We took down our Christmas tree yesterday. I love putting the tree up – pulling the boxes out of the storage room, unwrapping each ornament. We have some that we bought together after we got married, some that my grandma passed on to us when she downsized a few years ago, and some that Topher and Ellie have made. I love remembering the story behind each ornament: The glass ball Michelle decorated with Ariel’s name when we boarded at Zephyr Ridge, the green “Diego” balls Topher got the Christmas when he was two and obsessed with that show, the dog ornament we bought to represent Chloe’s first Christmas.
Taking the tree down is usually a job that I do by myself. Ellie naps in the afternoon and Topher does quiet time, so I carefully remove each ornament, wrap it in tissue paper, and place it in the box for next year. I love all of our ornaments but there’s one in particular that I hold a little longer before I tuck the tissue paper around it.
Topher and Ellie both have “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments on the tree, but this ornament is for the baby that we lost.
The one who didn’t get to have a First Christmas.
* * * *
This year Nathan helped me take down the tree. He was handing me ornaments one by one, and when he came to that one – he paused. “When did we get this?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, taking it from him quickly, hoping he would accept my answer and move on to the next one.
No such luck. He knows I know the story behind every ornament on our tree.
“It’s … for the baby,” I finally said. “The one that we lost.”
“Oh.” He turned it over in his hands, reading the inscription.
* * * *
“Do you still think about it?” I asked later that night. “The baby before Ellie?”
“I do,” he said slowly. “But not like you do.”
I didn’t push it then, but now I’m almost wishing I had.
We don’t talk about the miscarriage.
Two days after I remember Nathan coming into our room and giving me a searching look. “Are you going to stay in bed forever?” he asked. “No,” I mumbled, before rolling over and burying my head once again in my pillow. I knew I couldn’t stay in bed forever (and I didn’t!) but I also knew that Nathan and I grieve differently.
I can’t think of words to describe how much I love Topher and Ellie, and how grateful I am to have two happy, healthy children – but I still think about the one who is missing.
Putting that ornament on the tree each year makes me feel a tiny bit better. My husband might think I’m completely crazy – but then again, maybe he doesn’t.
Maybe it helps him too.
Maybe he can’t think of words either, and maybe that’s why we don’t talk about it.
* * * *
This morning I pulled the box of Christmas ornaments back out of the storage room. I searched through at least a dozen carefully wrapped tissue paper packages before I found the one I was looking for –
And I put it in a prominent place on the mantle.
He didn’t get a First Christmas. He didn’t get a first anything – but he was loved, he was wanted, and he was celebrated.
And we remember.