Christmas Crap

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Christmas Crap 

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.

 

Like Stella.

 

Joy.

 

Stella Joy.

 

 

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:


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Holiday Letter

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Christmas Ornaments- Stella, Sam, Hugo’s footprints for their respective first Christmases (2009, 2011, 2012)

Holiday Letter

Yesterday was December 22.  Two months since Stella died.

On this day, Aimee and I were lucky enough to have a Holiday Letter published in the Toronto Star Newspaper (December 22, 2012 page A3).  This was made possible by Catherine Porter, and we are very grateful for the opportunity.

Happy Holidays to everyone, may you find peace this season.

You can read the letter on the Toronto Star Website here:

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1305992–stella-s-moms-urge-readers-to-help-each-other

OR, I copy and pasted it here:

Dear Star Readers,

We haven’t met most of you personally, but you know all about us. Many of you have taken the time to send emails telling us how much you cried over the death of our daughter, Stella Joy, and how much you grew to love her. That has meant a lot to us: we had agreed to let journalist Catherine Porter join us on the terrible journey of watching an aggressive brain tumour kill Stella because we wanted as many people as possible to meet our spirited girl in the short time she had left.

We had no idea how long the journey would be, what it would truly mean, or the people it would include. It became so much bigger than us.

Many of you have said that you are in awe of our parenting and courage in accepting Stella’s death sentence. We do not feel brave or special. We are normal, unassuming people who live in a modest bungalow in East York. We bicker about laundry, we watch bad Reality Television, we get frustrated in traffic.

There is nothing extraordinary about us as people or parents, other than the fact Stella was one of the few, unlucky children diagnosed with diffuse infiltrative pontine glioma (DIPG).

There is nothing extraordinary about the decision we made to accept Stella’s death, other than the fact we had to accept it at all. The only treatment offered was six weeks of radiation, which may have prolonged her life but would have reduced the quality of her life in the interim.

We wanted her to live like a regular toddler, not a sick kid.

What is extraordinary, however, is how many people Stella’s story reached and how an entire community mobilized to ensure she lived the best life possible.

We are amazed at how much of a difference Stella was able to make during the 3 ½ years she was alive, and then how very big — almost mythic — her life has become in the telling and retelling of her story.

But at the end of the day, she was just a little girl, and we were just her parents. Countless people have told us that reading Stella’s story in the Star changed them. We hope very much that’s true. But any life-changing moments that people have experienced, any perspectives that have been gained, any joy that has been found, didn’t happen because of us. We didn’t do it. Catherine didn’t do it. Stella didn’t even do it. What did it was the openness and generosity of all the people who learned about Stella’s story and decided to do something in their own lives, or someone else’s, to make it better.

We didn’t change the world. The world changed us.

True change takes a lot of work and a lot of time. It happens almost unconsciously — when you no longer have to think deliberately about something, but it is just integrated in you. We are still working to change — to live more purposefully, to find joy in the small things every day. We are not there yet.

Many of you have asked how we’re doing. There is no real answer to that question. We miss Stella with our whole hearts. We just returned from a 10-day trip to Hawaii. Just the two of us — we left Stella’s two younger brothers, Sam and Hugo, at home. It was strange being alone. But we needed to sleep and weep and retreat. It was lovely and weird and spiritual all at the same time. We felt Stella all around us. We could hear her unmistakable giggle every time a bird swooped down towards Aimee’s nachos by the pool. We saw the colour of her hair reflected in the sunset over the ocean. We felt her soft kisses on our cheeks from the wind when we stood at the lip of a volcano, 10,000 feet up.

We laughed when we remembered her wearing ugly brown crocs all last summer. We cried when we left behind a commemorativemetalStella star in a national park, and when we wrote her name in the sand. We felt our hearts soar and break daily.

After more than a week in the sun and heat, it was a bit surprising to come home and remember that the holiday season is upon us. We were greeted with two 7-foot inflatable holiday decorations on our lawn (a Santa and a reindeer). It was Grandpa John’s idea of a joke. He knew they would horrify Aimee, and they did.

But more important, he did it for Stella. He knew that she would have loved those things. She would have pointed, laughed gleefully and tried to knock them down. We’re quite certain they would have been punctured long before New Year’s. So we agreed to leave them up — because they make us think of Stella. In the absence of having Stella with us physically, we are working to find ways of keeping her in our lives and consciousness.

