When Jeff used to do pre-marital counseling with people I told him to please cover the topic of Christmas trees. A relationship could break very easily if there wasn’t a common understanding. Real or fake? White lights or colored? Blinking or non-blinking? In my mind these were non-negotiables. For us – a real tree, white lights, non-blinking. Period. Of course that is because that is what I grew up with and I am stubborn and bitchy. Jeff being kind and always a bigger picture kind of person thankfully acquiesced.
Here is one of my absolute favorite pictures of Ben – our second Christmas with him, looking for the perfect tree in 2006.
Just a year later Ben was five months into treatment and would be lucky to be home for Christmas if he recovered from his surgery in time. Stem cell transplant was just around the corner. A “live” tree was not in the game plan, as we couldn’t have plants in our home. Ryan was just a few weeks old, so needless to say, “Christmas” was not on our minds. Survival was.
My parents, wanting to bring some sort of merriment into our crazy existence, bought and set up a fake tree in our living room one day. A small gesture, but it did indeed brighten up our days that year. Ben loved it, as did we. A year later in 2008 Ben was dying – literally. But up this tree went.
(Here is Ben & Kristen sitting by the tree in 2007)
Last year, our 2nd Christmas without him, “Ben’s Tree” presented us with some electrical issues. The middle section of the lights went out. How appropriate. Normally most people would just take that strand down and attach another – but this tree is pre-wrapped, as in all the lights are attached. So after last season we boxed it back up and decided not to deal with it until this year.
With the holidays upon us again we wondered what were we going to do? It was probably best to just give it away and start again fresh we initially thought. It would be fun to take Ryan to pick out a tree like we used to. It seemed all decided until while walking through Costco Jeff mentions casually that he is going to take the broken fake tree to the goodwill. *cue grief episode* Instantaneously my eyes burned, tears fell, my chest heaved, my longing for my son so intense you would have thought he had literally just died in Costco next to the toilet paper. Nice. It is strange when, where and how grief moments are triggered. But triggered it was. And with a rage I was like, “We are not giving away Ben’s tree. I want that tree for the rest of my life.”
At least the moment was clarifying.
Jeff agreed to appease my volatility but gave me the job of finding an electrician to fix it – knowing full well we were about to pay more than the fake tree was even worth. Yes, it was crazy, but grief is crazy – so to me it was worth it no matter how much it cost. I called numerous electricians and basically was told in a condescending way they didn’t do “that kind of thing.” I was about to start pleading and begging my case when Holley (the perfect name for this holiday project) answered his phone and told me in a very friendly and kind way that he would come take a look at it.
Holley spent a couple hours with us and Jeff continued the work after he left. But I am pleased to say that after $200 + dollars, many hours and some definite cuss words from my better half – the tree is back in order. Sometimes grief can be expensive and time consuming. This much I know.
It’s about hanging on I guess. Hanging on to anything and everything. Longing for Ben – and he is gone. But his tree is still here. So just like our life, sometimes your traditions change. We are (and seemingly forever) the family with a fake tree – with white, non-blinking lights that now thankfully work.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your plastic branches…