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Family creates life-size gingerbread house to spread happiness in honor of late son

"His greatest fear in leaving us was how we were all going to deal with it when he was gone," said Kerri Henderson, "so we're trying to do our best to keep living."

SPRING LAKE, Mich. — A family along the lakeshore has gone all-out decorating for the holidays. They've transformed their 1920's Spring Lake home into a life-size gingerbread house, all to honor their son who died of cancer. 

"I just looked at it and thought 'this is supposed to be a gingerbread house,'" said homeowner Kerri Henderson, "I just felt like that's what it wanted to be."

So that's what it became. Henderson and her family now live inside a life-size wonderland along West Exchange Street in Spring Lake.

And it's the first time in years that Henderson said she's really celebrated the holidays. Her son, Conner, died of cancer in 2018, just before his 18th birthday.

"It just was really difficult for me to celebrate much of anything in the beginning," she said, "So I did this for me and I did this for Conner because I needed something to make me happy this season and something to look forward to."

Her other inspiration? The Spring Lake Sparkle event that debuted last year and returns on Friday.

"I was just was really inspired by seeing everyone walking around during such a difficult time with COVID," she said, "everybody was walking around downtown, so excited about the lights, and so happy. It gave families a place to go when there wasn't a safe place to go."

"I just really wanted to be part of that," she added. 

And the life-size gingerbread house transformation was no easy feat. Most of the decorations are handmade. 

Henderson said the creation is also so much more than just a place to take pictures. She said it's a place for happiness, because that's what Conner would have wanted. 

"The best way I can honor him is by making other people happy," she said, "because he did that so well in his short life."

And among all the colors and decorations, a tree decorated with blue lights sits in the front yard in honor of Conner.  

"His greatest fear in leaving us was how we were all going to deal with it when he was gone," said Henderson, "so we're trying to do our best to keep living."

Henderson said for anyone else missing a loved one during the holidays, it's okay to do what you need to get through it. 

"Sometimes that means staying in a quiet place by yourself protecting your heart, and sometimes it means getting out and looking at something that makes you smile," she said, "and I just hope this house makes a lot of people smile."

You can visit the life-size gingerbread house during the day or see it light up at night located at the corner of Exchange and Division Streets in Spring Lake.

If you or your family is looking to spread love this holiday season, Henderson said donations to children's cancer research is always needed, as less than 4% of dollars for cancer research goes to children's cancer.

You can send any donations in Conner's honor to the following address:

Beat Childhood Cancer Fund

Helen DeVos Children's Foundation

ATTN: Anna Marzolf

100 Michigan NE - MC004

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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