In December of 1990, my mom bought four hand-crafted Christmas ornaments at a local craft-fair. Each one had our names written on it. My mom and I had matching green stocking ornaments and my dad and brother had matching red. They were part of a set and adorable as could be. We hung them on our tree that year in our brand-new home we had just moved into earlier that summer.
Just months after Christmas, my mom ended her life. My brother and I were still kids. We moved out of that big house because my dad could no longer afford it on a single-income.
When Christmas came that year, we pulled out the Christmas decorations, all of us silently recognizing that my mom was the one who made the home look so festive and merry. We hung the ornaments on the tree until I came to that set of hand-crafted ornaments my mom purchased the year prior. Her last Christmas.
I hung them all up, except for the one with her name on it. Couldn’t do it. I did not want to see her name on our tree every time we looked in that direction. It would have stuck out like a neon sign, blinking brightly and announcing her absence. I wrapped it back up in the tissue paper and stuck it back in the box. Maybe next year I could put it on the tree.
Christmas of 1992 came and the same scenario unfolded. I opened the tissue paper, saw her name, and wrapped it back up again to store away in the box. I was still pretty angry how she left us and too hurt to have her ornament hang from our tree.
People often get upset when others talk about their anger towards the one who died by suicide. To that, I say that grief is for each person to sort through. There is no right or wrong way and anger is not bad. Anger is usually the way we mask how hurt and scared we are. If my level of anger was any indicator of the fear and hurt, I hid inside, perhaps others would not be so offended by it.
While I was a kid, the ornament never got hung up on that tree but, ironically, when I became an adult and went home to get all my old Christmas ornaments to hang on my own tree with my husband, I looked through the box until I found the stocking with my mom’s name written on it. I took it with me because as much as I didn’t want to hang it up, I also did not want it to disappear. It was a special piece of her. A reminder of how special she made the holidays.
A few weeks ago, my husband, kids, and I decorated our home for Christmas. My kids ran to get their special ornaments and hung them with care. I pulled out mine and smiled as I looked at all the childhood memories I created. The hand-painted snowman I made in 2nd grade, the picture of me framed in a tiny wreath I made in Girl Scouts. All of it so sweet. Then, I came across my stocking ornament with my name printed on it. I hung it up as I always do. It was the last Christmas with my mom and she hand-picked that one for me. She touched that ornament. So special. In that same tissue paper was the ornament with my mom’s name. I thought about hanging it up on this 30th anniversary of the one time that ornament got to hang on the tree as it was created. I looked for a good spot in the front. Then in the back. Ultimately, I wrapped it back up in the tissue paper as I have done for the past 29 Christmases.
For some reason, it feels too much to hang up her ornament. I have other ornaments on that tree that remind me of my mom. I have other things in my house all year long that remind me of my mom and I smile each time I see them. Like her recipe box full of treasures in her handwriting. When I make her special dessert salad that everyone loves, I smile and say, “My mom used to make this for us.” But not this ornament. Too precious to lose, too difficult to hang. It is and may forever be the ornament that only got to hang one Christmas…back in 1990.