Nick and the author, along with their three children, Peyton, Aiden, and Owen. This was before Aiden’s initial surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Emily Henderson

The Christmas season was last year, and I found myself sitting on the ground, surrounded with wrapping paper and new toys, and my happy children, who were 7 and 9 years old. It was like being in a bubble bath with too much soap ― ribbons and bows flying as each new box was ripped open. The gift was soon lost and it became difficult to discern what was trash.

Aiden, our 20 month-old boy, was unexpectedly killed in a brain surgery. We lost Aiden at Christmas, our second without him. I still struggled to shop for my other children.

“I think it’s Mom’s turn to open her stocking,” my husband, Nick, said.

It was brought over by my daughter, who exaggerated her movements while walking on her knees.

I pulled the first thing out of my stocking — a plastic, round button, like the kind you’d hit if you were on a game show. These are Easy Buttons.

Usually, they’re bright red with white letters that spell out “Easy.” They became popular in 2005 when Staples began promoting, then selling them. This button was designed to solve any problem you may have.

The one in my stocking looked like a knock-off ― it was just plain white with a black base.

With one eyebrow raised in dismay and anger, I looked at my husband as I lay on the ground.

“Is this for me?” I asked.

“Press it,” he replied.

I hadn’t noticed before, but the kids were watching me closely, waiting for me to press the button too. It rang, and I was surrounded by sound.

The Easy Button sitting on the author's desk.
The author can see the Easy Button on his desk.
Emily Henderson

There were muffled voices, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to hear. A high-pitched, squealing sound rang out and it turned into a laughter. As I looked at Nick, the room became blurred and gravity pulled my tears down from my eyes. Aiden was playing with his siblings.

In the recording, my daughter says “Hello,” and my older son says “Oh no, oh no,” and then there’s one more loud belly laugh from Aiden. The sound ended abruptly, and then the silence returned to the room.

Nick ended the silence. “The recording is 15 seconds, so if you want to change it, you can.”

“It’s perfect,” I said. Nick and Nick looked proud. I realized then that the children must have chosen the recording together.

I put the Easy Button on my desk and didn’t think of it much until my best friend Ashley asked me to watch her toddler, Will. Her second baby was due and she wanted someone to look after him as she recuperated in the hospital.

It was clear that Will would be our child. Nick and I love toddlers, so Nick is a baby person. Although we knew that it would be difficult, I believed having a child in the home might help us get through this phase of our grief.

“I wasn’t sure if this is something you’d be ready for,” Ashley said.

“We can’t wait,” I told her.

Aiden’s crib was still in our bedroom. We moved it from his room after he got sick, and now it’s been in our room longer than Aiden was alive. It had grown to be a shrine filled with blankets, stuffed animals, and other trinkets that Aiden collected throughout his entire life.

To make room for Will, I piled everything in the crib into a corner, careful not to break the plaster mold of Aiden’s hand or misplace the plastic bag with clippings of his hair.

After that, I cleaned out my desk. My books, my laptop, and favourite pens were arranged in the living area. The Easy Button was placed on the top.

Aiden, at 16 months, playing outside in June 2019.
Aiden at 16 months playing outside during June 2019.
Emily Henderson

Will was the same age that Aiden when he was diagnosed. That first night, I listened to Will speak half-words and watched him take half-steps, and for a moment, I couldn’t tell who was who. All the same things Aiden did before his cancer left his smile wrinkled and his blonde curls fell out, he was still doing them.

My daughter was fully prepared to play mom, and almost started crying when I told her she wouldn’t be the one to rock Will to sleep at night. My older son was more cautious. More than once I heard him say “That’s just like Aiden,” his voice trailing off ― maybe lost in the memory? Perhaps he doesn’t want to recall everything?

The next day I asked my older son: “How are you feeling about having Will being here? Is it hard for you?”

He took a moment to consider the question. “No, I mean, it’s hard ― but in a good way.”

I’m embarrassed by the part of me that wanted him to be upset, so we could cry together about how unfair it all is. But instead, I felt better. My 10-year-old helped me to feel joy and sadness at the same.

Will crawled around the pile of stuff in my living room the next night and finally found the Easy Button.

It was important to me that he press it. Aiden was invited to this important moment in my family’s history.

It was pressed, and he didn’t let it go, so he continued pressing, and the result was stops and starts. Nick and I looked at one another across the room.

Aiden (center), with his brother Owen and sister Peyton, visiting Santa for the first and only time.
Aiden (center), his brother Owen, and sister Peyton visit Santa Claus for the first time.
Emily Henderson

I made small portions of chicken nuggets, strawberries, and other snacks throughout the week. We read books and sang along, and I remember how much we looked forward to nap time.

The week was over and we felt satisfied. Will arrived at my friend’s house to be picked up. It was the first time Will had seen his brother and it made me so happy.

We did it. We spent a week with a living, breathing, exhausting, adorable reminder of our grief, and we survived; I’d say we even had fun. The truth is that grief is sneaky.

My eyes were accustomed to seeing bottles, bibs, and towels with hoods that look like dragons. It became a habit to look at the floor in search of choking hazards. I also saw a little boy crawling around wearing matching pajamas. The house became quiet again after they left.

It was familiar. Aiden passed away. Nick and his older siblings returned to school. I was left alone with the house. I wandered from room to room, looking for what I knew I wouldn’t find.

Decades before I was born, my mother’s brother died in a tragic accident when he was 4 years old. I remember one sepia-toned picture of him on my grandmother’s dresser. No one ever talked about him, and I got the impression I shouldn’t ask.

My grandparents were born in the Depression. They’re part of the Greatest Generation, but are also from a time when many people pushed grief into a dark corner and rarely spoke of it.

On the other side, I had an instinct to place my grief at the forefront. So I could see Aiden in every corner of my body, I just had to look up a bit to recall him. The house was filled with photos, socks, posters, and even a funeral poster made by a friend.

Aiden was killed in November. It is also the beginning of the holiday season. This time of year marks the beginning of mourning, which allows us to gather around tables that will never have one empty highchair, one less letter from Santa Claus, and one more New Year’s Eve without Aiden.

Aiden (center) with his brother and sister on Easter, 2019.
Aiden (center), with his sister and brother on Easter 2019, 2019.
Emily Henderson

Although our family will continue to grieve, how it feels will change. I will continue to find comfort in the things that are most important.

The crib I wasn’t ready to take down before is now stacked in pieces in the rafters of our garage. I still catch my daughter playing with Aiden’s toys, but I know, eventually, the time will come to donate them.

Next year we are remodeling our house, and I imagine I will have plenty of opportunities to decide what to display, what to pack away, and what to let go ― a sort of Marie Kondo process for grief. Never rushed, never forced, never because it’s something I think I should do.

Although I was skeptical about the Easy Button being a useful gift before it arrived, it quickly became one of my favorite possessions. It gives me comfort. It helps me to keep my pain close and Aiden close during these difficult times. It is a great reminder to me when I am feeling sad, needing a laugh or just want to vent my anger. It’s a beautiful reminder. It helps me not to forget ― not just Aiden, but the love we all shared. That love hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there in me. And by celebrating Aiden’s life and remembering the joy he brought us, we keep that love alive.

I press that button to remind myself that what we’ve been through isn’t easy ― but in a good way.

Emily Henderson lives in Santa Barbara, California as a writer and runner. Scary Mommy and Writing Class Radio have published her essays. While running all the streets of her hometown, she is writing a memoir on how she coped with her loss. Follow her Instagram @ @emilykathleenwritesOr visit

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