Monday, November 25, 2013

The Tree

My tree

It had been nearly six months since Dave died and Christmas was coming, whether I cared about it or not. I got home and the driveway was full of familiar cars, the house lit up like Vegas.

Waiting inside were many of my closest girlfriends and a house decorated for Christmas; music, candles, food and a perfect Christmas tree ready to decorate. Each woman (and many who couldn't physically be there), presented me with an ornament to put on my tree. Each ornament had some personal meaning.

It's this tree that I pulled out and slowly reassembled the other day, picking up each ornament and finding just the right spot for it on my tree.

This is the third time I've done this. The love that this tree represents hasn't faded. The magic of that moment 3 years ago is still present in each ornament and each little limb of that tree, each twinkling light.

I am still stunned that my friends did that for me. I am still as shocked and grateful as I was that moment I first saw my house filled with their presence.

What makes that night and that tree and those precious ornaments even more precious, is what Christmas was like for me growing up.

With the exception of one or two years (when he half-heartedly attempted it), my father never acknowledged a single holiday. We didn't  have a Christmas tree, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinner, birthdays, Halloween decorations... nothing.

Sometimes he'd give money to a female coworker who'd take me out to buy myself what I wanted for Christmas or a birthday. Sometimes we'd go to our neighbor's house for Thanksgiving. He'd turn off the porch lights every Halloween so we wouldn't have trick or treaters.

Each holiday would pass without acknowledgement and I grew up not having the experience of having a holiday at home. I felt fundamentally different from every other kid I knew. I felt like a tag-along to every friend's house for the holidays. I felt orphaned and alone.

I longed for a holiday that included family and friends gathering and eating.

But that kind of longing is too painful to carry for an entire childhood, so I shut it down. Until I met Dave at 20, I didn't acknowledge the holidays at all. Once we were together, we would cook for Thanksgiving and we'd have Christmas at his parents'.

When Dave died, the holidays were gone again for me. I didn't have it in me to create them for myself.

But my friends created it for me that Christmas. And now, I can carry on that tradition.

I think one day I might have it in me to really go big for the holidays, even if it's just me appreciating it.

Or maybe, I'll be the one who surprises another orphan with a decorated living room. Or maybe I'll start inviting the other orphans I meet to my lavishly decorated home.

For right now, what I can handle for the holidays is this little tree, almost tipping over from the weight of all those ornaments.

And when I sit here in my living room and look over at that softly lit tree, every drop of love that created it fills me up all over again.


  1. Dearest Cassie, your story makes me feel so grateful that I was raised by two loving parents, who didn't have the financial means to give 6 kids everything but they had emotional strength and their love for us was unconditional. I was truly blessed. My children had their father until they were in their early 20s. They feel robbed especially as we approach our 4th holiday season without my husband, their father. I will share your story with them as to help them manage their grief in the next two months.

    Thank you for your incredible bravery and instilling hope in all of us. Your rock!

  2. Wow, this is such a heart warming post to read! Have a bunch of friends like yours to give you a holiday memory like that and a tradition to carry forward is truly a wonderful blessing. I don't know whose idea that was but I wish the idea would catch on fire...and maybe you're writing about it will help that happen.

  3. I met my husband on Halloween just shy of 40. A party my kids forced me to attend. For Christmas that year my daughter and I sneaked into his home, I had a key, and set up the first Christmas tree he had in five years. I had an ornament made that said Toni And Marvin 1994 till. He broke down his front door because he thought the tree lights were actually a fire and I have that ornament on my bedpost. I dread the holiday season.

    1. What a great memory! It does sometimes seem like the holidays were set up just to make those of us who are grieving feel worse. I guess the best we can do is let them remind us of the only thing that matters. Loving each other while we can. Hang in there.

  4. Oh my goodness...what a wonderful story! You have amazing friends and I'm pretty sure you will pay it forward. Happy Thanksgiving..

  5. What a lovely little tree, and even more lovely, are your friends who surprised you with it. New memories emerging in your life. I am so sorry you don't have those childhood memories, but it doesn't mean that you can't make some now. First Christmas in 4 years that I am even thinking about looking thru the decorations, I know I won't make it far into the boxes. Your tree reminds me of one I set up for my mother in law in a nursing home; after she passed, my daughter wanted it in her bedroom. Might just be the one for me this year, too. Creating holidays for oneself can be very sucky, starting out little might be the answer.