Four stockings hang from my mantle—Green for the boys, red for the girls.  Fitting for a family of six with no room for Mom and Dad’s stockings…Each stocking filled to the brim with toys and candy and fruit and hope, except one.  They dangle among glass balls and ribbons from heavy, weighted stocking holders portraying reindeer and angels.  Metallic ribbon and fabric twists around the pine bough and white candle sticks tied with red wired ribbon.  A rustic old frame made of reclaimed wood and stained a farmhouse red holds family pictures attached to twine strings by painted clothes pins from some bygone era when clothes blew in the breeze and hardened into stiffened boards in the cold sunny December days.  A giant red bow with whimsical polka dots and swirls completes the mantle’s center.  Four stockings hang from my mantle…

A few years ago, I decided to purchase the beautiful velvet stockings from a popular retailer of such goods.  I had been eyeing them for several seasons and finally the price was right and I purchased them.  I carefully chose the monogram font style, block not too girlie, not too masculine for each stocking.  I carefully typed in each name…Cameron, Cohen, Abigail, Katie Gray for each stocking.  I chose different color stockings for the girls and the boys for a nice contrast and so that the boys would not insist that their stockings were for girls because their sisters had identical ones!  When the stockings arrived, I excitedly tore open the UPS box and grabbed out each stocking one by one, examining each one closely for flaws, imperfections or misspellings.  Cameron—check…spelled correctly, correct font, no flaws.  Cohen—check…spelled correctly, correct font, no flaws…Katie Gray—check, spelled correctly, correct font, no flaws…Last, I pulled out Abby’s stocking…Abigail—check, spelled correctly, font?  Wait the font was not the block letters that I had ordered but instead some scripted, scrolled writing not intended for a little girl’s stocking…But that would set her stocking apart!  I wanted all four to be the same.  I had my hand on my phone to call the company, but something made me pause.  Her stocking WAS different and we were different because of her.  Hers was the empty stocking on our mantle, filled to the brim with love but devoid of hope.

Abby died ten years, nineteen days, seventeen hours ago on December 1, 2001.  We woke up that cold December morning expecting to go to the Christmas parade.  Instead, we sped 80 miles an hours down a lonely two lane road chasing an ambulance to a country hospital where a country doctor tried valiantly to resuscitate our daughter, our second born.  Every year, every holiday season rips the band aid off of the wound.  It opens as fresh and raw as we were at nineteen days. I pray feverishly for December 26 in fleeting moments because we still have moments of joy and peace and happiness.  With three children, ages 6, 8, and 12, how can we not be caught in the magic of Christmas.  We still dress up in Christmas finery and attend to social obligations and parties we enjoy.  We go to church services and candlelight Christmas Eve observances.  But we also visit a grave on a mountainside and hang an empty stocking.

I take a deep breath each morning and keep my tears quietly to myself in the long dark December nights. Never are the nights darker or longer than those December nights.   I stumble through some of the motions.  I never to go to the parades.  I wrap beautiful presents with big red bows and trees in white lights with ribbon accents.  I buy gifts of all kinds and stocking stuffers throughout the season and with each purchase, I wonder…What might fill the empty stocking.  Sometimes, standing in a store, I catch sight of a ten year old girl with blond hair and freckles and tears spring to my eye and the wound once again becomes raw.  I take my purchases from the cashier and make my way to the door and head home to stash my purchases away in my closet, knowing that the stocking still hangs empty.  As Christmas Eve draws nearer, the dark black nights become longer and the weight of the empty stocking seems to grow until the only thing to do is to fill the three stockings and leave the empty one hanging on the mantle and hanging on our hearts…

~Kelly Sechrist

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