There’s a story for most of the ornaments on our Christmas tree. From the two lovebirds entwined in a heart, purchased our first year together, to handmade trinkets made from chubby fingers, and gifts given by friends, each limb holds pages of our life.
I envisioned passing down the childhood ornaments of my boys to their wives someday. Each season, I’d picture them telling stories of Christmases past to their kids as they hung tiny bears representing their birth. Now, as I hang those of my oldest son, no longer with us, my heart is pulled to years gone by but also imagining where he’d be today. Instead those heirlooms stop with me, forever to treasure each memory they hold.
Holidays are always hard with child loss but even more so when the anniversary of losing them coincides. Our last day with Austin was spent preparing for Christmas. Two days after Thanksgiving, our family set out the annual tradition of decorating our home. The last activity and memories we have are of a picture perfect day hanging ornaments, remembering holidays past, and celebrating the season.
And that makes opening the box of decorations all that more difficult. As I raise the lid, I’m not just dusting off trinkets but also the painful moments of losing him. What should be a happy time is laced with tears in recalling that bittersweet day.
We recognized that first Christmas what a gift he had left us though. For a brief second, I almost didn’t follow through with our tradition. It was a long day and a lot of work decorating both inside and out. We were nearing the end of the evening and I hesitated in beginning the process of trimming the tree. But Austin persisted and with those puppy dog eyes, I caved. How many times I’ve thanked God for giving us those moments and precious memories.
Losing him that night, we would’ve never finished the tree. Christmas may not have happened for our youngest son. Even difficult as it was making it through that first year, we had that special gift of remembering our last day together with each twinkling of the lights and upon every ornament dangling.
We have continued another tradition of adding new ornaments each year that represent a milestone or moment. Of course, Austin is still included in this. There’s a treasured Hallmark heart that holds a photo of him placing the angel on our tree that year. Butterflies have found their home among the greenery, a symbol Austin uses to send us a hello. And each year I also purchase an ornament to hang at his graveside. But four tiny, unexpected, rather ordinary angels touch me the most as I pull them out each year.
Prior to our last day with Austin, those four angels were just filler ornaments. I don’t even know where they came from and had never given them much thought until that day. Sitting on the edge of the couch, gingerly holding one in his hand, he looked deep into it. As he hung it on the tree, light caught in the glass, sending it dancing around the angel and he softly commented about how beautiful it was.
“This is one of my favorite ornaments, Mom,” he said.
In that moment, I knew it was special. For a teenage boy to share something like that, for him to choose those dainty glass angels, spoke to my heart. It wasn’t until later that year I reflected more on that day and his comments. So many points of November 29 were beautiful and perfect, truly a script couldn’t have been written to describe a better day -until the end.
But the peace he had, the joy that was pouring out of him, makes me feel like on some level he knew he was going Home. Perhaps his soul connected with those tiny angels. In some way, a part of him knew that Christmas he’d be with the One for whom we celebrate the season. That Christmas, he’d be rejoicing with the angels. This knowledge is what helps me get through the holidays, especially the most difficult one of the year.
Each time light catches one of those angels and they dance on my tree, I imagine what beauty and love Austin is surrounded in, not just on Christmas, but for eternity.