I am pulling plastic containers out of the basement storage space and handing them to Allen to carry upstairs. I’m doing my best to get in the holiday spirit, despite the recent news that my father now resides in a long-term care facility, recovering from pneumonia and fed by a tube because he can no longer swallow. The largest container, long and red, sparks some fleeting joy: my father’s Christmas tree, brought home from the beach house last November before Dad and my stepmother moved to the assisted living facility in Virginia. For twenty years, the tree sat in the front window of the house on School Lane.


selective focus photography of ornaments hanged on green pine tree

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

I’ll put it on my foyer, I think, and decorate it with the precious glass bells that were my grandmother’s, the plastic icicles from the year Dad served in Germany, and the various ornaments my late husband and I had collected over 44 years. I’ll put some of my mother’s ceramic houses around the base and add a few of Dad’s childhood cars.

It will feel more like Christmas.

I try to hand the box to my son.

Allen pulls his hands back, refusing to touch it. “What’s that?”

“Pop Pop’s Christmas tree. You remember we brought it home from Rehoboth last year.”

My autistic adult son crosses his arms and glares at me. “That’s Pop Pop’s tree.”


I take a deep breath. I do not want to have this conversation now. Allen has FaceTimed his grandfather and is aware that Pop Pop is not doing well, but the concept of death as forever is still murky for Allen. His acceptance of his own father’s death was hard-won. I’m not sure I have the energy for the process again. “It’ll be nice to have it up, don’t you think, “ I say. “ We can put it in the front window and remember how it looked in Pop Pop’s house.”

Allen remains stubborn, shaking his head. “No. It’s still Pop Pop’s tree.”

I nod, choosing my words carefully. “Yes. But Pop Pop gave it to us.  He wanted us to have a big tree. He and Peg will have the little tree in their apartment.” I do not mention that PopPop will probably never see the apartment again and that Peg has taken over a poinsettia to the care facility. More than likely, this will be my father’s last Christmas.



a green vase with red flowers on a table

Photo by Ray Shrewsberry on Unsplash

Allen shakes his head vehemently and yells, “It’s still his tree! Pop Pop’s not dead yet!” Tears stream down his cheeks.

Suddenly,  I understand. While Allen has accepted his grandfather’s serious condition, he’s not ready yet to see the tree as belonging to us. It would make his grandfather’s impending death real. Silently, I shove the tree back into its spot and pull out another, smaller box.

“We’ll put this one up instead,” I tell my son. He swats at his tears and carries the box upstairs; I follow with lights and trims.


In the foyer, I pull the little four-foot tree out and set it up on a table.  It is not green, but a teal shade of blue. As we start to trim it, I remember my own reluctance to put up our 6-foot tree the December after my husband died. While Allen continued to expect his father’s return daily,  I found myself overwhelmed with the holiday and grief.

My daughter and I had been yarn shopping at Hobby Lobby when I’d told her,  “I can’t do the tree this year. Dad and I bought that tree together four years ago. I just can’t do it. Allen and I will just do without a tree.”

“Allen will want a tree, “ Bonnie said, ever conscious of the needs of her autistic younger brother. “Get another tree. One for just you and Allen. One for your Christmas.”

I picked up the little blue tree off the shelf. It was different. There were no memories attached to it. “Your father would hate this tree,” I told my daughter as we set it up later that day.

“True,” she said. “He liked red and green for Christmas. But he’d be okay with the blue tree because you liked it.”

I knew she was right. The little blue tree helped me move on to a new life.


Allen and I spend an hour trimming the tree, carefully choosing which ornaments to use. We put a few houses beneath it and top it with a star. Allen plugs in the lights and we stand back to admire it. My father’s approaching death puts a pale over the holiday.

But it is still Christmas. The season of miracles.


I put my arm around my son. “Maybe next year we can put up Pop Pop’s tree,” I whisper. I think of all that will likely transpire in the months between now and then, moments of both joy and sorrow.

Allen heaves a deep sigh. “I guess he won’t need a tree if he’s in Heaven.” He returns my hug. “But if PopPop needs the tree back, I’ll be okay with the blue tree forever.”

I think of the joy in Heaven at this time of year. Is there a better place to celebrate Christmas? I think of how happy my mother, gone for 21 years, will be to see Dad again. I think of my husband smiling down on us and our little blue tree.

“A forever tree,” I say to Allen. “That would be a miracle.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.