The Decking of the Halls: My Favorite Ornament

This is what my tree looks like this year. It's depressing on so many levels. A) Look at that tree. That is a cheap and ugly tree. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I love real trees in other people's houses. I cannot be charged with the task of cleaning up after them. So, we are artificial around here, and I just haven't been able to bring myself to really spend the money on a good artificial tree -- so we just rock the $16.99 Target special from 5 years ago. B) No ornaments? I mean why even bother putting up a tree if you're not going to decorate it (and in the tree's defense, it is passable for an average looking fake tree when is well adorned with 33 years worth collected ornaments)? Well, I have two very good reasons, the 11 month-old Twinstroms. When I was in college and lived in a house with 6 other girls who fancied a cocktail or two, I saw the damage that can be done when a tree full of ornaments took a tumble on a wood floor more than once. Now, I'm not totally comparing two mobile almost one year-olds to a bunch of drunk 20-somethings, but... well, yes, I guess I am.

So, I'm going to cheat a little here, and instead share with you my favorite ornament on A tree. It's just not MY tree. This is an ornament that shows up every Christmas on my father-in-law's tree. It's my first daughter, Brady. She died of SIDS on July 5, 2005, when she was 3 1/2 months old. This ornament was not really intended to be an ornament (boy, that's a little deeper than I meant to go, of course I wish this didn't exist for the purpose it exists for...) On Brady's first birthday, I tirelessly created a couple hundred of these little sun catchers. Hand painting each of them in reds and oranges, the color of Brady's hair. I printed off hundreds of pictures of her, and cut them all to size, and glued them to these little sun catchers. I picked out a ribbon that I loved and affixed it to each and every sun catcher, tying the bow there, instead of in her beautiful red hair. Then I delivered each of them to our friends and asked them to put them in a prominent window in their home from March 19 - July 5, the 109 days of Brady's life. I told them to feel free to leave them there longer if they were moved to do so. We also handed along these words, which I want to share with you for reference if you know anyone who has lost a loved one, or if you have lost a loved one. Most of these thoughts apply:

We would like to offer you these ideas of ways we would appreciate receiving your continued love and support:

  • Please do not be afraid to speak Brady’s name. She will always be a member of our family. We need and want to hear her name.
  • We often cry or become emotional when we talk about Brady. Please know that it is not because you have said or done something to hurt us. Her death and our loss is the cause of our tears. You have allowed us to share our grief, and for that we thank you.
  • Although it is difficult, we in fact can often feel better by acknowledging and experiencing our pain and grief. We must hurt to heal.
  • Please know that there are many possible feelings associated with grief. Depression, anger, frustration, hopelessness, and questions about values and beliefs are to be expected following a death.
  • We appreciate all of you who continue to display Brady’s picture or other remembrances in your home. We love our daughter dearly and are proud to know that our friends and family choose to remember her by displaying her image.
  • We will have emotional highs and lows. If we have a good day our grief is not over, if we have a bad day we do not need to be institutionalized. Grief is not linear. Grief is a roller coaster. It is not a fun ride, but it is one that we will be on for the rest of our lives.
  • Please know that it can be very difficult for us to reach back when we’ve been reached out to. We still love and care for each and every one of you, and so appreciate your willingness to stay by us, to grieve and celebrate Brady with us each and every day.
  • Our grief will not end. The first few years are going to be exceptionally difficult. We will always miss Brady and will always grieve her death. We will never be cured, as this is a permanent loss.
  • Future children, if we are so blessed, will bring us great joy, but will not replace the ones we have lost. That would not be fair to anyone. If or when we become pregnant again, please understand that it will be an incredibly difficult experience filled with a confusing mix of fear and happiness.
  • Brady’s birthday (March 19), her birthday into heaven (July 5), and the holidays are difficult times for us. The weeks leading up to these important dates are also quite difficult. We have found that often the anticipation of these dates is more painful. If you are thinking of her or us during these times, please let us know that you are. If we seem quiet or withdrawn, please know it is because we are thinking about her. During these times in particular, it may be difficult for us to be cheerful or fun. We appreciate your patience.
  • Our grief has changed us, and on many days can define us, grief is ever-changing. We are not the same people we were the morning of July 5 when we kissed our sweet girl good morning. We will never be those people again. We are new people, with new thoughts, dreams, aspirations, values, and beliefs. Please try to get to know the new us, we hope you will still like us.
As I was looking through these thoughts again, I realize that though it's been 5 years, and our life has changed in ways we could not have dreamed in those early days, all these things still hold true. Brady is still so much a part of our family. She is a daily acknowledgement, thought, and conversation. My heart flies every time I see that little sun catcher still displayed in the home of a friend, knowing that they can't help but think of her when they see the sun glistening around her. In fact, our family doctor has it hanging above their front desk. I absolutely LOVE seeing her there and knowing that people who never
had the fortune of knowing her are touched by her in that small way. So, of course, when I see her sweet face, there on my father-in-law's tree, it really feels like Christmas. And even though our tree isn't decorated this year, our stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and see that one on the right? Hanging under the butterfly? Yes, that's Brady's.


