Last Halloween, little Anna Gibson went trick-or-treating as a baby duckling.
"So cute," Jenna Cadorath recalled Monday. "She was so proud of her little costume."
Cadorath was Anna Gibson's caregiver for a period of nine months up until March, when mother Lisa began maternity leave after giving birth to son Nicholas.
This weekend, as police pulled Lisa Gibson's body from the Red River on Saturday -- in the wake of two-year-old Anna and Nicholas, just three months old, being drowned in the bathtub of the family's Westwood home -- Cadorath was struggling to come to grips with two conflicting realities: Lisa Gibson was one of the best mothers she ever knew; and Lisa Gibson probably killed her children.
Since the tragedy unfolded this week, Cadorath was drawn to Gibson's home, where among a soft, fuzzy mound of stuffed animals left in memory of the lost children, she left the Halloween picture of Anna as a duckling, along with her own two children.
"I'm absolutely just shocked," Cadorath said. "I loved them. Lisa, I don't know if I've ever seen such a together person. She was such a good, involved mom. She just wanted the absolute best for Anna.
"It's hard. At first it's just so surreal. But as it goes on you keep getting more memories... it's very sad. I have nothing but very good things to say about that family."
A memorial service for Gibson and her two children will be held Thursday at MacKenzie Funeral Home, 433 Main St., in Stonewall.
Cadorath got to know Lisa well, since it was mom who dropped off and picked up Anna the most often. Cadorath also interviewed Lisa and husband Brian prior to accepting Anna for full-time care last June. In fact, few people would have known about Lisa's interaction with Anna (outside of her own family) more intimately than the daycare operator.
"She always put Anna first," Cadorath noted. "If she was off a day, she was spending that entire day with Anna. If she was off early, she was running to come get Anna. She read to her a lot. Anna was very smart.
"Just a very involved mom. You could tell she really wanted the best for her (Anna)."
Cadorath described Anna as "adorable. Funny. Such a little sweetheart, such a character. With her curly little blond hair." She called the parents as "a really good couple. Very happy, polite, kind people."
So how does Cadorath now compute those two emerging realities?
First, Cadorath said whatever illness that affected Gibson -- who the Free Press learned was recently diagnosed with postpartum mental difficulties -- happened after the birth of Nicholas.
"I think there's a lack of understanding," she said. "Clearly, she was sick. I'm just realizing now that she went for help, she was reaching out. Knowing Lisa... it's humbled me, because I understand this mental illness is real. She's not a monster, she's not a horrible mom. And she just got sick, just like anybody else gets sick with cancer or anything else."
Cadorath conceded she once was quick to judge cases where mothers killed their children.
"When I used to hear about cases from all over the world about similar things happening with mothers doing this my initial thought was, 'That's horrible. How can you do something like this? What kind of person does that?'" she said. "But just knowing Lisa and seeing her every single day and having such clear memories about her and how put together that entire family was... it's just shocking. It makes you understand this is a sickness.
"It really upsets me when I've heard people saying all these horrible things about her... I maybe would have thought the same thing a few years back. It shows me you can't judge. You don't know what's going on. She was sick and she needed help.
"My heart is just broken for Brian and her mom and everyone who's been involved."
One of the last times Cadorath saw Lisa, the pregnant mother was glowing. She was in the midst of painting the new baby's room.
Cadorath said she remembers thinking, "She was unbelievable. She was amazing. I envied her."