We are on the verge of a very wonderful time of year but also very stressful. It is especially hard on those of us that are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because Kory died at Christmas I had to learn to deal with death and the holidays very quickly. I have learned some things that have really helped me to get through some of the tough times.
We can not change the fact that our loved one has died and that it is now holiday time. It is funny because I remember years ago my Grandmother Ellis (who is the most admired woman in my life) had to deal with the death of many loved one’s around Christmas.
She lost her brother on Christmas Eve, a grandson, nephew, great grandson all in December. But it was when her son died Jan. 1, and then the next Christmas Day another son died. I remember thinking how sad when she just didn’t feel like putting up a Christmas tree. I now understand it fully. The first year after Kory’s death we just tried to get through the holidays. They were extremely painful.
When it came to holidays and that loved one not being there, what helped me to survive and even enjoy the holiday again was to realize that we had to “do something different.” We could not do the same things we had in previous years. We had to create a new tradition. We did that by renting a cabin in Gatlinburg every year at Christmas time. We include Kory in our celebrations. Because Kory died at Christmas, Christmas is all about Kory for me. I love the Christmas season and the sweet spirit it brings. I am okay because I include and remember him. After all, because of the gift that was given on that first Christmas, The gift of the Christ child, I have been given the gift to have my son again one day.
I am including an article that I have in the appendix of my book that is coming out in print soon. It tells of an idea that I had on Christmas Eve at the hospital a few hours after Kory’s death. It has been the most wonderful tradition. I plan and spend time with this new tradition for Kory and it gives me the much needed comfort that I need to manage the course of the holidays.
On January 18, 2003, an article was printed in the local newspaper. It appeared on the front page of the Huntsville Times and explained Kelly Paries’ request for ornaments so beautifully. The article was written by Mike Marshall, staff writer.
Ornaments Help Heal Broken Heart
Monrovia woman loses son in crash over holiday, hopes to save future Christmases.
Anyone who knew Kelly Paries wasn’t surprised by what she did on Christmas Eve morning, hours after she learned her sixteen-year-old son, Kory, had died in a one-car wreck on Jeff Road.
Sitting in the waiting room of the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital, where another son, Kris, lay unconscious with head injuries from the same accident, Paries turned to long-time friend, Mary Howard.
“I’ve got to turn this around,” Paries said. “I’m concerned that all of this has happened at this time of year.”
This was a time when Paries and her family usually spent Christmas Eve in matching pajamas, a holiday tradition. At the family’s home on Shoalford Drive in Monrovia were fifteen unopened presents for Kory, scattered under a tree in the den.
Kory and Kris had bought a cheese grater for their mom on December 23, the night of the wreck. They had driven to Parkway Place Mall to shop, then to Hollywood Stadium 18 Cinemas for a late showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Around 11:30 p.m., Kory, Kris and Rhys Anderson, a friend from Sparkman High School, were riding home when Kory lost control of his 1992 Mazda. He hydroplaned on the rain-slick road and slammed into a tree. The impact killed him instantly.
The next morning, Kelly Paries became consumed with the grief on the faces of family and friends in the Neurological ICU. How could she lift them out of this tragedy? She also wondered what she could do to prevent her family’s future Christmases from being ruined. Around 11:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve, she told Howard, one of her best friends, of her desire to salvage the holiday spirit.
“I want Christmas to be wonderful, like it always is,” Paries said. “I’ve got to turn it into an uplifting experience.”
Ultimately, Paries began to focus on Christmas ornaments. When friends asked what they could do for her, the answer was always the same: bring an ornament to the visitation or funeral. Her plan was to put the ornaments on a tree that would be displayed at Spry Funeral Home and at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Slaughter Road, where Kory’s funeral was to be held the morning of December 28. She also wanted those ornaments to be among her primary holiday decorations for as long as her family celebrates Christmas.
“Next year,” she said, “I won’t take out any of our old, traditional ones.”
Howard wasn’t surprised by Paries’ response. She considered Paries, a friend and fellow church member for fourteen years, one of the spiritually strongest people she has known.
“How do you think of these things when you’ve lost a child?” Howard asked. “It’s only through inspiration.”
233 different ornaments.
