Our path through the holidays: closed Christmas boxes

We realized soon after Morgan’s murder that holidays would be tricky ground to navigate for our shrunken/triangulated family. Old traditions had to be jettisoned, too painful, and new traditions must be developed.

Our new Christmas traditions involve many firmly closed Christmas boxes. Some of those boxes are memory boxes that we force the lid on to prevent self-injury. Like: I won’t think about the elaborate Christmas rituals that Morgan and Alex invented as children. They not only put out cookies and milk for Santa, but also placed carrots on the front lawn for his reindeer. Dan didn’t mind standing in for Santa and munching the cookies, but honestly I know Dan didn’t love searching the yard with flash lights Christmas eve to locate and nibble the reindeer’s carrots.  Nope, won’t open that box.

Some of our closed Christmas boxes are actual boxes – like the box of ornaments in the basement. Can’t bear to see all the kid crafted decorations; though one in particular keeps popping into my head. Probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, Morgan came home proudly presenting the ornament she had made in class. I t was actually sort of hideous. A flattened pop can sprayed with gold and given a shake of glitter as adornment. Every year thereafter I tried to position the darn thing on the very back of the tree to hide its garish awfulness. Inevitably Morgan would seek it out and place it front and center on the tree for all to admire. Definitely must keep the lid on the ornament box.

In fact we don’t even fill Christmas boxes with presents anymore. I use bags instead. See, I am a hasty/ sloppy present wrapper. Morgan took over that task long ago and loved to tie each bow precisely and decorate all the packages like works of art. I just cannot replay that scene. So now all gifts are placed in bags. Another shift in tradition that allows us to skate through this emotionally charged time of year.

I have to think that Morgan, our beautiful shiny out of the box girl, helps us somehow traverse these rough stretches. We are not unscathed by the holidays. Predictably we become a little raw around the edges. Yes, raw, diminished but still whole and moving forward. Raw, but still permeable to the joy of this season of giving. Raw, but so grateful for the time we had with Morgan our precious little girl now placed in yet another  closed box.


17 Responses to “Gil Harrington’s Thoughts on December 11, 2012”

  1. Ligia says:

    Dear Gil
    Glad to see your beautiful words again. It may sound silly but I miss your words when new ones are not available. I know that I don’t know you but I often think “I wonder how Gil and her family are doing.” It is a testament to Morgan’s amazing soul that she connects total strangers through the love and prayers we send your way. God bless you and yours.

  2. Gina says:

    This surely is a painful blog to read. Christmas is a time for joy and rebirth meant for all of mankind. How to accept this tragedy which never gets resolved? I don’t know nor can I fathom how my husband and I would survive and go on. Two months ago, my daughter’s boyfriend’s nieces were born, The larger of the two had too much acid in her blood and died after five excruciating hours. At the memorial service, the pastor said “God did not take the baby, He received her”. My daughter said that those words made all of the difference for her. God did not take Morgan, He received her. God bless you all.

  3. Lynda says:

    For Gil and family-
    I have tried many times to console you through an email response to your powerful online journal entries, but I seem unable to get a message to you. My husband and I were part of the initial search teams in Charlottesville in the days following Morgan’s disappearance and for various reasons we feel so impacted by the enormity of your circumstances. One thought that I’ve had for years is that Morgan caresses your hand as you write your powerful journals, and that perhaps one way Morgan’s artistry lives on… is not in the Christmas wrappings… but in the eloquence and power and grace of your own ability to express yourself. You have your own legacy of art and we want to let you know we appreciate that you share it with others. Our love to your family.

  4. Justin says:

    That sure sounds like the Morgan that will forever live in our hearts,the Morgan that see the beauty in all that she created. Not only going to great lengths to display it but to protect it also. I think that leaving the carrots out for the nourishment of the reindeer is a measure how thoughtful a child you have. My only hope is that one day in the presence of our Lord I can see the angel who helped guide my life to where it is now. I am sure she will never leave the sides of those of us who truly love her and know her as Mogo.

    God Bless and Love you all

  5. jan mason says:

    What a beautiful thought, Gina. Especially today after the school massacre. Love and prayers still go out to the Harrisons. My daughter has been dead 2 years now and Christmas is still hard for us.

  6. Ann H Tearle says:

    God bless you dear family–always (still) in my thoughts and daily prayers. My love, Annie

  7. NA says:

    Every time I come to this site I always hope and pray for an update that the killer has been found or there has been some progress in this case. I don’t understand why this case has gone cold, and this POS is still roaming loose, and God forbid may have killed again. Most of these type of rape/deaths seem to be committed by serial killer types, have they compared them to recent killings of similar victim types, or just before? I’m sure they have, but I don’t understand why this case is cold. I will pray hard that this POS is found soon and justice is served. I can’t imagine how much you miss her at the table during Thanksgiving and Christmas and every other day, but I just know she has happiness and peace now beyond what we can imagine here on Earth.

  8. Jen says:

    First, I would like to say I am so sorry for your loss. I keep checking in with your blog and hoping to hear for any kind of progress in the case. Truth be told, your relationship with your daughter Morgan, reminds me of my own with my mother, who passed away in 2009. Grief is there always,unless one sleeps and sometimes it takes a reprieve…then returns in the morning, upon waking. I pray for this case to be solved. Maybe someday you can put Morgan’s glittery ornament not on a christmas tree, but nearby, like on a nightstand or dresser and have it be a focal point for you. You may feel her love through that funny ornament. Someday it might even calm you. When you are ready. I have a ballerina ornament I look at which reminds me of my mother. For a moment, the grief takes a back seat to a little smile. All the best to you.

