By John Lauritsen

Originally published Dec. 21, 2021

MINNEAPOLS (WCCO) — The bond between a father and son is a special thing. It shines through in many different ways.

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And in Wayzata, it’s a Christmas tree that brought one man closer to the son he lost.

Driving by, you can’t help but notice the giant Black Hills Spruce on Highcroft Road.

“This is a well-orchestrated decorating process. It’s absolutely kind of the sparkle in the middle of the heart of the neighborhood,” said neighbor Tara Engebretson.

“At night when I’m coming home from work, I usually come the long way and specifically, just to drive by the tree,” said neighbor Jeff Gratton.

The man behind the tree’s 40,000-plus lights is David Gigerich.

“I actually bought scaffolding this year to get the lights on, and have to use a boom lift to get the star on the top,” Gigerich said. “Quite frankly, I spend about three weeks putting the lights on this tree and it’s the most exhausting, yet exhilarating three weeks of the year for me.”

There’s a good reason for that. Gigerich doesn’t feel alone when he’s decorating. He feels like his son, Duncan, is right there with him.

“The best part of Duncan, and everybody who would ever talk about him, it would be his heart, and his warm smile and his big laugh,” Gigerich said.

Three years ago, Duncan’s life was cut short when he was killed in a car accident. He was just 19 years old.

For Gigerich, the grief was almost unbearable — especially during the holidays. As a way to honor Duncan’s life, the neighborhood bought his family a memorial tree.

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(credit: CBS)

“And we went to a tree farm and literally walked over a hill and it was almost that ta-da moment. There was the tree,” Gigerich said.

And over the past couple of years, it’s doubled in size — from 15 feet to now 30. That means more lights and more work, which Gigerich is just fine with.

“As my oldest son said when saw the tree the first time, he said ‘That tree even looks like Duncan. It’s big and strong and burly and beautiful,'” Gigerich said.

People who don’t know the backstory will stop by and take pictures. But for the neighborhood, it’s so much more. A reminder that life is precious.

“It brings us all close together. The tree is a teaching moment, right, for our kids,” Gratton said.

In turn, the neighborhood has helped Gigerich deal with his loss. Not a day, week, month or Christmas goes by that he doesn’t think about Duncan.

It’s proof that no matter what, the love a father has for his son, will never stop shining.

“We wanted people to understand what’s behind the lights. And it’s not just a big, bright beautiful tree, it’s really the spirit of Duncan,” Gigerich said.

Gigerich said Duncan always helped him decorate for the holidays.

One of his techniques with Duncan’s tree is to mix a string of white lights with color lights, which helps it shine brighter.

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John Lauritsen