Martin’s arm hung around Kate’s shoulders. “You need something to take your mind off it. Pull the decorations out and start decorating.”
“I don’t feel like decorating this year.” Kate brushed a tear from her eye and laid her head against the couch.
He rose from the floor where he’d been kneeling. “I’m gettibg the boxes down anyway; you might change your mind.”
Nothing could cure the emptiness she felt. Her body betrayed her, taking away the one thing she’d yearned for for so long. How could anyone recover from such a loss? Sinking lower into the cushions, she curled into a ball, sobs racked her body once again. Grabbing the blanket near her feet, she brought it up to her neck, clinging to it, praying for comfort to come. It didn’t. It couldn’t.
Four stacked tubs soon towered near the couch, and faint noises polluted the air from the corner. With eyes shut, Kate knew Martin worked to set up the tree. She always set up the tree, fluffing each branch. She clenched her eyes tighter and rubbed her belly.
“Which skirt thingy do you put around the bottom of the tree?”
“I don’t care.” She imagined Martin’s soft smile as he stood still, waiting. “The gold.”
“You sure you don’t want to help?”
“You’ll like it better your way.”
She curled tighter. “I don’t care.”
The crinkling of plastic and newspaper announced the unwrapping of various hand-painted Santa Claus figurines, elves, reindeer, angels, and stars. Kate cracked an eye and watched as Martin placed them around the room. “You forgot the lights.”
“Lights? Where are they?”
“In the other tub. They go on the shelves and table.”
“I better get those.”
Slowly easing her way to a sitting position, Kate started to give her husband instructions for each decoration. Every time she did, his smile grew. When the room sparkled from top to bottom, he looked at her.
“There’re still two more bins.”
“Those go in the other room.”
Martin picked up the tubs and carried them into the front room.
“The other tree is in the closet upstairs,” Kate said.
As Martin walked up the stairs, Kate carefully opened one of the bins. She spread a cloth across the piano and set a few stuffed snowmen on the floor. Trembling, she sank to her knees, clutching an ornament in her hand that read First Christmas—a tiny baby in the arms of a mother worshipping a babe in a manger.
Setting down the smaller tree, Martin picked Kate up and carried her to the couch. “What happened?”
She handed him the ornament and peered at him as a single tear escaped his eye.
Years of wanting children, more of fertility treatments, and when they’d finally given up, news of her pregnancy came, lighting their lives. That night they’d gone to the store and purchased the crib she’d dreamed of since their wedding day. The next week they purchased a swing. The tradition continued through the five-month pregnancy, each week buying one item for their unborn baby. Tiny flutters joyfully interrupted one shopping trip. Kate and Martin celebrated with Orange Julius, hoping for a longer show. And after the big ultrasound, the couple purchased a beautiful, white suit for the son Kate carried.
Martin took her hand. “Help me. We can decorate together.”
“You can. What’s left?”
Kate scanned the room and her eyes fell on the remaining tub. Her chin trembled. “Nativities.”
“Not this year.”
Martin sank to his knees next to the couch. “Why not?”
“God abandoned us, our baby.”
His brows furrowed, and except for the Christmas music, the room fell silent. Away in a Manger.
Martin disappeared, and Kate listened as noise echoed from the room she’d chosen for the baby. As the minutes passed her curiosity peaked. Easing to her feet, she stepped to the hall where Martin pushed the collapsed crib through the door and toward the living room.
“No. What are you doing?”
Martin never answered. Instead, he moved the table where Kate usually placed several nativities and pushed the crib into its place. Within a few minutes, the crib was whole again. He immediately picked up the table and retreated down the hall.
Ignoring Kate, he returned to the room carrying the gorgeous suit they’d purchased for their son and the soft blue blanket Kate found the week before. Soon the lamb-shaped lamp came out. Martin spread the blanket across the mattress and set the lamp in the corner. He held the suit out to Kate.
“What are you doing?” Tears ran down her face. “These are our baby’s.”
“We can’t give our baby a place to sleep, dress him, or keep him warm. We can’t light his room, but we can do that for another baby, one that never had those things.”
He shook the suit gently, urging Kate to take it in her hands. Shuffling forward, she allowed her fingers to skim across the soft silk. So many of the suits in the stores used rough synthesized fabrics. She refused them, searching longer and paying more for a soft natural fiber.
“He abandoned us, Martin.”
“We’ll never hold our child, we won’t see him smile or laugh. He’ll never run or play or get in trouble. None of it, because he died. He died before he could live. A single breath. God took our baby and left me with nothing.”
Martin held Kate’s crumpled body in his arms, letting the tears sink into his shirt. Silence passed between them. Kate tried to avoid the truth, but it pricked at her heart, begging to be heard.
She turned away and reached into the last tub, removing the pieces of her favorite nativity set. One by one, she placed each piece. The shepherds. The wise men. The sheep and cattle. The last three pieces she clung to. Her pain lifted, if only for a moment, as she considered that family’s story. A loving man accepted the Son of God as his own. With no bed, a mother gave birth in a barn and laid her son in a manger. Years later, that same mother watched her son give his life for all of mankind.
The pain of losing her child might always be there, but she wasn’t alone.
With stronger hands than she’d had in weeks, she placed the three remaining pieces of the nativity and hung her son’s suit on the back of the crib—a simple symbol of her love for the boy who lay in the manger and made it possible for her to see her son again. Anguish receding, she reached for her husband’s hand giving it a squeeze she hoped said I can do this.