote was unbelievable.”
Long, who works as a patient care technician in the intensive care unit at UPMC St. Margaret, began volunteering with Meals on Wheels after her son died. Learning that the organization doesn’t deliver food on Thanksgiving, and facing the first holiday season without her son, she had an idea.
“I didn’t want to sit around on Thanksgiving Day,” she said. “We have these old people, these elderly people, these sick people who don’t have families, people who are alone.”
She and others worked in the kitchen of the Verona fire hall to prepare 18 Thanksgiving meals in the first year of Christopher’s Blessing in 2011. It has grown annually, with 75 meals going this year to people in Verona, Oakmont and Springdale.
Christopher’s grandfather, Ed Jablonski, Anne’s father, was among those helping. The first year was hard for all of them, but it was worth it, he said.
“He was the kind of kid who always thought of other people,” Jablonski of Verona said. “For him the greatest thing in the world was helping other people who needed help.”
Anne Long started about 6:30 a.m. peeling 30 pounds of potatoes.
“I never would’ve thought it would’ve gotten this big,” she said as she set out from the fire hall about noon Thursday bound for Springdale Manor. The aroma from fresh, hot meals in brown paper bags filled her car. A photo of Christopher was on the dashboard.
“That’s my buddy. He’s the best gift I ever had,” she said.
A woman at Springdale Manor asked if she could make a donation. Anne Long kindly declined. They pay for everything themselves and do not accept donations of food or money.
“This is what my son wanted. It’s an 11-year-old boy’s wish,” she says.
Anne Long joined “The Empty Room,” a support group for parents who have lost children. Marilyn Babuscio of Penn Hills started the organization in 2009 after the death of her daughter, Jill, who was 33.
Babuscio said she encourages group members to find ways to channel their love, energy and grief to make a difference and do something in honor of a loved one, just as Anne Long has done with Christopher’s Blessing.
Babuscio learned that even though Jill and Anne did not know each other, they went to school together and graduated the same year.
“I find her to be amazing, to be able to pull the strength together. She has such a gentle heart, and she’s so committed to this. To lose a child so young and be able to pull herself up from that and embrace so many other lives, it’s just amazing.
“People ask where Christopher got his heart from,” Babuscio said. “It was from her.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.