Lilliana, 9, (L, upper) and her little sister Zarah, 7, (R, lower) pose in front of the Christmas tree they've dedicated to the memory of their late mother, Jamie.
Lilliana, 9, (L, upper) and her little sister Zarah, 7, (R, lower) pose in front of the Christmas tree they've dedicated to the memory of their late mother, Jamie.

Michigan mom Jamie Burda passed away too soon, but her family is working to keep her memory alive.

LAPEER, Mich.— As you pass through towns and cities this holiday season, you will likely see homes adorned with bright, twinkling lights, inflatable decorations, and perhaps even Santa Claus himself.

You may also catch a glimpse of a family’s Christmas tree through a window or a front door as you make your way through a neighborhood.

However, if you’re driving on West Oregon Street in Lapeer, you’ll see a Christmas tree in Dwayne and Rebecca Burda’s front yard along with a sign that reads: 

Please Help Decorate our Tree

This Christmas tree is much more than a simple seasonal decoration though— it’s a beautiful memorial for a daughter and mother gone too soon.

The Burdas lost their 23-year-old daughter Jamie in 2013, just two weeks after giving birth to her now 7-year-old daughter, Zarah.

According to her mother, Jamie began complaining about a pain in her side after giving birth. It was misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection (UTI). Days later, Jamie’s appendix ruptured while she was at home. She then went through a series of surgeries, but tragically passed away in the hospital.

“Life without Jamie hasn’t gotten any easier over the past seven years,” said Burda. 

“Her daughters ask about her every day and I miss her all the time.”

Rebecca Burda

Celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas haven’t been the same for the family since Jamie passed away because there’s one less person around to spread joy and cheer.

Jamie was known to stay up all night before Christmas or someone’s birthday so she could be the first to send warm wishes and holiday greetings.

Burda adds that Christmas was one of Jamie’s favorite holidays.

“She was always the first person to put the tree up and decorate it,” she said.

Her father adds that the Christmas before she passed away, Jamie was adamant that their house be decorated for the holiday.

“She was persistent, so I finally caved,” said Burda.

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A New Tradition Is Born

In past years during Christmas, the Burdas decorated Jamie’s headstone located in the Mount Hope Cemetery, which butts up against their backyard.

“Her girls often say Jamie is in the backyard because of how close she’s buried to our house,” said Burda.

However, the family grew concerned when they noticed that decorations and other items placed near Jamie’s grave were being broken or stolen.

So instead of running the risk of decorations being tampered with, the family decided to place their daughter’s memorial Christmas tree in their front yard for all to see.

Burda said Jamie’s 9-year-old daughter Lilliana and her little sister Zarah were the ones who decided they wanted to decorate a tree in honor of their mom this year.

“They wanted their mom to know she wasn’t being forgotten,” said Burda.

At first, Burda was apprehensive about setting up the tree and asking people to decorate it because she wasn’t sure people would participate, but was moved to tears after ornaments began showing up at their house from near and far.

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“Receiving ornaments from others for the memorial tree has showed us that Jamie was just as important to others as she was to us,” said Burda. 

“She meant something to the world.”

Rebecca Burda

A large, metal cardinal was the first decoration to arrive on the Burda’s doorstep, and Lilliana has plans to put it in her bedroom after Christmas is over.

Zarah’s favorite ornaments are handcrafted pinecones and a shiny disco ball.

Burda added that a red truck ornament was shipped to their house from over 1,400 miles away in Texas.

“I am so excited and happy for the girls because someone took time out of their day to send this to them,” she said.

The memorial tree is also full of silver and blue ornaments—another tribute to Jamie.

Jamie’s Christmas tradition was putting up a white tree and decorating it with blue lights along with silver and blue ornaments, explained Burda.

Now, her Christmas tradition is being kept alive thanks to her daughters and her mother.

“It just wouldn’t be Jamie’s tree without the blue and silver decorations,” said Burda.

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Keeping Memories Alive

Burda and her granddaughters have also found other creative ways to keep Jamie’s memory alive, which included painting solar lights for Jamie’s grave.

Burda recalls spending about a day hand-painting solar lights with blue nail polish so they would shine blue at night.

“My head was killing me by the end of that project,” laughed Burda.

Burda added that while Zarah never got to know her mom she’s thankful for her granddaughter’s curiosity because it’s helping keep Jamie’s memory alive.

“Lilliana and Zarah always ask if they share similarities with their mom,” said Burda.

With a laugh, Burda said she calls Zarah “mini Jamie” because she’s outgoing and Lilliana is kind and compassionate, just like their mom.

“Having my granddaughters around is the biggest piece of Jamie I have left and I am so grateful for them.”

Rebecca Burda

How to Help

Burda and her granddaughters said they would love to see Jamie’s memorial filled with enough ornaments and decorations that no bare spots are visible on the tree. As Michiganders start to pack away holiday ornaments, they can send silver and blue ones for next year’s Burda family tree.

Ornaments for the tree can be sent to:

Burda Family
1261 W. Oregon Street
Lapeer, MI 48446

Lilliana, 9, (L) and her little sister Zarah, 7, (R) pose in front of the Christmas tree they’ve dedicated to the memory of their late mother, Jamie.