One day, shortly before Christmas, our third child and first son, Bay, was born. As I said good-bye that evening to my exhausted but joyful wife and left the hospital, the warmth and joy that accompanied the birth of my son overwhelmed the cold chill of that clear December night.
The following December we celebrated the first birthday of our dark-eyed, dark-haired son. The day after Christmas, during an evening of games at the home of my in-laws, our revelry was interrupted by an awful shriek from my mother-in-law: “He’s not breathing!” She had gone to check on Bay, who had been sleeping on her bed, and discovered his cold, lifeless body. We immediately rushed our son to the hospital, attempting CPR on the way. We were grief-stricken to learn that nothing could be done to save his life. He had died from sudden infant death syndrome.
Since then, Christmas has been filled with a much deeper meaning for our family. Each year on Christmas Eve when we take down our other children’s stockings to fill them, one solitary stocking is left on the fireplace mantle. Throughout the remainder of the holiday the stocking serves as a reminder of Bay.
Each year, around the time of Bay’s birthday, my wife and I drive to the cemetery where he is buried. At each visit we find that someone else has arrived before us and placed something on our son’s grave: one year it was delicate, small flowers; the next year, a stuffed bear; the next, a little Christmas tree decorated with miniature ornaments. We have no idea who is responsible; the gifts, which touch us deeply, are never accompanied by a note or card.
When I hinted to my mother-in-law that I knew her secret, she denied responsibility. The following year while she and my father-in-law were serving a Church mission abroad, we again found that someone had placed a gift on our son’s grave. Even after inquiring with other family members and friends, we were unable to solve the mystery.
Ten years after our son’s death, a series of snowstorms prevented us from traveling short distances. As a result, our annual visit to our son’s grave site was delayed until several days after Christmas. When we finally made it, we saw a small, decorated Christmas tree, mostly buried in the snow, standing bravely at the head of Bay’s small grave. The effort it must have taken for someone to get to the cemetery through the heavy snowfall overwhelmed us. Tears streamed down our faces as we realized that someone still shared our grief and loss.
After that, we were more resolved than ever to discover the identity of our benefactor and thank him or her for showing us such compassion. But as we reflected more, we realized that whoever was doing these acts of kindness did not want to be identified. We decided to allow our friend to remain anonymous. We replaced our need to thank our friend with a desire to simply live better.
It is now harder for us to speak ill of or criticize any of our friends or family members, because any one of them may be our anonymous friend.
Often while doing service, my wife and I pause to examine our hearts: are we doing good things to be seen by others or for the pure love of Christ and of our fellowmen?
For us, charity—humble and never seeking its own—is symbolized by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, half-buried in snow, resting in a quiet cemetery.