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Merry Christmas Sydney

December 24, 2011

With Perren’s encouragement, I offered to take the girls for a Christmas visit to Sydney’s grave. I explained that at this time of year, some people like to put a small Christmas tree on the grave. Vail declined and has been adamant that she does not want to go to the cemetery and is not sure if she ever will. Mary Haven, on the other hand, has expressed a desire to go, and in fact accepted my offer. However, she said she did not want to bring a Christmas tree, but really wanted to take flowers instead. So, the two of us headed off to Harris Teeter in the late afternoon.

We got to the flower counter and she immediately pointed out a bunch that she liked. “So, you want to get these?” I asked. “Ummm, no maybe these,” she said. “Okay,” I said, “but let me pick you up so that you can see all of them.” “Ummm, well…. I have to go potty.” So we went across the store and as she went in the bathroom it struck me how sweet this experience was. Upon returning to the flowers, Haven pointed to yet a third selection, which, this time was supported with logic, “I like these because they are lots of colors, and Mommy loved lots of colors.” “Great,” I said. So we took them to the attendant to wrap them up. As we were waiting and Haven was climbing on the counter and showing me which pink pony balloons she wanted for her birthday, I was praying that the attendant would not ask us who they were for. I just hate it when people stumble upon our tragedy and it makes them feel awkward or guilty.

For example, we were in Home Depot last Saturday morning and upon noticing a bed-headed dad with three kids in a shopping cart, the cashier cheerfully said, “So does mom get to sleep in this morning?” I was silent and painfully for us, she repeated the question. Vail said, “our mom died this summer.” “I’m so sorry,” the poor woman said, and of course she felt terrible. “It’s okay,” I told her. “Thanks so much for your help.” Well, fortunately, my prayer was answered and the flower lady did not ask us who the flowers were for.

As we drove towards the cemetery, which is only a mile from our house, Haven asked me numerous unrelated questions, and some related to the occasion. Being her first visit since the burial, I explained that neither the awning nor the astroturf carpet or chairs would be there, but that it would be just a spot on the ground (the headstone has not been installed yet).

We drove up to the grave and Haven was very curious as to how I knew which one it was. I explained that I chose the spot and that I had been there numerous times since. I guess I expected a monumental moment to evolve as she approached the Sydney’s grave, but she just laid the flowers down on the ground and kept rolling with her questions, “Why weren’t these here when we were here before?” she said, pointing to the surrounding headstones. “They were,” I explained, “they were just covered up so you could not see them.” “Oh,” she said. She proceeded to hop from one headstone to another in a circle, including a nearby bench in her obstacle course. I watched her, wondering if she was feeling anything, or just totally oblivious to where we were. I debated whether I should ask her about her feelings, or if she had anything to say to her mom, but I resisted. I wanted her first visit to be natural and pleasant, so that she would want to come back. “There is plenty of time for grieving,” I told myself.

“Dad, can we walk around and maybe go see that big fountain with a statue in it.” “Sure,” I said, “let’s go look for it.” As we walked, as light as her heart was, mine was heavy. Watching a carefree five year old visit her young mom’s grave created a powerful juxtaposition that struck me deeply. As we walked, I answered questions about fake flowers, the names and ages of various entombed people, and the varied Christmas decorations upon individual headstones.

As we arrived at one of the marble sculptures, Haven pointed further across the cemetery. “Ooooo, can we walk all the way down there because I see something GREAT we can do!” I chuckled. “What is that?” “We can rest under that tree.” “Okay,” I said, going with the flow. After resting under the tree, we began our return walk to the car. She was still bouncing with energy.

She said, “You go ahead and keep walking down the sidewalk. I’m going to run out and make some turns.” And she did, quite aggressively I might add. When we got back to the car she said, “Dad you go ahead and turn the car around, and I’m going to start walking towards the entrance, and you pick me up on the way out.” “Okay,” I said, indulging her the novelty of walking 200 feet without her dad.

I drove slowly and she opened the door as I pulled up alongside her. And then it happened. In an instant so brief I almost missed it. I can still picture it now. Before getting in the car, Haven turned, tossing her hair to the side in the dimming sunlight, and looked 300 yards across the cemetery, directly in the direction of Sydney’s grave. Without losing the smile on her face, she raised her hand to her mouth and blew a kiss. Then, she jumped into the car as if nothing happened.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. She was grieving. She did get it. All that jumping and running, turning and dancing, walking and talking. She is a kinetic child, she is not going to sit still and talk about her feelings. This is her way of doing it. She was not at all oblivious to why we were there, and the experience was not lost on her. I could not be more thankful for that moment.

Thanks for walking with us,


From → Stories

  1. I thank God for you and the father that you are to your children. While I have never met you and never knew Sydney, I know both of your mothers. I grieve with you as I read your well written posts, and I send the warmest wishes for a merry Christmas.

  2. Linda Welch permalink

    Todd, you are an amaziingly aware father. God blessed your children with you and Sydney as parents. Thank you for this beautiful recounting of your visit with Mary Haven to the cemetery.

  3. Holly Upton permalink

    You gave Mary Haven freedom and time to grieve in her way. That is one of the greatest gifts you can give her and yourself. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and poignant story with us.

  4. Joy permalink

    Thank you for this writing – it is a gift on the morning of Christmas Eve – I continue to pray for your family.

  5. Elise Kreitner permalink

    Todd, oh how your words touched me. I continue to be amazed by you, your strength, and how incredibly blessed your children are to have you as a father.

  6. julie holderness permalink

    Todd, Thank you for sharing your very private time with your precious 5 year old. We learn so much from our children, but many of us do not take the time to listen and try to understand what they can comprehend at those very tender ages. Mary Haven is so lucky that she has a sensitive and patient father that is gently taking her through the grief process. I hope you all will have a nice Christmas.With all that “santa energy” there will be lots of time for smiles, presents and fun memories to make. Sincerely, Julie A. Holderness

  7. Todd that is just spectacular! Johnny McConnell

  8. Here is to a Merry CHRISTmas to you and the children. God is working each day through you and with you. I can not imagine the pain but you handle it all with the children with such love, warmth and grace. Love to you all from your Ky families. Renee’ Wall Wade (Betsys daughter)

  9. Margie permalink

    Love this! I smile and cry every time I read your stories.

  10. Cassandra Wry-Ridlinghafer permalink

    Hi Todd,
    Thank you for sharing your perceptions and experience. I could visualize the experience.

  11. Catherine Stone Baugh permalink

    You are a wise man… So glad those kids have you as their father. May God bless you as time passes and seasons change. And may your patience, love & understanding with your kids grow & grow. The gap that is left without Sydney will never be filled, but in allowing your kids to grieve in their own ways, you are beautifully rounding out their upbringing in a way that is wonderfully gracious & reminiscent of Sydney. God bless you!

  12. Jason and Kristen Zaks permalink

    Such a special story….thanks so much for sharing. Your children are so special and you are a strong and special father. Find joy and strength in the children’s smiles and know that we are praying for you and the family.

  13. Beautiful, Todd. Thank you. Thank you for letting MH express herself the way she was created. She’s so much like Syd. You are capturing and storing up moments so artfully. I’m so honored to be allowed here to read. Thank you. Missing and praying for you and the children, always. ~Amber

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