I knew my wife was up to something a few months ago when she was busy at work on her laptop and periodically asked me to help her find some specific photos. She had a certain energy about her but kept everything secret. Then a few weeks ago she had her parents and Aunt Sonya come over to our home to do something special. I am generally aware when something is up – but this time I didn’t see it coming.

We had dinner as a family and enjoyed each other’s company for a while and then we went downstairs for the big reveal. To our surprise Natalie had made custom Christmas tree decorations in honor of our son. On our table was an array of UNO cards, Nerf guns, dragons, stuffed animal huskies and Angry Birds, Legos and more. Each of us also received a block with photos of us and Mitch. It was the most unexpected and thoughtful surprise. 

I was overwhelmed by emotion and quietly stepped out of the room and went down the hall … the same hall I stepped into, slid my back down the wall and wept like a child when Mitch told me “Well, at least I’m alive.” I sat in the darkness a moment and wept like I did when I knew I couldn’t save my son. I tried to dry up as quickly as I could and then went back in the room to participate. 

As I walked back in the room everyone was busy putting decorations on the tree and I was so grateful for family. As we were wrapping things up, Natalie showed us a star she made with Mitchell’s face in the center. 

Every time I see this tree I think of my son; and when I do, I do not have sad thoughts but thoughts of love and appreciation … thoughts of comfort. I am also reminded of what it means to be innocent and good. Mitch gave that to me, as did my other children – and for that, I am grateful.

I know there are some who bemoan the commercialization of Christmas (or any holiday for that matter) worried that people are obscuring its original meaning with all manner of distractions; and I understand the importance of remembering the origins of what we do and why we do it. But I also believe there is room for symbols, customs and traditions that remind us to be good. And if there are any such things, I seek after them. 

This humble tree adorned with things my little boy loved serves as a reminder that family is a gift I cherish – a gift I will never again take for granted.