Christmas is over and it was about as awful as I’d imagined.
Both the boys were terribly sick with pinkeye, which meant a trip to the after-hours clinic, days of eye drops and whining, and long sleepless nights.
Auntie Angie ended up in the hospital with an infection that made her sick as a dog for days. She was released on Christmas Eve, but was sick again by Boxing Day.
Catherine Porter, our beloved friend/Toronto Star journalist, fell jogging on Christmas Eve and was banged up enough to spend the day in the local Emergency Department.
I got into a fight with my mother on Christmas Eve that included yelling, tears, some very loud door slamming and an extremely dramatic, “Merry Christmas Mom!” as I stormed out (things were patched up by Christmas morning).
Sam, Nanny, Auntie Angie, Poppa, Tutu and I all got struck down with some kind of stomach virus on Boxing Day. It left me retching in the basement all night while Aimee juggled the two (sick) boys upstairs from 3am onwards.
The flight to New York that DeeDee, Uncle Tristan, Hugo and I were scheduled to go on yesterday morning was cancelled after we had already gone to the airport, checked our bags, cleared customs and waited in the airport lounge.
But none of these things made Christmas awful. This is just the eye rolling, “man this sucks” kind of stuff that is frustrating, but pretty harmless.
What was awful about Christmas was that Stella wasn’t here. But Stella hasn’t been here in 68 days and each of those days has been equally awful.
This year, Stella was well represented at our festivities. On Christmas Eve, Aimee and I took the boys to Riverdale Farm. We visited her tree and bench then took Sam and Hugo in to see her beloved pigs. We ran into a friend who was there with her two young sons as well, and it was nice to have someone to share stories of Stella with as we wandered around the farm.
At each Christmas Celebration Aimee and I attended (there were four because both our sets of parents are divorced), an extra place was set at the dinner table and a candle was lit to represent where Stella should have been sitting.
Gracie made a gift for her Stellie (a playdoh ornament in the shape of an “S” she lovingly painted, and my sister Heather put together beautiful little star-themed gifts for a bunch of people that included mugs painted by Stella a year ago, pictures, star ornaments and other thoughtful little Stella-inspired touches.
Stella’s name was mentioned in all the prayers that were murmured over lavish meals and her smile gazed down at us from each Christmas tree. It was obvious that she was on everyone’s mind, and it was nice.
But I think there is a bit of a misconception that times like Christmas are the hardest, and that’s simply not true. Everyday is hard. It’s not just the “special” times that are difficult; it’s all the in-between times too. Not having Stella dancing around the Christmas tree is no harder than not having Stella dancing around the backyard. In fact, sometimes days like Christmas are a little bit easier because there is an awareness from people that it might be difficult and so you get lots of voicemails, text messages, emails and support. Often, it’s the normal days when everyone else is off at work or school, busily cooking dinner for their families and planning weekend trips to the zoo that are the most difficult. Taking Sam and Hugo for annual Santa photos without Stella was sad, but we have cried a dozen other times for things far more inane, but just as painful.
We cried when we watched Gracie and Sam chase each other around the living room. Our hearts can clearly see the space between them that should have been occupied by a running Stella, giggling and shouting just as loudly.
We cried when we let Sam loose in the Science Centre, and noticed how he is a bit timid with the bigger kids. He is shy and clings to our legs. We let our minds imagine what it would have been like for him if his big sister had been there to lead him around, and protect him.
We cried when we signed “from” stickers on a pile of Christmas gifts. It feels funny to not put Stella’s name on them. I’ve started putting all the presents from “Hugo and Sam” or “Stella’s Family”.
We cried when the first snow came and buried Toronto. Aimee and I looked out the window and saw kids dragging sleds up the street, mittens hanging down, hats flopping, and wished out loud that Stella was here, diving into the snow with abandon and glee.
It’s hard to find a happy space. When we remember the past, it makes us sad because we have only a finite amount of memories, photos, video clips to keep mulling over. When we live in the present, we keep finding things that we wish Stella was here to see and experience. When we look to the future, it seems unbearably long without our girl. So where do you find the joy?
Well, just like grief, which hits at random times (like in the grocery store when you turn a corner and come face to face with a pile of avocadoes), joy comes at random times and unexpected places as well. Like seeing that a stranger has decorated Stella’s bench in Riverdale Park for Christmas, or watching Sam fall in love with one of Stella’s old stuffed animals.
But joy doesn’t come raining down on us very much. More often than not, we need to go looking for it. I haven’t lied on this blog thus far, and I don’t think it’s time to start now so I want to tell you that every single day is hard. Aimee and I are grateful a million times over for all the incredible things that we have— wonderful families and friends, a cozy little house, enough money to pay the bills, two healthy and thriving little boys, but being grateful for what you have doesn’t take away the sting of missing what you don’t have, which for us, is Stella.
Beautiful, funny, precocious, curly top, giggling, blue-eyed Stella.
How can she really be gone from this earth forever?
It’s still unfathomable most of the time.
I heard someone say in an interview once that you can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you react to it. I keep repeating that to myself because sometimes the sadness and grief feels so overwhelming I don’t want to move forward. Moving forward means moving away from Stella, and the thought is blindingly painful to contemplate. So I need to choose each and everyday how I will react to what life throws at me. Aimee and I make a choice each and everyday to get up and live our lives, even though we know that inevitably we will be splashing through puddles of pain and sorrow as we walk through the day. We never know when we will find moments of happiness, but we know for certain that each day will bring sadness. We choose to get up anyway because we love our lives, we love our sons and we want to feel happiness again someday.
Every day we actively search for joy. I have found that it comes from within. No one makes you joyous; you choose to be joyful.
Visiting Riverdale on Chrstmas Eve:
The boys excited for Christmas:
Gracie pushing Sam on the swing, Christmas Day:
The table at Tutu’s, set by Gracie:
Hugo and Sam, ready for Christmas: