Tomorrow is December 1st, but since Thanksgiving was so early this year, it feels like the Christmas season is already in full swing. Trees are up, houses are lit, and twinkle lights abound; as does the smell of pine, poinsettias everywhere, cheesy hallmark movies, the same 10 songs on the radio, and memories galore. I love all of those things. I love to walk into a place and feel the warmth that twinkle lights automatically bring to a space. I love the scents and tastes of holiday baking. Give me all the cinnamon. But on the opposite end of the yumminess, is the hard part of living life after loss: memories and the holes they make so obvious.

Truth is, Christmas is my favorite. And last year, I wanted nothing to do with it. I forced myself into putting up a tree. I went through the motions of the traditions our little family is building with Audrey. But every minute, of every day, I missed my son with so much of my heart, it didn’t feel like there was space for anything else. I spent a lot of time crying and even more time dreading each of the motions I was preparing myself to go through. This year though, this year is different. I couldn’t wait to get our tree up. I was beyond excited to “deck our halls” and even though I don’t have literal boughs of holly, there was/is a spirit this year that was hidden beneath a million layers of grief and heartbreak a year ago.

As I take time to reflect, it becomes clear that last year was for deep grief and mourning. It was for yelling at God. For processing emotions and promises from scripture. It was hard and painful. It was digging way down into the depths of the raw wounds that were left by the loss of my son. It sucked. But it also forced me to face those wounds and work towards healing them. The scar is big and it will never go away, but the wound is closed. Nearly two years out and it’s not as raw as it once was. I wish there wasn’t a scar. I wish my heart hadn’t broken in the first place, but given the circumstances, I’d do it all again for George Mason. And that is why this year is different. Last year I mourned. This year I celebrate.

From Christmas trees and twinkle lights to stockings hung on the mantle, my family, my whole family, has a space. I was out shopping with Audrey Nole yesterday for a Christmas tree for her room. It was sweet and wonderful to watch her intentionally choose one ornament over another and get excited about where she would place it on her very own tree. Moments like that can’t be prepared for, because mostly they are spontaneous - out of survival or necessity, they become cherished memories. She placed each ornament on her tree and talked about how beautiful it was. We both got lost, for a brief moment anyway, in the joy for making precious memories as mama and daughter. Just like with most things, however, the happiness in that moment was opposed by the equal tug on my scar over a little boy who isn’t joining us. Except that he is. Because as she was obsessing over the little details that make her tree hers, I found a little yellow dinosaur with a space for a picture and it immediately made me think of George. I don’t know if he would have been into dinosaurs or trucks or aliens or excavators, but when I saw the bright yellow body of this tiny little dinosaur, I couldn’t help but place it in the cart. My sweet son would be the perfect age to love dinosaurs. And so for every Christmas from now on, that moment in hobby lobby with my daughter will be shared by the sweet memory of her brother and the newest addition to our family ornament collection. As we trim our tree for years to come, we can be reminded of that moment in time where George Mason was a participant in a new memory. Where it moved beyond his 16 hours and set a place for him in 2018.

 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8