Reporter's Notebook: A Christmas Keepsake

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gone but not forgotten — for many, the holidays are a reminder of time spent with loved ones who are no longer here.

For me, this hits close to home.

Growing up, Christmas at my house was an event. My mother, Angela would begin decorating in September. Each year, she transformed our home into a winter wonderland. It was completely over the top and absolutely wonderful.

We had nearly 60 trees staged throughout the house. Each room and tree had its own theme, including one of my favorites — the master bathroom, which transformed into Santa's post-Christmas beach trip, complete with a snowman soaking in the tub. Our home rivaled some of the most elaborate department store Christmas displays.

From the day after Thanksgiving, until Christmas Eve, my mother opened our home every night to give tours to anyone who wanted to come. I would bake cookies or dress up as an elf and help shuffle the hundreds of visitors through our very own Winter Wonderland.

It's no wonder my mother loved Christmas: She was born on Christmas Eve in 1969 and the running joke in our family was since my grandmother brought her home and placed her next to the tree, it was the first thing she fell in love with.

My mom was an incredibly talented floral designer and decorator. She had a gorgeous smile and a goofy sense of humor, but she also battled depression my whole life. I was nine the first time I remember her attempting to commit suicide. When the alcohol addiction developed in my later teen years, things got really dark, and eventually my mom lost her spark.

She ended up committing suicide in January of 2013.

She was cremated and for the past five years, I haven't been able to decide what to do with the ashes. That's until I was told about the work Darby Andrews is doing in Girdwood.

Andrews has been making Alaskan Blown glass for decades. He's an artist in every sense of the word. In mid-December, I ventured out to his studio and asked him to create the perfect Christmas keepsake. Andrews makes ornaments, pendants and other fixtures with the ashes of cremated loved ones.

His medium allows the ashes to actually become part of the glass. As Andrews put it, he puts "lots of love and light into it."

I asked him to create an ornament using two colors, purple, my mom's favorite, and green, to represent mental health awareness. My only request was he make the design from what he was feeling at the time.

I didn't expect it at the time and it's sort of hard to explain, but when the ornament was finished and Andrews handed it to me-- I finally felt closure.

My mom wanted her ashes to be spread in the ocean, but I haven't been ready for that. Now, I'm able to do that for her because I have this piece of her to keep close to my heart.

Suicide is tough — quite frankly, it sucks. It's taken me years to come to terms with the idea that it's okay to keep living my life even though my mom chose to end hers. In fact, I'd like to think now this ornament makes her just as much a part of Christmas now as she was when I was growing up.

In a state with one of the highest rates of suicideper capita in the country, there are a slew of resources working to break the stigma surrounding suicide and focusing on prevention.

Here are a list of resources if you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center:
Offers FREE online training to help train service providers, educators, health professionals, public officials, and community-based coalitions to develop effective suicide prevention programs.

Survivors of Suicide Support Group:
The support group meetings are designed to support family members and friends of those in our communities that have died by suicide.

Our goal is to empower youth to appropriately care for and educate each other about suicide prevention. YANA's focus is on early intervention and creating hope through positive action.

The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council:
In collaboration with communities, faith-based organizations, and public-private entities, the Council works to improve the health and wellness of Alaskans by reducing suicide and its effect on individuals and communities.

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