  1. This was so touching. I know time passes and that, in some ways, makes it both easier and harder at that same time. Thank you for sharing your story. And I am sorry for the loss of sweet Brady.

  2. I've been listening to you on 107.1 for... forever, and I've always been so moved by the grace and dignity with which you've shared your story. This is a beautiful tribute to Brady. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

  3. Tears. You are an amazing writer and your story is deeply touching. Thank you for sharing. Your sweet, sweet Brady has an amazing mom. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. This was such a beautiful post. My heart goes out to you, and I am so very sorry for your loss.

    On another note, your tips are perfectly written! My brother died 5 years ago at age 24, and it is amazing how many people do not talk about him to us (my parents and me) because they seem uncomfortable if we get teary when he is mentioned. I wish I could send all those people copies of what you've written here. Maybe we should write a book. :)

  5. That was so beautiful and totally stopped me in my tracks this morning. THANK YOU for continuing to share your memories and story about Brady. I also remember hearing about her passing on the radio years ago, and considering where I was in my life at the time - pregnant with my first - it really scared me and I felt so awful that any parent should experience a loss so deep.

    This post is beautiful - and the part that got me the most is when you talked about tying the ribbons on the suncatchers in place of her hair. I just wish I could give you a big hug right now. I guess I'll have to wait until our next sushi date.


  6. Once again, wise, eloquent and beautiful.

  7. Very touching.

    And as a mom of 2.5 year old twins and a 9 month old, I feel your tree pain. I only put a very few special/unbreakable ornaments on the tree. Special towards the top, and unbreakable...well I keep finding them all over the house. :)

  8. You are such a brave person to write this, and to put out there what so many people are thinking when it comes to mentioning your daughter. Your raw honesty is appreciated, and your daughter is just beautiful.

  9. Wow - thank you so much for sharing this. I'm so sorry for your loss - what a beautiful way to speak into and through the pain and to help those who love you to understand where you're at. Absolutely lovely.

  10. This is beautiful my friend. Brady is obviously very loved and remembered, as she should be. Hugs and love to you!

  11. This is so beautiful I hardly know what to say.

    The tips you gave your friends and family are amazing and were probably of great comfort and help to them. How amazing of you to be so giving in such a hard time of your life.

  12. Stumbled onto this post from a Twitter link and so very glad I did. I have three friends who this year lost a child and have found myself more than once at a loss for words to say. Thank you for sharing. I've been a 107.1 listener since the beginning and remember hearing of Brady's loss on the way to work. I think of you and your family often and send each of you peace for the holiday season.

  13. Your button wreath looks great,i tried looking for a small plain circle base to make one and couldn't find one. garden decking


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