Danuta Kowalik has prepared an ornament for her son who is missed, and soon it will be hung on her tree. Her son, Jacob Kowalik, enlisted in the Marine Corps against his mother's wishes at the time.
On Mother's Day 2003, Jacob called home to mom from Iraq.
"I almost jumped when I heard his voice, and he said, 'Happy Mother's Day,' and I said, 'how come you remembered that,' and he said, 'Mom, to be honest it wasn't me,'" said Danuta Kowalik.
An older Marine had said "call home guys," but that didn't matter for this mom was thrilled. But the very next day, three Marines were at Danuta Kowalik's door to tell her that her son Lance Corporal Kowalik had been killed in an accidental on-base ammunition explosion.
Jacob was only 10 when he and his family emigrated from Poland. Seven months after his death, Danuta accepted the papers that made her son a U.S. citizen.
On Thursday, eight years later, Danuta joined other parents of sons lost to war. They heard heartfelt thanks from Governor Pat Quinn, songs of the season from young voices in the Thompson Center, but that and the passage of time don't really heal all wounds.
"I don't think I'm healed, and I spoke with a lot of people, a lot of families, Gold Star mothers and Gold Star fathers, and nobody ever says we're healed - that we're having peaceful time right now. We don't," she said.
Still the gathering is a helpful moment, shared with others who have suffered profound loss, a chance to pay tribute and hang an ornament for a son who is missed.
"I was just thinking what a wonderful person he was and I'll be happy to see him and I know he's watching and tapping my shoulder saying, 'Mom, I'm here,'" said Kowalik.
It is a time of year when the loss of loved ones is magnified by the season -- doubly so for Danuta because Friday is Jacob's birthday. He would have been 30. Mrs. Kowalik has friends and a good support system. She also kept three voice mails from her son when he was overseas.