Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

The Steve Tree

Monday, December 7, 2015
Posted By: 
Kris Lukas

For a few years, I did not have ANY Christmas spirit. I thought the whole thing was a hoax. I forced myself to go to malls and buy ridiculous gifts because ‘that’s what we do’. Christmas carols made me cringe. Nicely decorated homes made me jealous. Shoppers who looked happy annoyed me. Cashiers who were friendly got under my skin. I felt like the only person in the world who was not enjoying Christmas, and I felt like I had to participate, because that’s what is expected. I was pretty crabby the years my husband was sick, and the year he died.   

Perhaps the biggest problem in 2012 was that I also could not find the perfect gift, for anyone. No matter how much money I could spend or how many stores I searched, I couldn’t find the husband, father, brother, uncle, friend and son that I wanted back in our lives again. I was going to fail as a Mom, because I couldn’t give my kids what they really wanted for Christmas.  I remember telling them on Christmas morning, “I know it’s not what you want, but it’s something to open.” 

How would we ever get through this holiday? 

Well, somehow, we have. This year will be our fourth Christmas with just me and my daughters, and I am finally beginning to see that there have been some good things that we have brought forth with us through the sadness and loss. 

In 2011, when Steve could no longer walk, I put up a Christmas tree in our bedroom.  I knew he would never make it downstairs to see the actual ‘real’ tree, so I tried to re-create some ambience for him.  As part of the project, I solicited the help of friends and family and asked them to send in an ornament that reminded them of a memory they shared with Steve. You see, I had this feeling that this Christmas just might be our last one as a family. It turned out, I was right. 

The ornaments came in from all around the country where Steve had traveled on business and built relationships with folks.  Despite his illness, he found joy in opening each of those ornaments when they arrived, and being profoundly moved by the person who sent it. Many times his eyes would light up as he reflected on the memory the ornament sparked. In a couple of weeks, that tree was filled with ornaments, memories and tokens from people whose lives my husband had touched in some way. 

Last week, while my oldest daughter was home from college for Thanksgiving break, we assembled the “Steve Tree”. We had put up the tree every year, but mostly I did it alone. The girls were always ‘ busy with something’ or couldn’t find it in them to help. I think it was too painful most of the time.

This year, the girls asked about some of the ornaments and who the people were who gave them to us. It was wonderful to share some of the stories that I knew and help them remember more about their Dad. They laughed at the spider ornament when they learned of his fear of them.  They admired the beer mug ornaments and old photos from his college days, with his slim build and good looks.  The golf bags, starbucks, green bay packers, Wisconsin badgers, NY stock exchange, volleyball, fireworks and race cars brought smiles to all of us. My daughters seemed to sincerely begin to understand and appreciate the family and friends who have stood beside us through the years. They also had renewed admiration and respect for the man their father was and how many people outside of our family he had also impacted.  

We commemorated a life by putting up a Christmas tree of memories.  I had all my kids together and I felt that their Dad was looking down and smiling on us that day. This will probably be my most cherished moment of this season.  I think that is as good as it gets these days. Realizing how important these moments are when they happen, is enough Christmas spirit to get us through another year.  

Happy Holidays, everyone. Hug your families. 


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