There are lots of traditions around the holidays. Big things. Little things. Family things. Friend things. November and December are months that are rich with traditions that center around families, friends, and relationships. It just is what it is. It’s part of the season, right?

One of the traditions among our family, and especially Scott’s family, is a tradition of taking family photos. Usually, for Scott’s family, this happens on Christmas Day night at grandma’s house. For us, over the past few years, we have developed a tradition of taking a family photo in front of the Christmas trees at church after the Christmas Eve service.

Over the years, we have taken so many family photos. Many of them at Christmas time. And over those same years, our families have grown and changed both in size and number. Between 2012 and 2013, our family photos grew to include my now brother-in-law. Another year or so later, our soon-to-be sister in law was added to the pictures.

Christmas 2012 with the Haligowskis, pre Whitney.


Christmas 2012 with the Satterlees, pre-Rob.


Christmas 2013 with the Satterlees - welcome Rob!
Christmas 2013 with the Satterlees – welcome Rob!


Christmas 2015 with the Haligowskis - Welcome, Whitney!
Christmas 2015 with the Haligowskis – Welcome, Whitney! (And Alexander–though very few people knew at that point.)

This year, Alexander was supposed to be part of our family photos. Our family photos were supposed to grow in number once again this year. In fact, because of that, I’ve had a really difficult time this year even thinking about taking family photos. Scott and I captured one with Alexander bear at Thanksgiving, thanks to my friend SC.

Our family at Thanksgiving 2016.

But, as I’ve written already, Christmas was hard this year. It was all I could do to just make it through Christmas Eve services at church, and the very last thing on my mind was trying to take a family photo. I’m sure it would have been different if Alexander was here. We would be taking so many family photos this year and posting them all over Facebook just like everyone else.

But Alexander isn’t here. He isn’t here to be in our family photos. So, rather than enjoying scrolling through Facebook and seeing everyone’s happy family photos over the past few days, I’ve been doing just about everything in my power to avoid it. Every photo is just another reminder of what we don’t have. Every photo of our happy friends celebrating Christmas with their families or of kids opening presents on Christmas morning is another reminder of moments that we will never get to share with Alexander. It’s another reminder of the gaping hole in our family this Christmas.

We spent Christmas day with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law who drove down from Cleveland to spend the day with us. It was certainly different this year, as we gathered around the coffee table instead of a tree to exchange a few gifts, and as we all felt the weight of what should have been.

Scott convinced us all late in the evening to head over to Carillon Historical Park to see the iconic tree of light to round out our day together, and to bring a little bit of light to the day. Somehow while we were there, my brother-in-law Rob managed to capture a family photo of all six of us standing under the tree of light. There are smiles on our faces, and yet I can look in our eyes and see what’s missing. I can see the grief how much we are missing Alexander. I love this photo because it captures the smiling faces of the people I love the most, and yet it is also another reminder to me of how different this Christmas should have been.


And so, my relationship with family photos is a complicated one lately. I want to capture these precious moments with the people I love, and yet my heart aches each time I smile for a photo that Alexander should be a part of. I want to celebrate with our friends who are enjoying special moments with their families during this holiday season, and yet my heart aches for the moments that we should be experiencing with our sweet boy.

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