As we get deeper into the holiday season, we wanted to share a reflection from guest author Kimberly Starr, who lost her son Tom to suicide in 2015. She wrote this nostalgic piece just nine months after his passing while facing the first Christmas without him at home.
Christmastime is Here
The Christmas season is a joyous time in our household, usually kicked off by our family going to purchase a tree at Beaver Bark, a local nursery in Tri-Cities. My husband LJ and sons Tim, Tom, and I often ate dinner out to celebrate my birthday before heading over to pick out our tree. We’d be helped by the same man each year who recognizes us not by name, but by tree size. We typically purchased a 10-12-foot tree which fills the whole corner of our living room and almost touches our vaulted ceiling. In the cold and sometimes snowy weather, he and LJ would work to tie to the tree to the roof of LJ’s Expedition. The event also included a family picture with Santa and at least a quick glimpse of the reindeer which were there every year. We then hurried home, driving the 25-mile trek as quickly and safely as possible to get the tree into water.
The tree always felt bigger when we got home and had to get it down from the roof of the car ourselves and into the house. As the boys got bigger (and LJ and I got older) Tim and Tom would maneuver the heavy tree through the front door themselves, careful to not break any of the branches. Last year with Tim at college, the three of us successfully wrestled through this process. I realized at that time we would likely only have a strong, strapping, young man in the house to help us accomplish this task for one more year, and that we might need to come up with another plan for future years.
LJ would have already crawled under the house to drag out the numerous red and green colored giant Tupperware boxes filled with tree lights, decorations and holiday knick knacks. That same day, if it was early enough, otherwise the next morning or afternoon, as LJ put the lights on the tree, I distributed battery-operated candles into each window and placed the other chotchkies throughout the house. Then LJ would relax as the boys and I decorated the tree, saving the handmade, cardboard and glitter-covered star on the top for last.
Our tree is a medley of ornaments, most with special stories and memories attached. When I was about 10 years old, my mother started a tradition that each year she would make an ornament specifically for me, so when I had my own tree someday, it would be full of decorations. This was a wonderful ritual we modified and adopted in our own household. Some years we bought ornaments, other years, we would make ornaments together for our tree. There are other special ornaments, too, like the paw pressings of cats who have passed over the years, and ornaments I made in pre-school many, many years ago. We have ornaments which have pictures of Christmases from my childhood that include my mother and father, in their 1970’s glory before their divorce, and my three grandparents who shared the holiday with us each year. LJ insists we have balls on our trees, so we have numerous colors and sizes of balls which also grace our masterpiece. There are ornaments purchased over the years from our travels, like a tiny replica of the Mulkiteo lighthouse and a parrot from Jungle Gardens in Sarasota. Our tree is a beautiful picture of our blended family, and it has a become a huge part of the holiday tradition at our house.
But this year things are different. The boys are not here to help purchase, bring in, and decorate the tree, and the idea of opening the boxes of ornaments and seeing all of those memories laid out in front of me is daunting. Handling the “Pat the Bunny” book ornament Tom loved as a child or the ball ornament he made in Ms. Long’s first-grade class feels like more than my fragile heart can take. The joy of the season has been replaced by a sense of emptiness and dread. There is this internal battle between protecting my heart by avoiding the season altogether and fighting the tears and heartache by muddling through, not allowing Tom’s absence to steal the joy from this time of year. LJ and I knew as the boys got older and they started their own families, things would change and we would adapt to new holiday traditions, but we did not realize it would be this year, and neither of us were prepared for it quite yet.
Copyright 2015 Kimberly Starr