People have also asked us what they can do to help us, to make a difference, to remember Stella. It took us a while to figure out the answer to this question. As a family, we decided on a few concrete things — decorating her memorial tree outside Riverdale Farm, lighting a candle on the Christmas table for her. But, more broadly, we think the best way to honour Stella would be to reach out to others the way you have reached out to us.

There is grief and sadness and sickness and fear on every block in this city. How amazing would it be to extend friendship to that new co-worker this season, or to call your boss whose husband died three years ago, or to shovel the sidewalk for the lady with chronic back pain who lives around the corner.

Or just send a quick email to someone to let them know you care.

Like many of the words we use today, the roots of the word “community” are Latin — cumwhich means together and munus which means gift. That is what we hope Stella’s ultimate legacy will be this holiday season and beyond — the gift of people coming together. What an incredible mark on the world that is. For all of us.

Thank you for your emails, your support and mostly, for loving our daughter. Stella would have told you proudly, “I don’t like you,” and then giggled loudly.

Sincerely,

Aimee and Mishi

Two weeks ago the Star published an intimate three-part series in print and online on toddler Stella Joy and how she and her family dealt with her shocking diagnosis. Read the seriesabout Stella online. Catherine Porter kept a diary as she chronicled Stella’s last year. The eRead Stella is available through stardispatches.com. Readers can subscribe for $1/week, or purchase single copies for $2.99 at starstore.ca.

 

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A Christmas Smackdown

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Christmas Smackdown

 

I’ve never actually been physically beaten up before— unless you count the fights I had with my sister when I was a kid and we would yank each other’s hair and chase each other around the house, more to cause fear than actual pain.  Although I did throw a fork at her head once.  But I’ve seen boxing matches, and it always amazes me that these men and women get punched repeatedly in the guts and faces and keep getting back up, only to be punched again.

 

Since returning from Hawaii, that’s exactly how I feel— like I keep getting knocked down by grief, then I get back up again only to get sucker pummeled again.  I feel bloodied and bruised and exhausted.  The Christmas season is kicking my ass.

 

Catherine Porter’s newspaper articles and e-book came out while we were away.   I actually haven’t read the articles yet.  I wanted to.  I meant to.  I always intended to, but when I started to read the first few paragraphs of Part 1, I felt sick to my stomach.  Catherine is such a good writer, it was too hard for me to read.  The details she pinpointed so exactly and vividly were too raw for me to relive.  I’d already seen DIPG cancer strip away my daughter’s life once, and I couldn’t bear to do it again.  Since Aimee and I were on the other side of the world, it all felt very distant when the writings were published.  Auntie Angie sent photos of the newspapers to our phones while we were away, but it still wasn’t very concrete.  When we got home and walked into our living room there was a huge stack of Toronto Star’s that our family had collected for us while we were away, and there she was…  my beautiful little girl staring out at me, her strawberry blonde curls framed by rows and rows of black and white text.  Fingernails painted and looking so damn alive in the picture and in the words I skimmed.  But she’s gone.  She is a pile of ashes housed in a tiny stone box, currently sitting in storage. Newspaper’s report yesterday’s news

and Stella lives on only in yesterday’s.  There are no tomorrow’s left for her.

 

That was the first blow I felt, but they just keep coming.

 

Friday I turned on the TV only to see horror unfolding— the shootings in Connecticut.  The situation of the people who lost loved ones in that unfathomable massacre is very different from what happened to us, but I felt their pain intensely.  Whereas before I might have watched the TV coverage with interest, but distance, this time I felt myself recoiling in despair as I watched it all unfold on CNN.  This time I could picture bright Christmas presents already wrapped and labeled with names piled under trees dripping with tinsel.  I could smell the clothing that was left on bedroom floors that morning in the rush to get to school/work on time.  This time I could hear the sound of hearts breaking.  I could taste the metallic-y blood that seeps into your mouth when you bite your cheeks as hard as you can to keep from screaming when you realize all you have lost.  I wanted to turn off the TV, to turn off the thoughts in my brain, but I didn’t.  I didn’t do it because I wanted to feel the pain and sadness for the people in Connecticut, sharing the burden the way that so many people have shared it with us for the last year and a half.

