“All the Christmas ornaments are destroyed,” my husband Greg said one Saturday this fall.

“What?” I glared at him like he was crazy, because HELLO!?!? He was, obviously! It was October. He was in the process of helping the kids make Halloween costumes. It was nowhere near Christmas or even Christmas decorating. And, most importantly, there was absolutely no way in heck all our ornaments could be destroyed.

“I opened up the bin and something must have gotten damp during the move because they were all covered in disgusting mold.”

“Uh-huh, right,” I half nodded and went back to my Sunday grocery list and meal planning with my creamy cup of hot coffee, completely denying his words. Like a virus coming to wipe out all my computer documents, my brain screamed, “ALERT! ALERT! BLOCK INCOMING MESSAGES.”

I’m good at denial.

RELATED: Your Kids Will Remember How Christmas Felt Not How It Looked

I tossed out his comments in disbelief. I walked away from my kids every time they mentioned it. I denied it for dayseven after the garbage men came and collected the bin my husband wrapped in black garbage bags like it was toxic waste. Probably because it was.

I denied the loss with passion. But little by little, probably like the mold eating away at my ornaments, it broke me. I tried to blink away the images that pried through my vision.

The kids’ cheesy-but-super-cute ornaments with their school pictures inside them.

The teeny, white, paper snowflake my friend Meg made me. Elegant in its simple beauty.

The instruments my mother-in-law sent us when Greg and I used to play the violin and banjo together.

The animals and glittery stars family members sent my kids over the years so they could build their own foundation of ornaments. Foxy and whale and donkey. An entire flock of birds, some velvet, a few handcrafted like Fabergé eggs. One made out of balsa wood, plain, boring, almost always forgotten in the box.

A mini pair of handknit mittens. A mini pair of hockey skates. A mini pair of soft, red, figure skates. All these fun reminders of winter’s magic spell.

The beautiful, gold star my friend brought me from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The shiny apple with my name on it from my students in East L.A.

Santa’s jolly head made out of construction paper by someone in our lives.

An entire choir of angels, each one unique, but altogether with the rest of the ornaments, they sang their multitude on our trees’ branches, year after year.

Every handmade ornament my kids and I made together over the years. 

All the ornaments my mom left me when she died.

The tree-topping star Greg made as a child. 

And the tree-topping lace angel from my mom.

And how we swapped them out each year as the final tree-topping honor.

Once the dam was breached, the images flooded through. And with them, one grief after another. Because it wasn’t, it isn’t simply about things, about possessions, about ornaments being destroyed. It’s the striking loss of so many wonderful holiday memories. Not only memories attached to where each ornament came from, or who they came from, but also the unique memories we have of decorating our tree each year. Arguably, my kids’ favorite holiday activity.

Yes, I mourn the loss of the stuffed mice my great aunt made from felt, complete with their own tiny scarves and mittens. But I will miss the memory of my kids discovering those ornaments even more. Their smiles and squeals of delight when they first saw them the Christmas after my mom died. I will miss how we had to hang them on high branches because our dog Dizzy also fell in love with them, and he would gingerly sneak them off the tree to enjoy a good chew.

How quickly I did a 180.

I closed my eyes to the daily minutiae distracting me from these beloved old friends and tried to picture each carefully packed box of ornaments. I imagined myself opening them, no mold in sight. To see inside. To remember. Like looking inside someone’s heart, my heart. My heart of holiday memories now turned into ghosts. I can capture some like wisps on the wind, but so many scatter away from me. 

Now I turn to my kids and husband to hear what they recalled, knowing together we can paint a clearer collage. But I also know we will not open any boxes in excitement this year, to see what we packed away from previous years, to smile as we are met with our old friends from all the Christmases we’ve enjoyed. And I can only hope some hover like friendly ghost memories locked in our hearts forever.

RELATED: This Christmas, Our Family is Going Stress-Free

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Sara Ohlin

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the upcoming contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher and Salvaging Love. You can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, and Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers. Find her at www.saraohlin.com

This Is a Mom’s Brain in the Middle of the Night

In: Living, Motherhood
Woman looking at smartphone in the middle of the night

Dear husband, let me introduce you to your wife, insomnia edition. You see me not sleeping. You see me “playing” on my phone. Here’s what my brain is actually doing . . .  It’s 2 a.m., I wake up thinking, “I need to make an appointment” (it can be as mundane and stupid as a haircut or more importantly, a specialist appointment for one of the kids). I try to go back to sleep, promising myself I will remember. Lying there, I tell myself I won’t forget. I will remember, don’t worry. Fifteen minutes go by . . . On...

