A pink tree for Christ­mas

Har­bour Grace mom’s mem­ory lives on through Christ­mas tra­di­tions

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BYMELISSA JENK­INS

Har­bour Grace’s Alyssa Shaw has a pink Christ­mas tree.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the 22-year-old will set up the three-foot ar­ti­fi­cial spruce in mem­ory of the most im­por­tant woman in her life, her mom.

Deb­o­rah (Deb­bie) Bray lost her bat­tle with breast can­cer March 22, 2013. It’s Alyssa’s tra­di­tions that she shared with her mom that help her get through the hol­i­days.

Many or­na­ments

What started as a nice ges­ture turned into one of the most im­por­tant tra­di­tions for Alyssa and her mom.

In 2010, Alyssa and her friend at­tended Christ­mas at the Glacier in Mount Pearl. She saw a beau­ti­ful horse or­na­ment, and im­me­di­ately thought of her mom.

“I re­mem­ber one year, I bought a gor­geous tree or­na­ment that was sparkling with gold glitter that had caught my at­ten­tion,” Alyssa told The Com­pass from her kitchen Dec. 8. “It was a horse, my mother’s pas­sion. I re­mem­ber her re­ac­tion when she opened it on Christ­mas morn­ing. She ab­so­lutely loved it.”

She hoped Deb­bie could join them the fol­low­ing year to get an or­na­ment of her own. Un­for­tu­nately, she was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in 2011 and couldn’t make the drive to town.

“I went back that year and bought her a can­cer rib­bon tree or­na­ment,” Alyssa said.

In 2012, she went back to the Glacier, once again with­out her mother. She started a col­lec­tion of can­cer-re­lated or­na­ments and spe­cial dec­o­ra­tions that she and her mother could share.

“Ev­ery year after that horse or­na­ment, she al­ways said, ‘We’ll go next year. I can’t wait,’” Alyssa re­called. “Her bat­tle with can­cer was never go­ing to stop her pos­i­tive spirit.”

Deb­bie died the fol­low­ing year and never got to ex­pe­ri­ence Christ­mas at the Glacier with her daugh­ter. But it’s some­thing Alyssa con­tin­ues to do with her boyfriend, Ryan. Her first stop is al­ways for an or­na­ment.

“Ev­ery year now, as I hang her or­na­ments on my small pink Christ­mas tree, I smile as I re­mem­ber her re­ac­tion when re­ceiv­ing them,” she said. “In­stead of be­ing up­set that she never got to go to the event her­self, I smile as I know her spirit is with me ev­ery time I pick out a new Christ­mas ad­di­tion for my tree.”

Alyssa’s tree was not set up yet dur­ing the visit be­cause she was study­ing for univer­sity exams. When Alyssa dec­o­rates, she turns on her mom’s favourite Elvis Pres­ley al­bum and sings out loud.

“I smile the en­tire time as I re­live her mem­ory,” she said.

Pick­ing a tree

For many years, Alyssa can re­call tak­ing a horse drawn sleigh into the woods with her mom to pick out a tree. Th­ese were some of her favourite and most hu­mor­ous Christ­mas mo­ments she can re­call shar­ing with her mom, and she al­ways got to pick the Christ­mas tree.

“I was nine years old, and Mom’s friend Terry, mom and I went in to the woods to cut down a tree,” she laughed, re­mem­ber­ing the tree she picked was buried in snow. “The snow was up to mom’s waist. I re­mem­ber Terry say­ing, ‘Are you sure you want this tree?’”

They strug­gled to get to the tree and chop it down. Alyssa got stuck.

“We were in the woods for like five hours,” she said. “But we fi­nally got it loaded on the sleigh and headed back.”

Years went by, and Alyssa be­came an ap­a­thetic teenager, at least when it came to pick­ing out the tree.

“One year, I let mom pick out the tree,” she gig­gled. “It was the ugli­est Christ­mas tree I had ever seen. We called it our Charlie Brown Christ­mas tree. She did it on pur­pose.”

Alyssa will not have a full-size tree this year, just her pink one, since it is the one that truly cap­tures her Christ­mas mem­o­ries and tra­di­tions.

“This tra­di­tion puts me in the Christ­mas spirit and will con­tinue to cre­ate fond mem­o­ries for years to come,” she said.

New tra­di­tions

Although her mom is not with her, Alyssa said she will con­tinue on with her tra­di­tions, and hav­ing her fa­ther visit is turn­ing into a new one.

Her fa­ther lives in Mis­sis­sauga. Last year, he came to New­found­land for the first time to spend some of Christ­mas with his daugh­ter.

“Last year he helped me pack up some of mom’s things,” she said, look­ing down at the kitchen ta­ble. “It was hard, but ex­cit­ing at the same time.”

This year, he is re­turn­ing for a longer visit, and Alyssa hopes to in­cor­po­rate some New­found­land and lo­cal tra­di­tions into his stay.

“We’re go­ing to go to Port de Grave on Christ­mas Eve to see the boats,” she said.

Although the new tra­di­tions are happy ones, Alyssa said she will con­tinue to keep the mem­ory of her mother alive.

She pledged to put up her pink tree each year, dec­o­rate it with her or­na­ments and re­call the many amaz­ing mem­o­ries they shared dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son and her lifetime.

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Com­pass

Although she has not put her pink tree up yet, Alyssa Shaw has her or­na­ments ready to dec­o­rate. Her tree and its or­na­ments hon­our the mem­ory of her mother, Deb­bie Bray, who lost her bat­tle with breast can­cer last year.

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