Grief Journal: Open House, Open Hearts

Over the last year and a half, the one light in our darkness has been the love and caring shown by our friends and family—blood and chosen. 

Like most families, we have our own holiday traditions. One of the most fun is our annual Christmas tree decoration time. Every Sunday on Thanksgiving weekend, we have put up and decorate our tree. As part of that, each of us received a new ornament for the year that reflected something special about us and the year past. Often, it was a favorite show or game, or some where we went as a family. But they were all different, and all reflective of who we are. The kids also have a special little tree I put up in their playroom that is made up entirely of ornaments with their names on them. 

Last year, we could not be home for Christmas; the echo of Charlie’s ghost was too strong and it would have been too sad. So we went to beautiful Tucson and had fun in the sunny, warm desert, about as different as could be from snowy, cold Wisconsin. 

This year, we decided to stay home, mostly because the kids really missed our cozy Christmas, with all of our fun family traditions. But the one tradition my husband and I couldn’t face was decorating the tree. We cannot—and are not sure we will ever be able to—face opening the ornament boxes and seeing all of those ornaments labelled with Charlie’s name. It would be like losing him all over again; tangible evidence that he is gone and never again going to have a special ornament dedicated to something he loved. 

So we got the bright idea to instead turn to our wonderful friends and neighbors, who are always so lovely and ready to help us through our grief. We held an open house and asked everyone to bring an ornament. Not one they bought, just the random red ball that ends up being missed, or a candy cane, or something their kids made.

I put together charcuterie plates and snacks and drinks, and then we waited. And boy, did we have fun. 

So many people showed up to share their love and kindness. I think we had more than 100 people, and we ended up with more than 70 ornaments. Our tree is filled!

Our lives are all so busy, it was magical to take some time to chat and laugh. So many friends that we rarely see in person stopped by. We introduced people to each other and I know new friends were made. We didn’t really talk much about Charlie, but his ebullient presence infused the gathering with a sense of love and fun. 

For me, it was an occasion of sadness layered over with joy—knowing that so many people were there because they loved Charlie and he touched their lives. One of the biggest fears a parent has is that their child will be forgotten. It comforts me more than I can say, to know that Charlie’s spirit and light live on in so many hearts. That Sunday was the closest thing to having him back with us. 

To all who came or mailed ornaments, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are the light and warmth in the darkness. So long as you keep Charlie’s memory and the lessons he taught in your heart, his light will burn on in this world. And who knows what magic that light can still bring. 

Merry Christmas, friends. Thank you for being here for us. We love you. 

Here is our tree in all its glory. I call it our “Tree of Love” 

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