Keep Reading

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

In: Grief, Living, Loss
Small dog with head hanging out car window, color photo

Our dog Carlos has slowed down considerably within the last few months. He’s always been outspoken and opinionated–a typical firstborn trait–and to hear him snoring most of the day and tolerating things he normally wouldn’t tolerate (i.e. being carried from place to place by my son, forklift-style) put me on notice that he’s in the fourth quarter. Carlos looks and acts like an Ewok from the Star Wars franchise. According to Wikipedia, Ewoks are clever, inquisitive, and inventive. Carlos checks all three boxes. As a puppy, we tried crate training, but it never took. It wasn’t for lack of trying....

Keep Reading

Her Future Will Not Be My Broken Past

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and daughter hold hands by water, silhouette photo

Forty years ago, you were an innocent child. You were brought into this world for a purpose. Your innocence is robbed before kindergarten by a trusted relative. You are broken and bruised by those entrusted to protect you. You are extremely emotional in your childhood, but no one listens to understand. As you grow into your teenage years, emotions are bottled up out of fear. You lean into promiscuous behavior because that is the only way you know how to get men to love you. Because of abuse that no one took you out of, you stay around those who...

Keep Reading

Mom’s Special Recipe Means More This Year

In: Grown Children, Living
Bowl full of breadcrumbs and celery, color photo

Three weeks before Easter, my family and I stood in the hallway talking to a team of doctors whom we had flagged down. We were anxiously inquiring about my mom, who was in the ICU on life support. We hadn’t been able to connect with the doctors for over 48 hours, so it was important for us to check in and see what was going on. The head doctor began discussing everything they had observed in the scans and what it meant for my mom’s quality of life. Every word made our hearts break. The doctor continued to talk about...

Keep Reading

I’m a Mom Who Reads and is Raising Readers

In: Living, Motherhood
Mom with infant daughter on bed, reading a book, color photo

Since childhood, I’ve been lost in a world of books. My first true memory of falling in love with a book was when my mom read aloud Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With each voice she used, I fell deep into the world of imagination, and I’ve never seemed to come up for air. My reading journey has ebbed and flowed as my life has gone through different seasons, but I’ve always seemed to carry a book with me wherever I went. When I entered motherhood and gave my whole life over to my kids, I needed something that...

Keep Reading

You Have to Feel before You Can Heal

In: Living
Depressed woman in bed

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed How do you heal? You let the pain pass through you. You feel your feelings....

Keep Reading

I Didn’t Know How Much I Needed Other Mothers

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Two mom friends smiling at each other

I read somewhere the other day that when a child is born, a parent is too. In my first few months being a mother, I’m learning just how odd that sentiment is. In an instant, I became someone new. Not only that, but I became part of a group I didn’t realize existed. That sounds wrong. Of course, mothers existed. But this community of mothers? I had no idea. It took us a long time to get where we are today. Throughout our journey with infertility, I knew in my heart I was meant to be a mother. I knew that...

Keep Reading

To the Extended Family That Shows Up: We Couldn’t Do This Without You

In: Kids, Living, Motherhood
Family visiting new baby in a hospital room

This picture—my heart all but bursts every time I see it.  It was taken five years ago on the day our daughter was born. In it, my husband is giving her her very first bath while our proud extended family looks on. It was a sweet moment on a hugely special day, but gosh–what was captured in this photo is so much more than that. This photo represents everything I could have ever hoped for my kids: That they would have an extended family who shows up in their lives and loves them so deeply.  That they would have grandparents,...

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Tell a Couple Trying to Conceive to Just Relax

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Black-and-white photo of medical supplies

This is a plea. A plea to those who know someone who is struggling with infertility. So, if you’re reading this, this is directed right to you. Please, for the love of everything, when someone tells you they are struggling to conceive, do not tell them to “just relax.” I know it’s the cliche, default term most blurt out because they don’t know what else to say. It’s awkward to discuss for some. I’m 10000% positive it is coming from a good place and is meant to be calming and reassuring, and you really do believe it’s true because a...

Keep Reading

My Husband Having a Stroke at 30 Wasn’t in Our Plans

In: Faith, Living
Husband and wife, selfie, color photo

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) This verse in the book of Jeremiah has long been a favorite of mine. In fact, it’s felt relevant across many life events. Its simple, yet powerful reminder has been a place of solace, perhaps even a way to maintain equilibrium when I’ve felt my world spinning a bit out of control. In this season of starting fresh and new year intentions, I find great comfort in knowing...

Keep Reading