It wasn’t the dog.
When our Christmas tree crashed to the floor in the living room only minutes after we’d finished decorating it, for a brief moment in time, it felt like my entire world was crashing down around me.
The day had been hard enough. First, there were the tears when my daughter asked, “Why does church make you said, Mom?” To which I replied, “Because when I’m there, all I hear is, ‘sacrifice your only begotten son.’”
Then we headed out to the tree farm, a different one from where we usually went, and this time, we tagged along with my brother and his family. It was just different enough to be fun, tainted by only a shadow of sadness.
Until we got home. Until I began carrying boxes upstairs from the basement. Until I opened that first one, and staring up at me was a homemade decoration, naturally, from my son. And so I cried as I sifted through the ornaments and decorations and prepared to dress the tree.
I tucked away the stocking, the Christmas memories booklet he’d made for me when he was five, and the mat for Santa’s cookies, which says, “To Santa, from Brady.” But we added the personalized ornaments to the tree, and I cried some more as I thought about each memory, the reason behind each purchase. A yellow school bus for the year he went to kindergarten. The steam engine for the train phase. “Bah humbug” from last year, when he was cranky more than he wasn’t.
I cried and drank wine and pushed through because my daughter was having such a fun time making the tree look pretty. She and I even added the lights this year, a job usually reserved for my husband. But he was outside putting lights up on the house for the first time in a few years, so we certainly weren’t about to complain.
The tree was full and there were only a few ornaments left, and we joked that we had no more room. And then the phone rang, my mother calling. I don’t even remember why she called or what we talked about. All I know is my daughter and husband were in the kitchen, the dog was curled in her bed, and I was standing in the hallway, staring at the brightly lit tree as it crashed to the floor.
“What was that?” my mother asked.
“Oh my God, the tree just fell over.”
“Bye,” she said, and I dropped the phone. The dog ran into her crate, her safe place. My daughter rushed into the room and dropped to her knees amongst the shattered remains of seventeen years’ worth of Christmas memories, lamenting most especially the loss of the Bronner’s ornaments, the big, fat ones with our names scrawled across the front. Every one except my husband’s (his name is Chris) had to be special ordered because we don’t have typical names.
The train didn’t make it, along with a dozen others. The one with an eight-point buck we’d bought my husband the year he’d shot his first deer. The dog-loving one we’d purchased not two weeks prior for my daughter. I’m honestly not even sure which others didn’t survive. Many were little more than dust when we pulled the tree upright and discovered it had a twisted trunk, and by setting it straight in the stand, we’d actually made it top-heavy. The only way we were able to get it to stay upright was by shoving a pile of newspapers under one side of the stand.
I admit, I lost it that evening. Once the tree was no longer in danger of falling over, I sank to the floor and sobbed. Admittedly, this isn’t unusual, not since March, although I usually go off and hide so no one has to experience the rather un-pretty sight. My daughter hates to see me cry, and tends to hide her own sadness as a result, and I don’t want her to bottle things up the way so many of us do. And my husband isn’t a fan of feeling helpless, and that’s exactly how he feels whenever I cry, a phenomenon he’d rarely experienced prior to this year.
And then my husband walked over, offered me a hand, and pulled me up and into his arms. He let me soak his shirt for a few minutes, and then he said, “We’ll replace the name ornaments. All four.” And I cried harder. So he said, “Hey, you’re the one who said you wanted to do something different this year.”
And we laughed. All three of us.
The cleanup was still hard. There were more tears. I’m still heartbroken over the loss of the physical reminders of those memories. And I’m also admittedly relieved that I don’t have to open those boxes next year and see quite so many of those reminders of what I’ve lost.
When it was finally done, the cleanup and the redecorating of the tree, after we tucked our daughter into bed and my husband wandered off to do who knows what, I stood in the dark in the living room and stared at the tree. There were still plenty of ornaments; it didn’t look sparse at all. A cursory examination of the remaining ornaments told me many of those that broke were representations of my son’s life.
It wasn’t the dog, but I kept wondering … Was it something else?
I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’ve been in therapy since this past spring. I’ve discussed signs with my therapist. “Everyone talks about receiving a sign that their loved one is happy and well up in heaven,” I’ve told her. “I want a sign. Why haven’t I had a sign?”
I think this was my sign. I admit, I was expecting a shooting star or something equally as profound and benign. But this … this was exactly the sort of sign my son would send.
“I’m trying to make you less sad, Mom,” was what I think he’s trying to tell me, in his typically convoluted way.
I’ll take it.
So no, it wasn’t the dog. And yes, we’re pulling together, finding the joy in this holiday season. Wherever we can. However we can.
Oh, and by the way, ‘Bah Humbug’ survived the crash.
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