 

 

Saturday Aimee and I decided that we wanted to get a Christmas Tree for the boys.  We won’t do anything else.  No stockings, no lights, no shopping.  Last year was the first time we purchased a real tree.  We set it up in the living room at the end of Stella’s couch, and she absolutely loved it.  She smiled and laughed and flapped at it.  We wanted to get a tree again this year, to honour her and remember.  Aimee took Gracie to the store and they came home, proudly carting a 7-foot pine tree with them.  Gracie and Sam bounced off each other with excitement, yanking decorations out of the boxes and chasing each other around with them.  It was a bright, happy scene full of energy and colour, but I felt as though there was a weight on my heart the whole time.  Out of the box came “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament with a photo of Stella in a red cable-knit sweater, smiling brightly.  Stella’s 7-month footprint on a glazed pottery ornament with “Stella 2009” written in black marker.  Her daycare photo from 2011, framed in sparkly wood, smiling out at us from between the branches.  It’s as though the tree this year is decorated with tears instead of ornaments.

 

Sunday at Church, I was already feeling weepy before anything started.  There is something so safe and comforting about Church that allows me to put my guard down immediately.  The first hymn we sang was about Stars, and I wept through it.  Then it was the Nativity pageant at Church.  At one point, a whole pile of little kids dressed as sheep ran onto the stage with goofy smiles and crooked ears.  They were adorable and they shattered my already tender heart.  I imagined that Stella may have been up there this year too.  She would have been almost 4, just the right age to play an adorable little sheep.  But her smile will never bleet out at me from the stage.

 

And that’s what it’s been like…Children dying, Wham.  Christmas ornaments, Wham.  Sheep, Wham.  One blow after the other.  Picking myself up and getting knocked back down again.

 

I haven’t done any Christmas shopping, except for a few odd items for Xavier and Gracie.  It surprises me how meaningless it all feels this year.  The boys are too young to care about the Holiday’s, and Stella is gone.  Whereas last year there was a sense of “just getting through” with everyone, now I feel as if there is an expectation for everything to go back to normal.  Same old Christmas full of gifts and cookies and small talk.  And I loathe it.  It feels icky this year.  Forced and fake.

 

We’ve been working on finding ways to incorporate Stella into our Christmas.  We’ve put some beautiful metal stars on our Christmas tree, a gift from Flora’s parents, that catch the light and shine.  Poppa spent hundreds of dollars purchasing huge light-up stars for family and friends to hang in their windows, “Stella Stars” he calls them. We took Sam, Xavier and Hugo for a photo with Santa and put all three boys in the t-shirts we made for Stella’s funeral (her photo is one them), so she is “in” the photos as well.  Each year I get a personalized Christmas ornament for the tree.  In 2008 it said “Aimee and Mishi” in 2009 and 2010 it said “Aimee, Mishi, Stella”.  In 2011 it said, “Aimee, Mishi, Stella, Sam”.  This year I couldn’t bring myself to not include her on the ornament, so it says, “Aimee, Mishi, Stella, Sam, Hugo” and Stella’s name is bookended in wings.  I went to a “Blue Christmas” service at Church tonight.  It was quiet and lovely and contemplative.  But no matter what we do, it doesn’t fill the hole.  Stella isn’t here and I miss her more and more each day.

 

I’ve been trying to strip away the layers of Holiday cheer this year.  Strip away the wrapping paper, the money spent in malls, the overabundance of food, the cards and chit chat.  Strip away the expectations, the stress, the running around, the self-imposed obligations and the multiple commitments.   Strip away Santa Claus, Jesus Christ, candles, prayers, carols.  What is left?  Family.  Love.

 

I will get through Christmas this year.  Like going through a storm, you don’t really have a choice but to wait for it to pass.  I will continue to get up even when I know it will hurt.  And my gifts this year will be as follows:

 

To my friend who hurt me deeply, forgiveness.

To the people who don’t quite get it, tolerance.

To my sons, smiles and energy.

To my family, love.

To my daughter, a bit more fearlessness

To myself, patience.

