The Empty Bough

Have you decorated for the holidays yet? Do you have favorite ornaments? One of my favorite looked to be spun of pure threads of glass. It was heart shaped, its only embellishment a narrow pink ribbon. It was quite beautiful in its simplicity. But more important to me was its provenance. The ornament wasn’t mine. Rather, it was a gift to my then, eight month old daughter on the occasion of her christening. A dear friend and neighbor so special she served as another grandparent to my older son was the gift giver. It was perfectly beautiful as we hung it on the tree each year over the next 20 years.
And then I broke it.
The ornament simply slipped out of my fingers onto the unforgiving newly refinished floor. The carpet was gone and now the ornament was shattered. I was reminded of that broken ornament again recently when another close friend called to comment on my recent Facebook post. One where I shared the surprise gift of a trip to Chicago to take in the holiday decorations and the Nutcracker ballet all provided by our adult children.
My friend wanted to say how wonderful she thought the gift and the day looked. She did. And then she began to cry. Our day of holiday fun reminded my friend of similar trips she and her late mother had made over the years to celebrate her own December birthday. And it made her sad, Missing her mom, the times they shared before Alzheimer’s took her mother away, years before death parted them. She apologized for her tears not wanting to sadden me too. I told her those tears were well earned and valuable. Just as important as anything else the holidays have to offer.
You see, to my way of thinking (and this is after all my blog) Christmas is complicated. It’s a beautiful time of sparkle and fun. But it also is full of poignant moments. They catch us unaware and can stop us in our tracks.
I was buzzing about busily at my own Christmas party this year. Filling the punch bowl, passing the appetizers when one of my guests caught me off guard with a hug and these words. “I’m so happy to be at your wonderful party again this year. But I’m also thinking of the people who’ve been here in the past who are no longer here for you, and it makes me a little sad.”
Zing. Wow. How did she channel that huge bold truth? It was there in the house with me amid the tree and the decorations and the candles shining brightly. Yes, there were spaces left where beloved folks had been. An older neighbor who always entered with a booming laugh and a giant hug for me. My mother in law sitting quietly, shyly near the tree, my son’s godfather early to arrive and always one of the last to leave.Usually he would be one of several friends at evening’s end sitting, talking eating the last remaining Christmas cookies. Sweet memories.
My friend’s tears for the holidays with her mother, my absent party guests, they are part of Christmas too. Remembering the people who we have loved and who have loved us gives Christmas its depth of color beneath the shiny sparkle. The empty spaces between the boughs are filled with no small amount of longing for what we can no longer see; a parent, a friend, a sibling, a child, a spouse.
They give our tree, our life a dimension, a counter point to the busy rush of the holidays.

In my mind my beautiful Christmas tree will always be missing one special ornament. The space it filled within the branches will always be empty. Not because it was such a lovely ornament but because the love it came with was so dear.
I will miss it forever.
But, I will continue decorating my tree and home each Christmas. Knowing that sometimes the most beautiful decorations shine only in my memory. But shine they do.
And they warm the winter night.
I’m just say’n.

2 thoughts on “The Empty Bough

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s