  9. George says:

    This is a shame.. I hope that whoever did this is arrested, processed and his DNA taken is matched to this crime.

    If arenas wouldn’t have had a no re-entry policy this wouldn’t have happened.

    My thoughts are with anyone who has to deal with this kind of disgrace. It makes me ashamed to be a human being knowing what disgusting things that people are capable of.

    I hope this guy responsible for this is kept up night after night at what he did. I hope he stares at the door day after day living in fear of when he will finally be caught.

    They should take a person’s DNA at birth, it should be mandatory. If a person doesn’t do anything wrong in life then there is no reason to be worried about anyone having your DNA stored and ready to be matched to a crime.

    I feel that we as people are all connected in life. We breathe the same air and experience positive and negative emotions and obstacles.

    Nobody should ever have to go through this kind of pain. A young person with a whole life ahead of them has it ripped out of their control by monsters who prey on people physically weaker than themselves.

    I cannot imagine the pain day after day waking up and for a split second having that person cross your mind. You wanting to think about them even though you know how painful the thought is going to be.

    I feel sunken for your loss and the countless others people have experienced. The world is a horrible place and at least she is in a place where there is no pain or disappointment. She can finally smile and have all her dreams come true. Most importantly, if what the bible says is true, she doesn’t have any memory of the unthinkable action that was taken against her.

  10. Mike says:

    I recently heard Morgan’s story by watching an episode of disappeared. I am truly sorry for your loss and I can’t imagine what you are going through. I just wanted to say her story really touched me and I hope they find her killer soon. You all seem to have handled this as well as any family could. I wish you continued strength. It saddens me to see the amount of families that have gone through the pain and anguish you have had to endure. God bless you!

  11. Barbara Summers says:

    I have prayed for you and your family for three years and will continue to do so. Justice for Morgan!!!

  12. Emily Nghiem says:

    Dear Gil: Thank you again for your honesty in sharing. The Grief process has its stages, and it is important to value and respect each one and the thoughts/feelings that come with. How many other families have this same issue to deal with? With ornaments or photos they are afraid to look at during Christmas? One of my friends, victims rights activist Lee Wells Flowers, started a tradition in Houston of decorating a Christmas tree each year with photos and anniversary dates of their children and loved ones lost to murder. Why not host a tree decorating ceremony, and encourage people to share the ornaments made by their loved ones? If everyone shares their fear and pain, it makes it less; it can turn it back into treasuring the love and joy of those memories, not fear of them. I know it is still too early, but maybe in the future, this could help you and other families reclaim those precious memories. Special thanks to you and also Lee Wells for sharing and helping other families to open up in order to heal, knowing you are not alone in your pain and suffering as you go through the stages of grief. Happy 2013 to you and all the lives you touch with your love!

  13. Emily Nghiem says:


    Here is an article on the City of Pearland also lighting their own Christmas Tree with ornaments remembering Crime Victims.


    Above is the latest article on the original Christmas Tree tradition and lighting ceremony started in Houston, with ornaments for each family who is commemorating a murdered loved one.

    Andy Kahan is still the Crime Victims advocate for the City of Houston, where he can be contacted through the Houston Police Dept.

    I found another article, below, where Kahan even used tips from keeping in contact with Berkowitz/the Son of Sam, to lobby against murderabilia sales profiting off crime at the expense of victims. So Kahan is even partnering with an infamous former killer, who wants to make good with society, to try to help stop the suffering of crime victims in ways even he can contribute from prison. There is hope this cycle of sickness and violence can be turned around.


    If anyone has ideas of how to work with past murderers to reach out to others to work with authorities, please contact Andy Kahan with the Houston Police Department, Crime Victims office.

  14. Kris Johnson says:

    I can’t figure out how else to contact you besides posting a comment on here. I just saw the episode about your daughter on the show “Disappeared”. I am from Virgina and was dating someone in Northern Virginia (Sterling) during the Fall of 2005. We were repeatedly stalked by a man who was later caught by cops that set up a sting operation to catch him. I know he was arrested for the crime, but couldn’t have served too much time. It may not be related but it may be and there has to be a way that they can trace who this guy was that was arrested for this particular crime he committed on me. Please contact me if you want to follow up on this. I hope you read these comments…

  15. admin says:

    Kris, thank you for posting. Please contact the tip line with Virginia State Police tip line 4343523467. So kind of you to contact us. Dan and gil

  16. Chelsea says:

    My heart goes to you. Your daughter is beautiful. Seen the episode on disappeared.. got online in hopes they found the horrible person resposible…i will continue to pray that justice will be served for your sweet girl.

  17. Wyatt says:

    I have been an actor in community theater productions for many years. My most meaningful role was that of Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. What an honor to portray such a man! He dedicated the remainder of his life after his return to Amsterdam to fulfilling his daughter Anne’s stated ambition. He even endured a lawsuit from the widow of one of the characters that was portrayed in the play, which he helped adapt from Anne’s diary. In 1980, shortly before his death, he wrote, “I am now almost ninety and my strength is slowly fading. Still the task I received from Anne continues to restore my energy for reconcilation and human rights throughout the world.” Gil and Dan, you are an inspiration to me, as was Otto Frank.

Leave a Reply