The Christmas Ornament that Only Hung One Time by Brandy Lidbeck

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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. 

10 Responses

  1. Robbie West
    | Reply

    Brandy…..this so touched my heart. I can so relate to this as I’ve put away personal items of Marty’s in our house as it’s just a daily reminder he’s no longer here. I think of you often and wish you and you family all the joys and blessings of the holiday season. ❤️

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      Thank you, Robbie. I hope you are your family are doing well. Merry Christmas to all of you.

  2. Teri Ogden
    | Reply

    This hits home on so many levels. After my son died by suicide in 2004, I didn’t even do Christmas, as it was our favorite Holiday, and I could not bring myself to the thought of celebrating the Christmas season without him here. Some years I am okay with putting up the tree and decorations, and others like this year, I am not. It’s amazing that as the years go by, time does not erase anything, it just makes it easier to deal with, and to live with all the memories.

  3. Jocelyn Nelson
    | Reply

    Dear Brandi,

    Thank you for this poignant story. It’s been a year and a half since my 22-year old son decided to end his life, and your honesty about your own journey helps me understand there are no simple answers to how to cope, other than to be gentle with yourself and others’ feelings. We’re not putting up a tree anymore, but I do have a small 10-inch tree on the mantle next to his picture, with a timed, battery powered candle that comes on every night.

    Best wishes,

  4. Patty
    | Reply

    A beautiful story. I lost the love of my life a year and a half ago. Only those who have been impacted by suicide can understand the many stages of emotions we experience. Though suicidal grief is a solitary experience your story helped me to understand my own feelings. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Diane Serra
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing these memories with all of us. When my son died in 2013 the very first thing I did was search for any memory, pictures, Mother’s Day cards, etc. Months later, I placed them all in a box. The hardest thing that I did was putting the memories of my son in a box and tucking it under my bed. How could it be that the memories of my son fit in a box? I still can’t get them out seven years later. We all deal with these losses in our own way and hearing your struggles and those of others on this page helps me too. We are not alone.

  6. chris
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    Thank you so much. When decorating the tree, without a doubt the hardest thing is coming upon decorations that my son Sean made when he was a kid. I display them but my heart aches every time I do. I long for him and those distant times.

  7. Kelley Ford
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing Brandy. I’ve been thinking about this since it posted.

    You’ve given me a glimpse to a different side of suicide, through a child’s eyes. There’s so much that we all share and have in common; anguish, grief, guilt, hopelessness, betrayal, anxiety, anger. Christmas seems to highlight a deeper side to our relationships and traditions.

    I have many thoughtful Christmas ornaments given to me through the years from my sister. Mostly, they make me sad but I’m still able to hang them each year however, I still have quite a few things that are too painful to have out and they stay in a box or tucked away. I’m not sure if they’ll ever be meant to be out again and I think that’s okay.

    My sister was the most thoughtful, compassionate person I have ever known. She would be heartbroken to see the sadness my brothers and I live with. The impact her suicide has had on us is so contradictory to the beautiful person my sister was. I miss her terribly.

  8. Rose
    | Reply

    This was my first Christmas. My son (16) took his life December 1. I’m not sure what my traditions or changes will be yet, but reading these, and others talking have been helping. I’m so sick, I hurt, and being only 26 days from the day of hell, I am still so lost. Thank you all for sharing hope of some relief.

  9. Jack Davies
    | Reply

    Brandy, We buried my friend Mike yesterday. He died just before Christmas so your story hit home. He was a very well-known and respected member of the community and his funeral was attended by many. I realized how many other people are affected by suicide besides the family. Your book is helping me grieve (and heal) from the loss of your mother Betsy (my 1st cousin) although it has been over 30-years. I still weep when I think about you as a 10-year old to find her, and I pray for your healing as well as many of your readers who have broken hearts. May we all become more compassionate towards each other in these strange days. I look forward to seeing you again soon. With love, Jack

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