 

Gracie and Sam decorate the tree:

Christmas Tree, 2012:


Stella at Christmas last year (2011):


 

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Stella eBook and Feature Story

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Catherine Porter– who has written a number of  stories about Mishi, Aimee, and Stella for the Toronto Star– followed the Bruner-Methven family throughout Stella’s illness.  She  has published an eBook about this incredible family, available at the Star Dispatches.

Also, keep an eye on the Toronto Star over the next few days, where Stella’s story will be told in a three part feature.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Aloha!

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Aloha!

I am writing this entry from my iPhone on a balcony overlooking the ocean in Maui. Apologies in advance for any typos! Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends, family and strangers, enough money was donated to the Aimee/Mishi Rest and Relaxation Fund, that we are currently enjoying a 10 day vacation in Hawaii while our sons are safe and sound at home with family. Aimee and I have dubbed this our “Reset” Trip.

 

We are filled with so many mixed emotions being here. Guilt, that the reason for this “trip of a lifetime” is that our daughter died. Excited for the beauty and fun of such an amazing vacation. Grateful to have a rest, some time away, people willing to take our sons to give us time together. Shyness at having it suddenly be just Aimee and I here together, learning who we each are after such a tumultuous and life-changing year and a half, discovering each other as partners in a marriage again, not just parents. We made only two rules for the trip, #1 to truly listen to one anothers needs and thoughts (and sometimes listening to each other entails sitting in silence and being okay with it), and #2 to sleep as much as possible. Soi far we have been successful in both these endeavours! We planned this trip as a way for us to indulge and begin planning the next phase of our lives after a year and a half of tears and heartbreak. We wanted to try to close that one chapter in our lives so that when we return to Toronto, we are ready to move forward. Christmas will be upon us when we get home. Our first Holiday without Stella. Then just after Christmas, Aimee heads back to work and I will be left home with just Hugo to keep me company during the days.

We weren’t sure how it would feel to be here, just the two of us, we are being very careful of one another’s feelings and needs. But what we learned almost immediately upon landing is that if we thought getting away physically from our home and our regular lives would make us feel further away from Stella, we were completely wrong. Stella is everywhere on this trip. It still takes some getting used to, but Stella is with us all the time. It is as though she has permeated the very air that we breathe. We see and feel her everywhere.

For instance, at the hotel we stayed at in Waikiki there is a Christmas Ornament store. I am OBSESSED with Christmas ornaments, so of course I ran right in. Turns out it was a store where all the ornaments can be personalized. And what name appeared over and over again on all their sample ornaments??? STELLA. Crazy. Even stranger was that hanging right next to a pink “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament that had Stella on it was another ornament, identical except that the name on it was the name that our best friends, Stella’s beloved Ray and Brad, have chosen for their baby-to-be that is due in the Spring. It was too bizarre to be simple coincidence. Especially when Ray and Brad had a scare the next day with their baby. Everyone was afraid that something was wrong, but I wasn’t. I know Stella is looking out for them and the baby, I realized the Christmas ornaments was Stella’s way of saying, “don’t worry Mama…I got this baby’s back!” It turned out that the baby was perfectly fine, and to prove her point further, Stella send a beautiful rainbow in the sky to Ray the very next day. On top of that, at our new hotel in Maui, the first store we saw had a mannequin dressed in little girls clothes and right on top of the mannequins head lay Stella’s favourite pink straw hat that Tutu bought her two summer’s ago at Thunder Beach where we rented a cottage. The exact same hat. I’ve never seen another one like it other than the one Stella owns, and there it was right in the window of the store on the top of a mannequin exactly the size and shape of Stella. And her sense of humour is still intact. Aimee has a real and true phobia of birds. It was one of Stella’s great joys in life to laugh at her Mommy whenever a bird came too close. Aimee is not above hopping on top of picnic tables, cursing loudly and running away quickly when a bird comes too close. At Riverdale Farm where the chickens run loose and are often found charging people’s legs to try to get them to drop crumbs of food, Stella used to giggle and ask constantly if Mommy was going to “freak out” when she saw the chickens. Mommy always did, and when Stella was too sick to leave the house we would torture Aimee by beckoning her close to us and then throwing a stuffed Rooster that crowed loudly at her face. Aimee never disappointed Stella with her made-up theatrics and terror of birds and Stella would inevitably dissolve into giggles. Since we arrived in Hawaii four days ago, Aimee has been plagued by birds. They follow her everywhere. They swoop down at her head. They sneak out from under beach chairs and try to cuddle up beside her. If there is one bird on the beach or at the bar or the restaurant, you can bet it’s got it’s eye on Aimee. This afternoon at the pool, a scowly looking one was stealing Aimee’s nachos right out of her hand, making her stomp and scream humorously. We know it’s Stella. Just like the single butterfly that came out of nowhere and landed on our balcony this morning was Stella. Whenever I feel her around, I always picture her giggling. I have no idea where she is, but I feel her happiness and freedom just as acutely as I feel my own broken heart.

