When I was growing up my parents got us a Christmas ornament every year. It was a tradition. I love unpacking those ornaments each year- seeing my mom’s handwriting listing my name and the year I received the ornament on the boxes. When Kevin and I were married those were the only Christmas ornaments we had for our tree.
It’s a tradition I wanted to continue with my kids. For Grace’s first Christmas we’d been through a lot and I remember struggling to find an ornament that represented that time- something we’d want to celebrate and remember every year about baby Grace as we unpacked that ornament. Ultimately I settled on an ornament of Dumbo taking a bath in a tub. The note I wrote on the box was one sentence in length that says “Because Grace loves taking a tubby!” One year it was a Cinderella ornament that marked her invitation to a princess birthday party. The first year she rode a horse-it was a horse. The year we flew to see her Aunt Heather and Uncle Drue married in Virginia it was a plane. This Christmas it was a Rapunzel ornament that we bought her at Disney World when we visited. Each year I write a note on the box about why we chose that ornament for the year.
My mom never wrote messages on the box about why she chose the ornament. She never had to because I know and I can tell the story. I started writing out the reasons on the ornaments we buy for our kids because I knew Grace wouldn’t be able to tell the story.
Special needs grief is a funny thing because this year as I was packing those ornaments carefully away I got to wondering if it mattered. If anything happened to us would those ornaments really follow Grace? When she grows up and if she were to live apart from us would anyone read the notes to her? Put up the ornaments? Was I just creating more for Graham to have to go through someday? Was it an unnecessary tradition? And in a larger sense if we are the sole keeper of Grace’s story and why she matters a few ornaments won’t begin to tell the story.
I feel different about Graham’s box. His ornaments are for him to have so that one day he can remember his growing up by going through a few ornaments that represent snapshots of what he liked and how he grew. I can picture him sharing them with his kids telling them about what Dad was like when he was little.
Ultimately Grace’s ornaments got packed in her box. I came to no conclusions other than it’s not a waste. If those ornaments are only ultimately for me then they are only ultimately for me. I chalked it up to grief sneaking up on me. Grief on a normal Sunday when we’d been to church, I was doing laundry, Grace was playing happily on the floor pulling every toy out of the basket in front of her, Graham and Kevin were out playing in the snow, and we were planning on Casey’s pizza for supper. It was grief that comes from the helplessness of not knowing. Grief because I’m not sure what to dream for Grace in the future. A grief that her experience will never be all that I dreamed for her. And the thing is I have a level of acceptance about all of this. I do. I swear. But even with acceptance, there are moments that catch you off guard and then all you can do is take the time to acknowledge the grief, share it if you need to, process it until it’s processed and then keep going. The ornaments are packed away but the work continues.