The Angel Tree

This week, we went to our local cemetery in Sebastian’s honour – for the first time.

We were told by a friend (thank you, C) about something called the Angel Tree, in the children’s section of the Memorial Garden. Bereaved parents were invited to put an ornament on the tree in remembrance of a deceased child, and after today, all the decorations will be removed and buried there.

I bought four little wooden cutouts, two hearts and two stars, and Sean and I got our inner artists out to paint them. We made one for the Angel Tree and one for our own Christmas tree.

We had hoped to visit the cemetery earlier in the holidays, and earlier in the day, but you know how the Christmas season is – way too busy, and vacation (if you’re lucky enough to have it) slips away much too fast. We went on Wednesday after school, but left later than we meant to, and the daylight faded as we crossed town to get to the cemetery. It was pretty dark when we arrived.

I’ve spent some time in cemeteries before, and they can be lovely, peaceful, beautiful places. This experience was tranquil and quiet, but bleak. I was taken aback to find that even though the Angel Tree was so tiny it only reached my midsection, it was not at all full. Our decoration joined only a few others. It’s possible some were removed earlier, if the tree got too full to hold more… or it’s possible not very many people knew about it. I hope it’s the former – not because I hope lots of parents have lost children, but because I know they have. (Sadly, the only information I could find about the Angel Tree was a short paragraph in the local free paper – I couldn’t even find anything on the cemetery’s own website.)

We don’t have a gravesite for Sebastian. We keep some of his ashes in our pendants, but we have not yet scattered the rest – we have plans for that for next July. We never really thought of a gravestone, simply because it’s not our style, but I can see how it would be comforting to have a permanent marker in such a historical, communal place.

It was sad to be in the Children’s Garden at nightfall, after Christmas. I mean, baby graves are sad at any time, but this was particularly melancholy. There wasn’t even any snow to light our way – it’s been a rather dark, snowless winter so far. Still, we found the children’s section easily, despite being unacquainted with the cemetery, because many of the graves had coloured lights on them. When we looked at them more closely, we found many had Christmas gifts as well. (Fortunately, it was not as dark as it looks in this picture.)

lights on graves in the children's memorial garden

One spot in particular sticks in my mind: a little boy’s flat stone, engraved with a car, a name, and a single date – which to me says he was stillborn. Along with the lights, there were three toy cars of different sizes, and a teddy bear, and a little snowman sign that said “Santa – Stop Here”.

Standing in front of that baby’s grave, it occurred to me how glad I am that we made the choice to cremate. I would never judge someone else’s choice to bury their child intact, but it would be so hard to put that tiny body in a box in the ground. In the cemetery I could see parents’ need to try to take care of their children, even in death… and I know I’d feel the same way. I would want to put lights up so he wouldn’t be scared, and I would want to give him a teddy bear to keep him company.

As it is, I feel that Sebastian always has company; he’s home with us, and he’s right next to our hearts. When we scatter his ashes, he will quickly become part of the earth and the trees and the grass and the air, and I won’t worry because I know he’s free.

Here’s our own little ornament, ensconced in our tree. I think it’s pretty cool. Even though this experience was kind of heartbreaking, I’m glad we took the time to do it. We will treasure this ornament.

Sebastian's Christmas tree ornament

If you look closely at this photo, you will see that our tree is leafing. Not only did it not dry out and shed all its needles – it grew. What an awesome surprise. Feels like a benediction.

Here’s a photo of the gift we received from our dear friend Amanda, who knew we would be missing the new baby we expected to be with us this Christmas (who would have been just old enough to appreciate coloured lights and shiny decorations). Thank you, Amanda. We love it.

Sebastian's Christmas tree ornament gift

And finally, here are some joyful pictures: my first son in his Santa hat, and my second getting a “hug” from his Auntie Beth, on my birthday last May (about six months pregnant).

E, 2.5 years, in pjs and Santa hat

feeling for baby's movement



5 thoughts on “The Angel Tree

  1. Lanie says:

    I often wish we had opted for cremation. We are Jewish. For some reason which I must look up in the Jewish religion you don’t usually cremate. At the time of Jake’s death I was just going through the motions and could not think clearly.
    Take care.

    • diblog says:

      Lanie, I thought of you and the troubles you’ve had while I was writing this – and then I saw your latest post and realized it was even worse than before. I hope I didn’t offend you with anything I wrote… and I hope that it’s been a comfort to be able to visit Jake and Sawyer, and for them to be together, in spite of the difficulties.

  2. Lanie says:

    No offense at all – thank you for your post. I like to hear/read what others have done. I just wish we were all meeting for a playdate instead :-). Take care. xoxo

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