My girls and I put up the Christmas tree the other day, and I love to sit in its gentle glow. Ever since I was a kid, I loved decorating the tree, finding favorite ornaments, telling the stories behind them.
Our tree has some ornaments that came from my childhood home—felt animals sewed in a childish hand, the delicate glass snowman and balloon a teacher gave me, a simple red ball with my name and the year of my birth.
Our tree has ornaments I’ve given to my husband or our family over the years—a geologic survey marker for Mount Washington, a wheelbarrow for all the gardening we do together, a green canoe and a toboggan from the years we bought those items to enjoy.
There are ornaments I’ve made for my girls, like the ladybugs from when they turned four and two with corresponding spots and the felt hearts with their names.
If you look, you will find a lot of cardinals. Glass balls with painted red birds, plump birds sewn from felt, a felt heart with a cardinal cut out of birch bark overlay. And the red birds from other babyloss mamas: the needle felted ball from Jenni, the paper circle from Amy, the cookie cutter tree with a reddish feather from a bird nicknamed “the desert cardinal.” It’s not surprising to find cardinals at Christmas, but mine are for Henry.
When Henry was in the hospital, somebody gave us a stuffed cardinal, the kind you squeeze to hear its call. My dad still talks about how it got Henry’s attention, whether the news or the bright color. The cardinal link started there, but it was seeing a cardinal, all red, streak across the bleak landscape that solidified it for me. That sudden brightness reminded me of Henry’s smile, the way it lit everything up, the way it made me smile.
People tell me about their cardinal sightings and let me know they’re thinking of Henry. That makes me smile too. Some days, just when I need it, I catch a glimpse of that flash of red. so bright on a dark day.
Last night, after stories, we turned off the light and sat in front of the fire looking at the tree. I sang my girls their songs, my chin resting on a blond head, my cheek against a nearly five-year-old cheek.
I thought the dark was going to rise up: the missing, the would-be eight year old not here. But instead what bubbled up was love, stretching me tight, expanding me. For a moment, it wasn’t dark and light, here and not, life and death, all those forces that pull me in two directions through this month. I thought it would be, but instead I expanded with just fullness, just love.