INDIANAPOLIS -- The thought of the ones who are not there will cross Hugh Thornton's mind throughout the day on Thanksgiving. It may come when he wakes up in the morning. It may come while driving home from practice. It may come in between bites of lamb, turkey or candied yams, a favorite of his.
But it's only inevitable for Thornton, the Indianapolis Colts' starting left guard, to think about two important people in his life while he's eating dinner.
All Thornton has to do is look at his aunt to be reminded of his mother.
Thornton's aunt, uncle and cousin drove over from Cleveland for their first family Thanksgiving in about seven years. And they'll think about Thornton's late mother, Michele, and sister, Marley, throughout the day.
"There are parts of Thanksgiving that are hard for me," Thornton said. "I've always been busy with college sports and things like that. I'm looking forward to starting something new this year."
Michele and Marley were murdered at their home in Jamaica in 2004. Thornton, who was 12 at the time, was asleep in another room when the still-unsolved murder happened. Michele and Marley were killed in Michele's bedroom. Michele was raped and stabbed several times.
"There's a part of you that always wants them to be there," Thornton said. "It is also a part of you that knows you have other family members that share the same grief and things like that. When you're around family members that are going through the same thing, it strengthens those relationships. I have a very strong relationship with my aunts and uncles and other family members. It kind of takes my mind off of it."
Thornton's life wasn't smooth after his mother and sister were murdered. He moved a number of times, had a rough relationship with his father and was arrested twice while at the University of Illinois. Thornton attended two different high schools before finally settling in at Oberlin (Ohio) with his aunt Lydia Nord.
"I moved around quite a bit," Thornton said. "Things weren't always good. It was very tough at times. I was with my dad, then lived with my aunt for the last two years of high school. I was just glad to be around family."
Thornton often spent Thanksgiving with his teammates, who he often referred to as his "brothers," at Illinois.
Colts teammate Donald Thomas invited Thornton over to his house for Thanksgiving, which was going to feature fried turkey this year, but the rookie politely declined.
Thornton wanted something different. He wanted it to be about his family.
"Traditions haven't been carried on, so it's all about starting new ones," Thornton said. "It's my first Thanksgiving in my home and to have family there is exciting. One thing we have to have is candied yams with marshmallows."
Thornton knows Michele and Marley will be looking down on them on Thanksgiving.