The result of Paries’ inspiration now covers her dining room table: 233 ornaments, all carefully arranged by Paries and Kris, home from the hospital since Christmas Day. Christmas balls and glass ornaments are on the left side of the table. Ice skates and hockey players are in the middle. Angels are on the right.
“Each of them has a story behind it,” Paries said.
One of her favorite stories is about the grade-school daughter of her lawn-care man.
After learning of Paries’ request for ornaments, the girl gave Paries a cluster of gold bells. The girl’s choice of ornaments came from a line from It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic holiday movie: every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. Another favorite story: the strangers who ring her door bell, hand her an ornament, and leave without identifying themselves.
“I’ve learned how good people are,” she said. “It was amazing. I had no idea about the depth people felt in our loss.”
A tree at the funeral home.
Early on the morning of December 26, Paries bought a five-foot tree, a tangle of fiber optics that cost $39 at Target. The next afternoon, she placed the tree in the north foyer of Spry Funeral Home. One by one, Kory’s classmates, students, and hockey teammates passed by the tree and hung their ornaments.
Members of the Sparkman basketball team brought an orange Christmas ball.
Members of the Bob Jones High School hockey team hung a red ball.
Mary Howard’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Cardin, hung a crystal snowflake—a tribute to a Christmas story Paries had written two years ago for her family and friends.
The story, “Teddy Bears from the Kingdom of Light,” is about a little girl who hears a bedside story from her father. It’s a story about eternal life and the strength of a dying parent. The little girl’s father had been severely injured during the holidays, when chemicals exploded in a factory. Paries’ own father had died in a chemical explosion when she was a little girl.
At the end of the story, the little girl learns of her father’s death.
“It will be okay, Mommy,” she whispers to her mother. “Daddy is in the kingdom of light.”
Paries knows that’s where Kory is, too. That’s why she had the strength to come up with the idea about the ornaments and why she was able to buy the tree the day after Christmas.
But a five-foot tree wasn’t big enough to hold the ornaments brought to the funeral home.
On the day of the funeral, Paries’ aunt exchanged the five-foot tree for a six-foot tree.
Next Christmas, the Parieses will place the six-foot tree in front of the window in the den and hang 233 ornaments. One of those will be a silver heart with tiny cracks.
The heart was purchased the same day Paries bought the tree.
“That’s my ornament,” she said. “It’s my broken heart. I thought that was appropriate.”
Note from Kelly:
The Huntsville Times article was very touching, and I appreciated the story. A miraculous thing came from it.
The tradition of the ornaments continued throughout the year and beyond.
We continued to receive ornaments sent to us from loving people around the world. We currently have almost 400 ornaments. Kory’s tree is always set up in front of the window. It is really a wonderful experience. It is just like unwrapping love. Each ornament has a story. Each is unique. All help us to remember Kory. It was the only tree I set up the first few years. The following year for my Christmas gift to Kory, I gave a tree to our ward members. They had taken all the ward ornaments from that year’s tree and put them on Kory’s tree at the funeral. It was a pre-lit tree that was covered in crystal and iridescent ornaments. I wanted a tree that reflected where Kory was. It was put up in the ward meeting house for a few years and then, because of the fragile ornaments, I bought a white seven-foot tree that I put up in our family home.
A theater room/family room was an addition to the house where our former garage had been converted. It was the answer to a pressing problem: my husband Randy could no longer go to a movie theater. Not after that night.
The two trees and Kory’s angel are the only things we still put up so that at Christmas Kory is remembered.
As the holidays came around the following year, we found the decorations, music, and preparation very painful. The stores started decorating in September that year.
We started a new tradition the following year as we associated Christmas and family with Kory and his tragic death. We just could not stay home for the holiday. It was too painful. We discovered that when you experience such a tragedy in your life, you have to “do something different.” We now rent a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and go as a family. I go to Christmas Place in nearby Pigeon Forge and select a very special ornament each year for Kory and add it to his tree.
What ever holiday that we face that is hard when dealing with the death of a loved one. I hope we can start something to remember them by. It doesn’t have to be public or big, just a moment of quiet comfort and peace.
Please share any traditions that you have in rememberance of your loved one.