Yes, I realize Christmas is over. And, yes, it was a tough holiday for me this year after losing both my mother and brother in the same year, only two years after my husband died.
Decorating wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
But I wasn’t going to let my emotions damper my 7 year old grandson’s holiday spirit, especially since this would be our first Christmas spent at my house since my husband passed away in 2012. I thought I’d put up the 7′ tree and surprise Santino with the 4′ tree to decorate any way he wanted.
However it was Santino who surprised me with an incredible idea – decorate a “Poppy” tree with photos of Marlon, my hubs and Tino’s Poppy.
I was beyond touched, and amazed that someone so young could have such a fabulous idea. I told him that we wouldn’t be able to make the decorations that particular weekend as I’d have to order the photos, but we’d make them on his next visit, the following weekend.
He couldn’t wait though and had to hang just a few simple ball ornaments on the four foot tree.
I ordered every photo I have of Marlon in wallet size from Walgreen’s (not realizing they come in sheets of four!). When I opened the packet I was immediately struck with emotion. So I put them away and thought of ways I could quickly make ornaments that Santino could help with, knowing at age 7 he probably wouldn’t want to do all of them.
I headed to the dollar store, grabbed a few things but wound up using things that I had on hand – glitter paper and goodie boxes.
Glitter Memory Ornaments
And nearly choked as I realized I had over 100 pictures.
With simple manila folders, I started sketching ornament shapes, setting the wallet sized pic – 2 x 3″ – in the center of each shape to ensure they’d fit.
After cutting out the templates, I simply traced them onto the glitter paper. Oh, I found some glitter foam at the dollar store that worked too.
Then each photo was glued onto the ‘ornament’ and a hole punched for a hanger to go thru.
I had visions of making ribbon loops to hang them with . . . but that idea quickly went out the window when I saw the huge stack of ornaments I had made.
Side note: I originally tried Mod Podge to decoupage the photos but it didn’t work on the glitter. Simple craft glue worked fine and was much quicker.
I had also picked up some glittered Christmas stickers, thinking Santino would enjoy adding his own personal stamp to the ornaments.
Memory Ornaments from Treat Boxes
You know how us artists and crafters never throw anything out because we’re absolutely positive we’ll use them for something . . . some day. Right?
Another side note: I did buy a bunch of wallet size photo frames from the dollar store too but a) I couldn’t center the dang pics (no, I didn’t think to use glue or tape that was sitting right there on my worktable), and b) I also couldn’t figure out how to hang the frames from a branch.
So um, yeah . . . when people say, “Oh, you’re SO creative!” they’ve don’t realize the many, many #craftfails that happen on a regular basis.
Anyway, I cut the box apart, saving the cello frame and one side of the box. Then I centered the pic and cut off the excess.
I glued the photo into place first, then added glue all around the edges. And finally I got to make a ribbon loop hanger just by sticking each end into the glue. Then close the back flap, wipe any excess glue, and set the ornament under something heavy to weight it down until the glue dries fully.
Memory Tree Topper Star
Santino is still young enough that there is only one thing that goes on top of a tree – a star. I had some glittered stars that were large enough but they’re dimensional so I wouldn’t be able to add a photo.
Obsessive much? Why yes, yes I am.
In between rain downpours, I ran outside sprayed the thing gold within an inch of it’s life and dumped half a bottle of cheapo glitter all over it.
Not trusting a picture would stay on the star with the open weave of the star and the glitter, I grabbed some gold vinyl I have for my Silhouette cutter and cut something resembling a star shape.
The photo I used was Marlon’s last Christmas in 2011 when he had to hold Tino up to put the gold start on the tree.
And yet another side note: I wish I’d thought about stuffing the star with lights so it really glowed. Instead I just stuck it on the top of the tree. Boo.
Now . . . the ornaments were all ready for Santino’s visit the next week end. And I would love to say that we had a ton of Hallmark moments of crafting together and reminiscing over the photos of Poppy.
But that’s not what happened. Not.even.close.
Not only did Santino not want to decorate the ornaments, he didn’t even want to look at them!
I was lost. Dumbfounded. And hurt.
After all, it was HIS idea to have a Poppy Tree in the first place!
Then I remembered my reaction when I saw the photos when I picked them up from Walgreen’s. So I asked him, do the ornaments make you sad? To which I received a very not-nice scowl.
I drove him down to his mother’s, pulled her aside and told her what happened. She was surprised too but said that his emotions run deep and wide.
If anyone should understand his reaction, it should be me. Or at least, understand that grief is bewildering and uncontrollable. I never know when or what will affect me, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for a 7 year old who’s entire world was wrapped up around his grandfather.
I do know he holds his emotions inside. Right or wrong, that’s what he does. We do talk about Poppy, mainly happy stories. Sometimes he wants to hear all about him, sometimes not. I try to go with the flow.
But this . . . this blindsided me.
What was I supposed to do with this huge box of ornaments now? Far too many for the little 4′ tree.
Part of me wanted to just throw them out, but I could/would never do that. I knew I had to decorate that dang tree because, no matter what his reaction was or would be, he would be expecting to see the Poppy Tree on Christmas.
So I did. First I added the glittered stickers to the ornaments along with a little extra glitter here and there. Then I started in on the tree, stuffing it with fabric as I always do, then a little more fabric.
The star tree topper was perfect . . . even if it would’ve been better with a few lights inside of it.
It adds depth and makes one want to look at the tree longer, to see any hidden surprises.
Nah. They really do stick out.
But as timing worked out, he didn’t come to visit me until the day after Christmas.
He did look at one of the ornaments and said, “That’s my favorite one there.” I don’t even know which one and it doesn’t matter.
He had his Poppy Tree.
And so did I.
Now . . . let me say this – if you’ve lost someone close and you’re still grieving, making a Memory Tree is not easy.
Oh, the ornaments are no big deal. In fact, I’ll start earlier next year and use either wood or ceramic shapes so they’ll be more durable and become keepsakes. The clear glass balls? Well, maybe you have more patience than I do, but those did NOT work out. At all.
But to have a tree lit up with photos of your loved one on nearly every branch? That stirs up a lot of emotion. Even more than you already have whirling from it simply being the holidays.
Still, I’m so grateful that Santino had the idea, even if he didn’t want . . . or couldn’t make himself . . . make the ornaments. Just the thought was enough.
The two previous Christmases without Marlon were so hard because I felt like he was missing out.
Not this year.
Not with our Poppy Tree.
What I am sure of is that everyone grieves differently, just as everyone loves differently. And the deeper the love, the deeper the hurt when you’ve lost that person. I don’t have any answers for anyone else. There are days I barely make it thru myself. But now I know that those days will pass and I’ll laugh and love again. And cry again too.
I hope your holiday was filled with peace and joy. I am so looking forward to this New Year, as I rebuild my life, my business, and my Self.