Growing up, Carolyn Lance and her mother would decorate the house together for Christmas and spend their time singing holiday songs. The memory of her mother inspired Lance and her husband Bob to start the Christmas Memorial Tree at the Middletown Baptist Church, which they have been member of for 20 years.
Carolyn Lance has always loved Christmas.
And so did her mother.
Lance, 52, now living in Townsend, was one of eight children.
Growing up, one of her favorite memories of the holiday was decorating the house with her mother and singing Christmas song as loud as they could.
"Mom and I loved Christmas," Lance said. "It was my mom's favorite time of the year and she passed that to all of us children."
The family lived in a large, nine-bedroom home in Maryland, that they would decorate from top to bottom.
"Since I was the youngest, I got to do a lot with my mom," Lance said.
Around Christmas time in 1991 though, her mother, Kay Belew, became ill with what they thought was just a common cold.
When Belew went to the doctor, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Then, six hours later, the doctor called the family together and delivered the heartbreaking news, Lance said. "The doctor told our family that she had cancer."
That year, Belew spent Christmas in the hospital.
When she came home in January, Lance and her family made sure the house was still decorated.
"We left the Christmas tree up," she said. "It was a live tree, but dead by then. By the time she got home, the needles were falling off."
Despite the holiday season being over by the time Belew was out of the hospital, the family still celebrated.
"The whole family came and we had Christmas with her," Lance said. "It was always something special with her and I."
Belew continued her battle with leukemia through the holidays of 1992.
"She was home, but she was sick," Lance recalls.
She said that her mom would still try to help decorate the house and get ready for Christmas, but she was weak.
"She got tired easily, but she was home," Lance said. "We were sad, but happy at the same time. We knew she was weak and tired, but happy she was home with us and that we still had her."
Lance remembers the late night talks with her mother leading up to her death.
For a long time, she thought her mom would make it, but she continued to get weaker.
Then on May 7, 1993, Belew lost her battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 61.
"She was young," her daughter said.
Every year now, Lance and her husband Bob decorate their Townsend home with a special theme to remember Belew – and other loved ones who have passed away.
"My mom loved nativity scenes, so we have a lot of those. We also have a snowman room dedicated to my best friend who passed away."
THE MEMORY TREE
The Lance family's holiday memorials for loved ones doesn't stop at home.
Carolyn and Bob have been members of the Middletown Baptist Church for about 20 years and are in charge of the program for parishioners over the age of 50.
Bob is also the head usher.
"We decided (four) years ago that it would be fun to do a memory tree in honor of our loved ones," Carolyn said. "My husband had lost his father and I lost both of my parents."
The Memory Tree, a Christmas tree set up in the church, is decorated each year with donated balls to represent loved ones of parishioners who have passed away.
At the foot of the tree, there is a booklet with information and a picture about the people that each ball represents.
"There's a picture of my mom with her birthday, it says that she is my mother, and it has the year that the ball was donated," Carolyn said.
The first year that the Memory Tree was put up, Carolyn said that there were only about 10 balls on the tree.
This year, there are 122 balls.
"We wanted to do something in memory of our parents, friends, and children," she said. "The congregation loves it. It's a way for us to honor those that we love."
Carolyn just had two more people order balls.
"If you love someone, you know what I'm talking about."
The Memory Tree is put up Thanksgiving weekend and stays up until the second weekend in January.
"I look at it and think something happy, but tears are running down my face," Carolyn said. "So many people have touched our lives."