Heartsick family buoyed by Thanksgiving week generosity

Heartsick family buoyed by Thanksgiving week generosity

SMITHFIELD - For Deputy Town Clerk Carol Aquilante, Thanksgiving this year offers a platter of sorrow and worry, but there's a garnish that's helping her family through dark times: community support.

Aquilante, whose 27 years of service makes her the senior employee in Town Hall, is also a grandmother, and it's that role in her life that has changed since Thanksgiving a year ago.

Just a few days before the holiday, her daughter-in-law, 36-year-old Michelle Aquilante, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Two weeks ago, the illness took Michelle's life, leaving 6-year-old Antonio M. A. Aquilante without a mother, and Carol's son, 35-year-old Adam, without his wife of seven years.

The emotional devastation was weight enough to bear. But for Adam Aquilante, who works paycheck-to-paycheck as a substitute teacher and at Home Depot, it also meant a $7,400 funeral bill and responsibility for the future of a 1st-grader whose mother's life centered on her home and family.

There was no life insurance, and just a modest bank account that held only a fraction of what was needed to pay for Michelle's funeral alone.

Her parents, who live in Massachusetts, and the Aquilantes, of 8 Peace Pipe Trail, are doing what they can, said Carol, but they are "average" people with financial responsibilities of their own who are struggling to help a working father and his little boy.

For more than year since Michelle was diagnosed and the disease began exacting its toll, Carol's husband, Donald, a retired Electric Boat welder, has spent five days a week at his grandson's home in Cranston, getting the youngster on the school bus in the morning and greeting him on the return trip in the afternoon.

"He needs our help," Carol said, "so now our lives are going to take a different route."

"We can't raise him," she said, "but we can be there when he needs to share. Wherever he needs to go, I'll go. I hope we can do good by him."

Michelle's parents, David and Jean Mann of Whitman, Mass., have also done their share - she is on family leave from teaching at a charter school - but long-term arrangements are still unresolved.

But very much resolved, says Carol Aquilante, is her gratitude for an outpouring of support for the family.

One of the most recent gestures came from the Smithfield Town Council, which on Nov. 19 suddenly deviated from its published agenda, which indicated it would donate $100 in Michelle's memory.

But Councilwoman Maxine Cavanagh, noting the tragic impact on the young family and Carol Aquilante's long service to the town, received unanimous support when she suggested raising the gift to $2,000.

As the council was acting, a gathering was in progress at the Senior Center across town in which Carol's Smithfield neighbors, Joann Davis and Jill Larsen - the latter a Town Hall co-worker - were raising $2,800 and collecting a cornucopia of food, some home-made and some donated by local businesses.

The previous night, supporters in Massachusetts raised about $5,000, and the Masons - both Adam and his father belong - chipped in $1,000.

It's all destined to help stem what, despite medical insurance, was an incalculable financial drain on the family as they struggled to support Michelle over the months of her illness.

Buoyed by all the kindness, the Aquilante Family issued a statement thanking the council, town employees, and the community, noting, "We did not realize how many people's lives we have touched over the years until we were faced with a tragedy of our own SLps it makes you appreciate the community you live in even more. "

Carol Aquilante said she and her husband raised Adam and his 22-year-old sister, Ariel, to believe in volunteering, but "I never realized that I would be on the receiving end - the generosity in this town is amazing."