The dove was the clincher.
You usually don’t find doves perched on the rung of a playground swing, hanging around workers in hard hats. You don’t find doves hovering around loud, crowded, ceremonies.
But a single white dove perched and hovered all day Tuesday and Wednesday, right into Wednesday evening three weeks ago, a surprise guest at the dedication of the Charlotte Rose Kelly Play Area at French’s Common in Braintree.
“The workers told us it had been hanging around,” said Patrice Kelly, mother of Charlotte Rose, a Braintree preschooler who was 2 when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and 5 when the disease took her life on Dec. 7, 2011.
Playgrounds brought Charlotte joy. They were, Patrice said, “an escape from the hours of
painful treatments and anxiety that she endured through her illness. Being on a swing was Charlotte’s happiest time and a break from the world of cancer.”
The dove, which appeared during the dedication ceremony that took place on the day Charlotte would have turned 7, never left the area and even alighted on the seat of a child’s swing.
Doves are thought of as messengers. Symbols of the Holy Spirit and of innocence, peace, and love.
Frank Estabrook lives in Wilmington. He knows about doves. He is a longtime member of the White Dove Release Professionals. But he has no explanation for why a lone dove would hang around a playground for days. “I know it’s a blessing, though.” he said. “I only hope the family realizes this.”
The morning after the dedication, the dove was gone. “Many people went back to the playground the next few days, and the dove was nowhere to be found.” Patrice said.
Patrice wants to believe the dove was a sign that her daughter is safe. She used to believe in signs. She had faith much bigger than a mustard seed. She prayed. Her friends prayed. Strangers prayed. She believed in prayer. She believed her daughter would get better.
“I really do not think there is anything much worse that watching your child suffer, take their last breaths, and go cold in your arms,” she said.
Patrice worries about Charlotte. She worries she let her down. “I’m her mother. I’m supposed to take care of her. She’s only 5.”
She sat with me at the playground on one of the benches dedicated in her daughter’s memory. The playground is located behind Town Hall right off the main road, but it was quiet somehow, peaceful.
Two girls played on the new swings. A grandmother eased a baby into a bucket swing, then chased a toddler.
Patrice pointed out the design of the playground. It’s modeled after a Lego set that Charlotte completed. Charlotte wanted to build the biggest set available. She chose the Tower Bridge. It has 4,287 pieces and is designed for people 16 and older.
She could have picked a farm, a castle, a super hero, something smaller and age-appropriate.
Instead she picked a bridge.
“She refused all help and would work on it for hours. Sometimes we would help her find certain pieces, or carry her to the table when she could no longer walk.”
And sometimes her brothers would help, adding a piece or two. But when they left the room, Charlotte would remove what they did and do it over.
Why a bridge, Patrice asks herself now. And why was completing it so important?
People who never met Charlotte worked to incorporate the bridge into the design of the playground. They supported this just as they support the Prayers for Charlotte road race held in Braintree every spring, which raises money for neuroblastoma research. This community of family and friends and neighbors and strangers support Patrice and her husband, Greg, and their two boys.
But it is hard, despite all the love and support, for this family to live without their sister, their daughter.
I like to think that Charlotte built her bridge because she remembered where she came from. That she was so new to the world that she hadn’t forgotten the prequel. The bridge says we are connected. Charlotte chose it and built it, piece by piece with her baby hands.
It means something.
And so does the dove.