The four-inch light blue glass ball is always the initial ornament placed on our annual family Christmas tree.
For our first Yuletide Season together, my new husband David and I travelled to my childhood home in upstate New York to be with family. We saved the money that we would have spent on a tree, and instead we used the fund for gas and presents. As a compromise, we trimmed a scrawny, potted Norfolk spruce that already filled an empty corner in our sparsely decorated first apartment.
The special, delicate ball with the white handpainted message “David 1948” represented all of the wonderful memories of his childhood. It was hung on their Christmas tree each year since his birth and now, in 1977, it made its first appearance in our home.
The fragile orb dominated the meager branches and easily reflected the single string of blinking, colored lights. A few small, plastic balls from K-Mart and a red plaid bow on the top branch completed our modest decorations.
Through the years, the children referred to this ornament as “Dad’s Ball” and their father was always the first to place his decoration on our tree. When the season was over, the precious globe was returned to its original thin cardboard box and safely nested in faded tissue paper until the next December.
Year after year, the ceremony was repeated. But in Christmas 1993, a thick crust of grief still layered over our usual joyous spirits. As a result of a car accident, my husband abruptly died from his injuries and we were facing our first holiday without him.
But each one of us knew how much David loved this special time of year, so my ten-year old son and twelve-year old daughter and I decided to do our best to carry on with our family traditions, now as three rather than four. The house was decorated inside and out. The butter cookies were baked. And the large freshly cut spruce tree was placed in its usual spot next to the fireplace where the handmade stockings were hung.
With carols blaring from the radio, we pressed forward with the tree trimming. Doing our best to hide our own moist eyes from each other when “Dad’s Ball” was lifted out of its small package, we bravely decided upon the perfect location and we reverently hung the treasure with love.
When the last piece of tinsel was draped, we stepped back, flicked on the lights, and marveled at the beauty of our family tree, as we did each year. We knew that David was equally pleased and we felt his presence and love thus melting another layer of our grief.
I am still the guardian of the family Christmas decorations, so once again this year, I pulled out the multiple boxes of homemade ornaments from the basement. One contained the prized, small cardboard box. Now I am usually the only elf in our house that creates the Christmas magic since the children have grown up and moved away, but I still hold fast to our traditions.
I make sure that “Dad’s Ball” is the first decoration to go on the tree. When the kids come home to spend the holidays with their own families and friends, each one inspects the tree for his or her special elementary school creations, and they search for “Dad’s Ball” while my new husband Tom looks on with approval.
This year the seven foot tree’s limbs were especially fresh and pliable so I moved the rusted original hook to a thicker branch towards the middle of the tree, right at eye level. After pinching the metal clasp tightly to a sturdier piece of pine wood, I realized that the familiar message was facing inside the tree rather than looking outward.
I was in a hurry and I was worried that if I took the ball off the branch and repositioned it, that I might drop it in my haste, so I left it where it was and vowed to return at a time when I was more relaxed to fix it. This year I was in a tremendous rush to have the house completely decorated and all Christmas preparations completed before my December second ankle surgery. Everything needed to be in place since I was going to have to be off my feet until the New Year.
The morning of my surgery I arose at 5am and I was quite nervous. I never had surgery before, so, in the still of the morning, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and said a quiet prayer for a successful operation. I ended it with a special request to David, my guardian angel, to please watch over me. Then I went downstairs to check on the water level for the tree for one last time. My eyes immediately went to the blue ball which was now facing outward, greeting me with its inscription, “David 1948”.
Grinning broadly with a knowing smile, I saw that once again I had been given a very special “whisper” and a sense of calm came over my nervous body. David was watching over me! These unique signals have been with me over the years since his death and have been instrumental in my healing. I am truly blessed and I am grateful for their presence as I continue to listen for them every day.
So at this special time of year when we give thanks and celebrate the miracle of the birth of our Lord, I hope that wherever you are on your grief journey, that you might also experience a little miracle of your own and receive the gift of a comforting “whisper” and a special opportunity to remember your own loved one.
Merry Christmas and a very blessed New Year!
Kim Kluxen Meredith 2011