Our conversations all have to do with Stella. A typical one will go something like this: Mishi (pointing)- “Oh my gosh, look at all those Crocs over there!” Aimee- “Oh yeah. Hey, remember when-” Mishi (laughing) “Yes!” And then we both fall into silence remembering together, but seperately in our own minds, the first pair of Crocs we bought for Stella. She was almost two and it was at Great Wolf Lodge, before she was diagnosed, and we took her into the gift shop and proclaimed she could choose any colour she wanted. She gazed seriously for a moment at the rows and rows of colourful rubber shoes… pink, blue, yellow, green and then said pointing, “those ones!”. They were brown. A mud-brown, completely remarkable for how unremarkable they were. “Are you sure?” we asked her several times. She was. We tried to convince her otherwise— didn’t she like the bright red ones? Didn’t she think the pink ones were nice? Nope. Brown. And so Stella owned a very ugly pair of brown Crocs that she wore proudly until she grew out of them. We always thought it was so funny that she wanted those brown ones. Such an imp.

It’s beautiful here. Full of lush scenery, gorgeous ocean, fascinating history. Yet, this trip, in a strange way doesn’t quite fit—much like our life now. I am, at best, a 3 star woman who is living a 5 star life here in Maui. Staying at a nice hotel and eating expensive food. I gave myself away as not belonging here moments after we arrived when “Jorge” said he’d take care of our luggage and I narrowed my eyes at him and said, “What does that mean?” He looked surprised and explained that he would take the luggage from us and have it delivered to our rooms in a few moments. I hesitated, still suspicious. Too many trip to New York where you never let luggage out of your sight! Tonight at dinner as Aimee and I were splitting a salad that consisted of a total of 8 pieces of sliced beet, I mentally worked out that each beet was costing us $2, and took three bites to eat, so each bite of food was about .68 cents. I chewed verrry slowly. I wear my $6.99 one-piece banana yellow terry cloth cover up around the pool, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the sleek black sundresses and high heeled metallic sandals that other women are wearing. I take pictures of the breakfast buffet because I’ve never seen anything like it and the other guests look around nervously, wondering why I’m so flash-happy at 7am.

The truth is, Aimee and I are having a wonderful time even though we don’t quite fit in. I was just saying to her that being here is not, as I assumed, clearly marking an end to our “old” life and the beginning of a “new” life. Instead, it is simply a continuation of our constant struggle to adapt to the reality of a life without Stella. Whether sitting by the pool sipping a Pina Colada and reading a magazine, or sitting on my couch drinking cold tea and reading to Sam and Hugo, my heart still hurts. My mind still wanders. But I also feel confident in a happy future. How can we not be happy when we have so many incredible things in our lives to celebrate? Aimee and I talk daily about how much we miss Hugo and Sam, and of couse, Stella. Today we went on an epic drive around the coast of Maui to a beautiful black sand beach where we hiked to a fitting place, where strong waves slap windswept cliffs, and hung a Stella Star (www.stellastars.ca) on a tree branch overlooking the Ocean. It was the perfect place for her to be, a place full of energy and life and beauty. So, here we are in Maui, far away from everyone and everything, but still feeling incredibly connected to both the “old” and “new” lives. Aimee and I are tentatively learning to be together in our new selves, and have successfully come together for precious moments of lightness and happiness. It’s a long, slow process to shift our focus onto life now. But, if we’re going to move forward together, Paradise is a good place to start!

Aimee and I at Pearl Harbour:


Just after placing a Stella Star at 10,000 feet on Mount Haleakala:


Olewalu:


If there is a Heaven I bet it looks like this:


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