Come Little Children
Stella’s been dead for over a month now. Only a month…already a month…time is so meaningless. Aimee and I are stumbling though the days, as are our family and friends. Many times we repeat to each other or to ourselves, “I miss Stella”. Naming the pain seems to help. Sharing with each other that we are all feeling the emptiness left behind seems to help. Hearing that other people continue to look on the couch, wishing Stella was there, seems to help. I’ll say it again. I miss Stella. Such a simple statement, but fraught with so much emotion. There is anger, grief, resentment and, of course, profound sadness. Aimee misses Stella most in moments of action and fun when she wishes Stella was there to experience it. I miss Stella most in moments of quiet reflection when the intensity of all that is gone in my life hits me like a tidal wave of anguish. Our sisters miss popping in on their way to and from work for a quick nose kiss from Stella, a smile, a little game of peek-a-boo. Uncle Tristan misses making Stella laugh with his antics. Our parents miss bringing Stella little gifts…Timbits, books, ice cream, videos, stuffed animals. Gracie misses trying to make her laugh and telling her all about school and re-enacting her weekly kindergarten “show and share”. Sam still looks for his sister on the couch. He points to her picture and kisses it several times a day. We miss Stella’s touch, her crooked little smile, her tiny chicklet teeth, the way her curls fell in fiery waves to her shoulders, the smell of maple syrup and baby wipes, reading “King Hugo’s Huge Ego”, seeing her little tongue sticking out, painting her nails with gaudy colours, the steady evenness of her breathing as she slept in our arms. We miss our daughter. We only had one daughter, one Stella, and now she’s gone. And the world just isn’t as vibrant without her. The sky isn’t as blue, the Christmas trees don’t smell as good, the cupcakes don’t taste as sweet and laughter isn’t as musical. Stella was magic, and I find that I just can’t get that incredible mystic feeling back with anything else.
I am having trouble interacting with people. I have no patience for things I find irrelevant now— things like complaints about the price of gas, the fact that they forgot to put a pickle on someone’s sandwich, the annoyance of losing a favourite scarf. I just don’t care and have no energy to feign interest, which makes it a little difficult to live in a world where these things are discussed at length, and are viewed as valid grievances. I’m trying to fit in, but it feels uncomfortable. I’ve changed so much and the world hasn’t followed suit.
The only time, the only place it feels genuine and natural and bearable is when I’m surrounded by children— my own children Hugo and Sam, my niece Gracie, nephew Xavier, or some of Stella’ friends. They are still young enough to be untouched by supposed social graces, manners, etiquette, and deportment. They treat me the same way they always have, and I don’t need to worry about making them uncomfortable, or them making me uncomfortable. Children don’t mince words. They don’t get all weird around death, or me. They are genuine. They are thoughtful. They are REAL. They say things like, “Tutu was going to take Stellie and me to Disneyland. Stellie is dead now, but it would make her very happy if Tutu would take me anyway” (Gracie)…”Mama, there’s Stella’s star” (Lark)…”Stella died, but I still get to see her sometimes when I look hard” (Arin)…”Stella’s pretty, she has nice hair even though she died” (Nate), and, my personal favourite, the understatement of the year, a simple: “It’s really a shame Stella died” (Flora).
I find it refreshing, I find it honest. The children still greet me with wholehearted grins and huge hugs when I see them. They still talk openly and honestly about Stella to me and their parents. They ask questions that adults are afraid to ask, like “How did you know Stella was going to die?” and “What are you going to do with all her toys?” (Nicholas). They don’t whisper, they don’t stumble over their words, they are unconcerned about the “right” things to say or do. I’m not nervous around kids. They are happy to just play with me and ask nothing more from me than my attention and energy.
I am finding that I prefer to hang around children much more than adults. I am finding that the times I feel the most genuinely myself, are when I’m having serious conversations with Gracie about Cinderella vs. Swan Princess, helping Flora (who’s a vegetarian), pretend to boil a bunny for supper, when I’m sneaking snacks to Arin in Church, dressing Hugo and his friend Violet up as “Skater Babies” for an impromptu photo shoot, hiding the rubber ducky from Sam in the bath and then watching him laugh in delight, or reading a silly book to Xavier. There is a freedom when I’m with the kids that eludes me everywhere else. In them I see that the honest actions with which they live their lives are much more effective than the amazing intentions with which most adults live their lives.
Stella was 100% genuine in everything she did. You always knew where you stood with her. She was direct, honest, frank and unwavering in her commitment to just be herself, despite the piles of incident reports she racked up from daycare in the process. I have challenged myself to try to live the way she did—with honesty and intent. But so far, the only times I’m truly able to do that is when I’m knee deep in play-doh and finger paints and imagination and giggles. In the laughter of the children I love, I’m finding a little bit of Stella. I thought it would be difficult for me to be around kids after Stella died, I thought it would make me sad. But I’m learning that perhaps the things that break our hearts the most, are the same things that serve to open them. So by surrounding myself with the curiosity, openness and enthusiasm of children, I’m slowly learning to get a little bit of joy back into my heart. A little bit of Stella Joy, that is.
Sam and Gracie have a playdate with Flora and Alice:
Skater Dudes Violet and Hugo:
Sam and Aimee- sunset in Picton:
Mama and Hugo:
Hugo, Xavier and Sam in the bath: