With Anthony, the tradition of decorating graves for Christmas really sunk in. I had never really questioned why my family did it. It was “just what we do.” I was seventeen the first time death and grief entered my life. My grandmother passed away suddenly and without real warning. She was in the hospital after a fall and was expected to be fine, when the call came in the middle of the night telling my mom she had passed away.
This was the first time I mourned for someone I was relatively close to and who was a part of my daily life. This death was where I learned my family’s tradition of going to her grave regularly, especially on big days like her birthday, the anniversary of her death, and the holidays.
The first Christmas after she died, my family all went out to her grave and put a little tree up for her, decorations and all. Then the first Christmas after my Tio died, we did the same thing. He is buried in a family cemetery out in the country, so we cleared out the weeds from around his plot, fixed up the knick-knacks we had placed there for him, and put up a tree and evergreen to make his grave as festive as we could. When my Tia was still alive, we prayed a rosary and sang Christmas carols to him.
Then came the big loss: my oldest son Anthony who died by suicide in March of 2017. With Anthony it was different. It wasn’t just remembrance. He was my child. He is my child. He is still a part of my life and my family. He still matters.
A Way of Caring
With Anthony, I carry on the tradition the way that my family taught me. I find the cutest little tree I can and then find little ornaments that will fit it. I get red ones because red is Anthony’s favorite color as well as mine. I have to cut the tinsel in half to not overpower the tree, but it gives it a bit of shine. I put it all together out at the cemetery so that I can spend time with Anthony, while also praying for him.
Decorating Anthony’s grave gives me a way of still caring for him, which I have done since the moment I found out I was pregnant with him. It also helps me feel as if I am letting him know that he does, in fact, matter. I am also letting the world know that he matters. Not past tense “mattered,” but present tense “matters.”
The world keeps turning after the death of a loved one. At Christmas that just seems so cruel for some of us. I see families everywhere enjoying the holidays and what is going through my mind is “My son is dead. He is in a grave. I will never see him again in this life. We will never have another Christmas morning together and nobody seems to notice that he is gone.”
Taking a tree with tiny Christmas ornaments and tinsel to his grave gives me a way of saying Anthony still exists and is a part of my life at a time when the world seems to forget that he was ever here.
Leticia Ochoa Adams is a writer living in Texas. Her personal website is Leticia Ochoa Adams and her Patheos blog Through Broken Roses. She is working to create the Red Door Foundation and writing a memoir about her life and how she found healing through therapy and Catholicism even as things kept crashing down in her life. Her previous articles are Sometimes When Your Grieve, It’s a Purple Day and My Son’s Grave Reminds Me.