Family honors late son with ‘bittersweet’ display

Ottawa County

SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — A family in Spring Lake has transformed their house into a life-size gingerbread house for the holidays, paying tribute to their late son. 

Kerri Henderson is the architect behind the gumdrop studded home located on the corner of the West Exchange and Division streets.

“The house has a charm of its own anyway, and it just looked like it’s supposed to be a gingerbread house,” Henderson said.

Most of the hand-crafted display was made from odds and ends at the dollar store. Henderson and her family twisting pool noodles into candy canes and turning colored bowls into gumdrop siding.

But the story behind the sugar-coated display is bittersweet. Henderson said their once crazy about Christmas family had turned their back on the holidays after an unthinkable loss.

“You don’t think of cancer in a 15 or 16-year-old kid,” she said. “That’s just not something that anybody would ever think would happen.”

Henderson’s teenage son Conner was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in late 2015.

“We really thought when he was diagnosed that we were going to be the little percent that was going to beat it,” she said. “He fought really, really hard.”

Every day after that was like a gift.  As a family, they made the most of each one.

“We knew that we were on borrowed time and (Conner) said what he really wanted to do was travel and that’s what we decided to do.”

The family took six trips during Conner’s last five months.

Inside their home, the family’s Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments commemorating their adventures.
Conner died on Valentine’s Day 2018; a few months shy of his 18th birthday.

“It took me a long time to really want to do anything after I lost him,” Henderson said.
Later that year, the family wanted to be anywhere but home for the holidays.

“Our first Christmas, we just completely avoided it,” she said. “We went on a family vacation out of the country and pretended that Christmas didn’t happen and the year after that we went out of town again.”

It was Christmas 2020 that Henderson began easing her way back into the holidays.

“It’s either wallow in my own sadness and not be able to celebrate Christmas with everybody else that I love because I miss him, or celebrate, which is what he would want,” she said.

Celebrate they did.  Starting out slow with a small Christmas display last year, building up to this year’s gingerbread creation.

“I felt my son’s presence throughout making the display, just because I knew that it would make people smile,” Henderson said. “I know that he would say we were sad long enough and that it’s time to bring back the holidays.”

Looking at the display and all those who come to admire it, Henderson said this is what Conner would have wanted.

“I just love the idea that people will hear about our house and the families will get in their car and drive here to come here and see it,” she said.

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