John Wilkinson was on crutches last Friday when he arrived at the office of Healing the Children Northeast in New Milford.
His movements may have been confined, but his spirits were in full flight.
Mr. Wilkinson, 46, survived an Aug. 29 propane explosion that leveled his Sunny Valley Road home, killing his friend, Anthony Fratino III, and injuring Mr. Fratino's young son, Nicholas.
Last week, Mr. Wilkinson, his wife, Alice, and their two sons, Jake and Everett, were at the Healing the Children office to receive a much-needed financial boost.
Attorney Ami Klein represented the Fratino family to accept a charitable donation on their behalf.
The two families received a total of $10,792.18, raised from individual donations since Labor Day.
And checks are still coming in, said Cheyrisse Boone, the executive director of Healing the Children.
The financial help from Healing the Children complements the many examples of community support the two families have received during the past two months.
"Aug. 29 is the darkest day of my life, but every day since has been the finest hour. Even in these tough times, everybody has given us so much," said Mr. Wilkinson, who had suffered broken ribs as well as leg injuries.
He wears a leg brace and was out of a wheelchair Friday for the first time since the explosion.
"Alice has stood by me. She didn't hold anything back," Mr. Wilkinson said. "It was a clarifying moment for me once she told me, `We lost the house. Tony is dead. There was a terrible explosion.'
"There was a lot of pain, a lot of confusion up until then. I was on heavy pain medication."
Mr. Wilkinson choked back tears as he spoke of his friend.
"Tony was a great guy," he said. "with a contagious personality -- the kind of guy who just made you like him. I miss him."
"I heard from their aunt that Nicholas and his brother are settling in nicely in Bridgewater," Ms. Mangels said. "They're there with their grandfather and their father's sister."
Ms. Boone offered her perspective on the role Healing the Children has played in this comeback story.
"It's Healing the Children's mission to be there for children. We really wanted to help these families," she said. "It was such a tragedy we felt we had to do something, although this is actually out of the norm for us."
"It really hit us at the restaurant when Nicholas came in with his nanny for his first outing since the explosion," said Marcia Jennings from Three Brothers. "He was still in bandages. We shielded them, making sure they had a quiet, undisturbed lunch."
The Wilkinsons' house is being rebuilt by Alice's father and brother. The foundation is laid, and the basement floor was slated to be poured this week.
The family hopes to move in by spring.
The Wilkinsons' sons, Jake, 9, and Everett, 6, will put their handprints in the wet cement, said Alice Wilkinson, who is pregnant with the couple's third child.
"The only thing I really needed out of the house was our boys and John," she said. "Everything else can be replaced, everything but Tony. His death is just overwhelmingly sad."
"Life keeps coming at you," Mr. Wilkinson said. "The best thing to do is get on with it and not get caught up in the tragedy of it all.
"I've never been more out of control of things in my whole life," he added. "But I've never been more assured that everything's going to be all right."