One year ago I crumbled underneath it, begging God to heal my children. It was the day after we took Caroline and Will into the emergency room. We had spent the entire day, night and next day either in the ER or PICU. They were one week old and I thought they were both going to die. My mom and husband convinced me to go home, take a shower and gather a few things before heading back to the hospital to sleep on the couch between my babies' rooms. My mom dropped me off and I walked into an empty house. Next to a dark Christmas tree hung six stockings, two with brand new names across the top. Will. Caroline. I sobbed as my knees hit the tiles surrounding our fireplace, clinging to the stockings that I thought I might never get to fill. The scar from where the babies had been removed from my body one week ago burned. I had taken no pain medication with me to the hospital and except for Advil “illegally” given to me by the compassionate ER doctor, I had nothing blocking the physical pain of that wound. Feeling it in all it’s fullness only emphasized the emotional torment happening inside me. I made it to the shower, packed a bag and looked around, disgusted at my own home. Everything was set up just how we left it before leaving to go to our babies’ first well check. Two rock n’ plays. Two blankets. Two swaddles in their crib in our room where they had slept next to each other the night before. Their dirty clothes in the hamper beside the changing table. Bottles they had drank from in the drying rack by the sink. It was a nightmare. I never wanted to step foot in my house again.
A few weeks later I untied the ribbon holding those stockings to the hook on the mantle. I laid them across the top of my bag and carried them to the hospital with me. It was the week before Christmas and there was no hope that my newborn babies would be spending their first Christmas at home, as I had imagined it. They were supposed to be wearing matching gowns with Christmas trees on the front. I had brought them months before. Caroline’s was pink with white polka dots and Will’s was white with green trim. They matched the pajamas that their big brother and sister wore. They were supposed to be sleeping in their rock n’ plays as we opened presents, ate cinnamon rolls and watched as their siblings opened each treasure found in their stockings. Instead, I hung the stockings in their hospital rooms, behind each of their beds. They stayed there until a few days after Christmas, never filled, never opened, but there nonetheless. On Christmas Eve I had a conversation with a doctor who was certain that Will would die any day. She had no hope for his recovery. As she spoke, I glanced at the stocking behind his bed and prayed that the next year, this year, I would be filling that stocking with all the things that little boys love and proving that doctor wrong. She was right and now my heart is broken as I plan to fill the stocking with love notes from Will’s family instead of cars and legos and little blue socks.
This is Will, last year, on his first and only Christmas. According to many, he shouldn't have even made it to Christmas Day. He was so sick but had overcome a lot and we had so much hope that he would still be here with us today.
I have dreaded the day that I had to see his stocking again since the day he took his last breath in March. I have thought about it, agonized over it and even tried to make plans and justifications to avoid it. But I have young children and they need to have a magical, decorated home for Christmas. On Sunday my husband unloaded bin after bin of Christmas decorations into our house. I stared at them, lining the wall in my living room and knowing that the stocking was hidden in one of them. As I began to unpack, I was relieved with every box that was emptied without the stocking. Then, I saw it. It was in a vacuum sealed bag at the bottom of a bin, smushed together with the stockings for the rest of our family, the ones still here on Earth missing Will. I opened the bag and pulled out the stack, tears flooding my eyes and my face feeling hot as I kept moving, scurrying around the house hiding my tears from my son and distracting myself from the pain. This was the moment. I flipped through until I saw those four letters, the ones that together spell the name of my little baby who should have been napping with his twin sister while his mommy and big brother decorated the Christmas tree. Will. I hung it right where he belongs, with our family, between his two sisters, in the same place where it hung last year on the mantle. I wanted it to be different. It still doesn't seem real or right or fair but this is what it is and what it will always be. Life, never the same, always missing someone, on the ordinary days, on the special days, on the days when his absence is emphasized just a little bit more. For the next month I will see his stocking and sometimes I will cry, wishing that he was here to delight in the carefully selected gifts inside it. Sometimes I will smile, remembering his sweet blues eyes and gentle smile. Sometimes I will well up with anger, so mad that he’s not here to spend Christmas with us, to spend his life with us. Mostly I will be thankful, that I had him, held him and knew him. I will be thankful for the privilege of being his mommy and for the hope that we have in Christ, confident that I will see my little boy again one day as I join him in eternity with the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.
Our mission is to glorify God by supporting children undergoing life-saving heart treatment and creating a caring community for their families in honor of our son, Will.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!