Fulfilling 6-year-old from Merrimack Caleb Arel’s Wish

Caleb Daniel Arel died on May 22 at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Mass., just weeks after turning 6. He had a lengthy illness and spent most of his short life in and out of hospitals.

After having to spend his fifth birthday in the hospital, Caleb decided to start assembling birthday bags, so other children who were hospitalized on their birthdays would still have a special day.

“He put together a few bags and made sure everything matched: pirates, princesses,” said Katie Spires, one of the volunteers. “He was one of the most selfless kids I ever met. When he had his Make-a-Wish trip (to Disney World and Universal Studios) he said his favorite part was seeing Indiana Jones and seeing his brothers smile.”

On June 7, the Mastricola Elementary School gymnasium was bustling with people who gathered to celebrate Caleb’s life and to continue his work. Friends of the family put the word out, donations poured in, and more than 200 birthday bags were assembled for Children’s Life Services at Tufts as part of Caleb’s Wish.

The gym was decorated with many of Caleb’s favorites: balloons in green and orange, a play area based on the game Candy Land, and bouquets of DumDum lollipops on every table. His family played music from his favorite play list, and there was pizza, cupcakes and other treats.

The Merrimack Fire Department brought a truck by for the families to explore, and also donated assorted plastic fireman hats, stickers, and pencils that change color based on temperature.

Children decorated masks, dipped their hands in paint to make collages, and also created a thumbprint tree for Caleb’s family. All around were smiles – from the photographs of Caleb to the faces of those gathered.

“There were more than 300 people here to support Jen (his mother),” said friend Wendy Dufoe. “They didn’t want a funeral or memorial service, so this is it. We’re celebrating who he was. It’s not a sad event – we’ve all had our share of tears.”

Responding to the outpouring of love, his mother, Jennifer (Arel) Burbank, said, “This was important to him, and I’m sure he’s smiling. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him.”

His grandfather, Rick Arel, was overwhelmed by the tremendous gathering.

“To see such an outpouring of love is incredible, far greater than we would have imagined,” he said. “The fact that a 6-year-old touched so many people is incredible, and reinforces the belief that there are still a lot of really good people in the world. A group of friends put this together for the family and did an amazing job.”


A GoFundMe account has been set up to help his family and to continue Caleb’s Wish birthday bags. For more information, go to www.gofundme.com/9gujec.

Memorial donations can also be made to the Tufts Floating Hospital for Children, 800 Washington St., Box 444, Boston, MA 02111, Attention to Andrea Pappaconstantinou.