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A Tree Full of Memories

A Tree Full of Memories

 

Christmas was my absolute favorite time of the entire year. Every nook and cranny was filled with yule adornment. Not a corner of the house was safe from this self-proclaimed Christmas Freak! One year we even hung assorted ornaments on a fake palm tree, lovingly dubbing it the “Bahama-Mama” tree, because in our family one Christmas

tree was never enough. The kids even had small tabletop trees in their rooms. Our upstairs tree was the decorator tree, the one with the fancy, color-coordinated ornaments, to be handled by no one but me. The downstairs tree was the family favorite and trimmed by the children. Hanging from its branches were the ornaments that I had

purchased every year for each of them from the time they were born. I always looked forward to finding just the right one that would represent their individual interests at that particular time in their lives. But as each of us knows, the holidays, as we knew them, forever changed after our precious children died. And so it was for us the Christmas of 1995, our first without Nina’s shining presence. I was quite positive that I would never decorate again. It was far too painful.

 

Yet, something happened three Christmases ago. One night I lay in Nina’s daybed, staring at the ceiling, wishing it was January 2nd and I could put the holidays behind me for another year. Suddenly, I found myself rise from her bed and walk to the closet where all the holiday paraphernalia was stored. I searched furiously until I found what I was looking for--a box marked “Nina’s Xmas Ornaments.”  I brushed away the collected dust and carried it up the stairs to the corner of the living room where a forlorn and neglected-appearing 2-foot tree stood. I recall sitting on the floor in front of the tree, sighing deeply, and gingerly opening the box; I was afraid what the depth of my emotions would be when I saw those long untouched ornaments of Christmases past; afraid of the feelings that I had learned to hide so well from the rest of the world; afraid the floodgates would open and the tears would never stop.

 

I carefully lifted the cover and tenderly held each one in my hands. I found myself recalling the beautiful memories of previous Christmases when my beloved daughter was alive. There was the pink and white checked fabric baby buggy with pipe-cleaner handles of her first Xmas, followed by Teddy bears with Santa hats, and crocheted Sesame Street characters from her toddler days. There were the priceless picture ornaments taken by her nursery school teacher showing 4-year old Nina with the then-blond, wispy hair and blunt cut bangs grinning back at me. There were the handmade ones from early grade school that she affectionately created with felt and glitter; the violin and piano ornaments symbolizing her musical attempts; the self-explanatory Shop-til-You-Drop ornament; the more sophisticated ornaments for a teenage Nina, and finally the last one before her death at 15-years-old commemorating her reign as our city’s Miss Teen. I gently held them, reliving the stories behind each one and savoring the precious memories they brought with them as I placed them on the tiny tree. I then unearthed from hiding the ornaments

bought after her death. Even then, I couldn’t bear to stop buying them for her. There I found dark-haired angels and butterflies of every shape and color, now symbolizing her new and eternal life, and appropriately hung them along side the others.

 

Though tears fell as I cautiously placed them on the bare branches of the tiny tree, I felt familiar warmth radiate throughout me, thawing the icy cold I felt in my heart and soul. I smiled, knowing in my heart that this was a Christmas gift coming directly from my Nina. I felt it was her way of telling me that perhaps it was time to find some peace and hope again in the holiday season. Not that it would or could ever be the same as it was

before 1995, or that I would ever stop missing her presence, but perhaps could now begin to remember some of the joy found in priceless memories of holiday’s past.

 

If you are in the early years of your grief, you believe you will never again feel any amount of enjoyment in the holidays. However, allow myself and other seasoned grievers to be the bearers of hope. At one time we felt just like you do.. Whenever you feel ready for even a spark of pleasure in the holidays, let it return to your heart again. I sincerely believe our children want us—with as much time as we need-- to accept their spirit gifts of renewed joy,

peace, and hope sent to us from them with love.

 

With peace and gentle thoughts through this holiday season and always,

 

Cathy Seehuetter, Nina’s Mom

 

TCF/St. Paul, MN Chapter written in 2002

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About the Author

Cathy began writing about her grief not long after her beloved daughter Nina Westmoreland was killed at the age of 15--on Cathy's birthday--at the hands of a drunk driver. Her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul, Open to Hope, Tincture of Time, and the Best of Bulletin Board, as well as numerous grief publications including Living With Loss and We Need Not Walk Alone. Cathy has served on the TCF National Board of Directors from 2004-2010, and is currently Minnesota Regional Coordinator and St. Paul, MN's chapter leader. Since that time, her stepson, Chris, took his own life in June of 2012, and she hopes to write about her journey as a bereaved stepparent and the complexities of a loss by suicide. She is the proud mom of her three surviving children and five wonderful grandchildren.

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