Book Excerpt: Chapter 28 "Endings and Beginnings"
The Story of the Heartlight Tree
The Story of the Heartlight Tree
The pointy needles of the blue spruce poked through my knit gloves jabbing at my fingertips. Pulling the glove off with my teeth, I unhooked the ornament from the snow-laden branch with bare fingers. Carefully, I wrapped the handmade decoration in tissue paper and placed it in the box at my feet. My heavy frame waddled to the back of the tree where I checked the rest of the branches for hidden ornaments.
Kevin’s tree had
been transformed into a glorious spectacle of lights and decorations this Christmas season. We asked Amber and her cousins, as well as Kevin’s friends, to make a special ornament in memory of Kevin to hang on the tree. They fashioned the most beautiful keepsakes from pine cones, clay dough, and wood. Each day a different ornament appeared on the tree as the children came to the park to hang their mementos.
My eyes stung with tears as I remembered our valiant effort just two weeks before to light the tree. Initially, we had envisioned Kevin’s tree decorated with hundreds of miniature lights. Knowing there was no electricity available in the park, we decided to use battery-operated lights instead. Stann wired the star he cut from scrap wood for Amber’s ornament with battery lights. She had painted the star bright yellow and glued wooden block letters that spelled Kevin’s name to the center. When he turned on the switch, the Lilliputian spruce became a blaze with a hundred twinkling lights.
The next morning we discovered that the batteries had only lasted through the night. Our spirits plunged when we realized that we would have to replace them each evening if we wanted the tree to stay lit through the holidays. Later that afternoon when we returned to the hill, Stann and I could not hide our disappointment and tears. This little tree was the one thing that had brought some joy to our hearts as we faced our first Christmas without Kevin. Our idea had been a bust. Braving the cold, we began removing the defective strings in silence.
“Hey there! What can we do to keep this tree lit?”
Startled, we looked up to see a middle-aged man trudging through the snow from behind the tree. Rather bluntly, I cried out, “Do you have any electricity?” My sarcasm had gotten the best of me.
“Well, as a matter of fact I do,” he proclaimed. “I’m Ed. I live in that house right behind the tree,” he said jabbing the air with his thumb. Extending his other hand, he shook hands with Stann. “My wife and I saw it last night from our kitchen window. It was beautiful. What’s this tree for anyway?” he asked.
We tearfully explained our story of Kevin’s tragic death, the gift of the tree and our vision of lighting it in memory of him. We concluded with the present dilemma of the battery lights. Ed had been listening intently as we poured out our story.
With tears in his eyes, he finally spoke, “Please, let us help you light this tree. Our son was diagnosed with cancer as a child, and although he lived, we know a little bit about your pain.” He went on motioning with both hands, “You take all this stuff back to the store and get some extension cords and some real lights. We’ll hook it up to my house and we’ll get this tree lit tonight,” he said enthusiastically.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Stann put his arm around me and wiped his cheeks with his free hand. “You don’t know how much this will mean to us, sir, we really appreciate your offer. But, we want to pay for the electricity we use.”
“Absolutely not,” he said firmly. “You better get moving while there is still daylight and the stores are open. See you in a little while.” Waving goodbye, he stomped through the snow and entered the gate of the chain link fence separating his yard from the park.
Excited about our good fortune, I talked non-stop all the way to the car. With little time to spare, we raced to the store and purchased a box of three hundred miniature lights and several extension cords. Within the hour, we met up with Ed again. He was real! This was really happening. Our excitement grew despite the long shadows of dusk and the near zero degree temperature. Together, we set to work, wrapping the new strings around the tree until it was covered from top to bottom. I replaced the ornaments while Stann and Ed used flashlights to hook up the extension cords down the hill and through his backyard.
By the light of his kitchen window, Ed positioned himself on the patio waiting for our signal. “Ready!” Stann hollered waving his arms. Instantly, the tree was aglow shining brightly on our tear-stained faces. Running back through the snow Ed joined us in a triumphant cry that echoed through the park. We laughed and cried, and hugged each other as the miniature lights twinkled before us. It was a spectacular and joyous sight. For the first time in a year my heart was full with hope.
As word spread of the little Christmas tree in the park, more ornaments appeared on its young branches. We were astonished at how many people, even strangers, felt compelled to visit the tree as they left offerings for Kevin and other children who had died. We realized then that Kevin’s tree had a far greater purpose. A simple act of generosity and compassion by one couple had given us a ray of hope during a dark and mournful time. Kevin’s tree had to be shared with other bereaved families so they too could honor the love light of their precious children.
Copyright 2016 Carla Blowey/Dreaming Kevin. All rights reserved.