“Monday, Monday. Can’t Trust That Day”
– Mamas and Papas
It’s not that, five months after Stella’s death, I think that I’m “fine”. Far from it. But I do believe that I’ve been lulled into a sense of existing recently. I miss Stella everyday, but Aimee and I are busy and so we continue to live full lives. She is working, I look after Hugo and get Sam off to daycare, go to school, deal with the laundry and dishes and shopping, etc. We have dinners with friends, playdates, trips to the library and farm. Living without Stella hurts, but it’s often a numb type of hurt. A heartache that just won’t go away, so you learn to live with it. You learn to not shed your tears around people because it makes them uncomfortable, learn to laugh even though it feels hollow to your ears and learn to look forwards instead of backwards because life is pushing you that way no matter how much you fight it.
So we are doing it. Picking up and moving forward with our lives and our dreams and hopes for the future. Sometimes I am caught in a moment where my brain begins its repetitive song, “My daughter died. My beautiful, lively, curly-haired, funny daughter is gone from me forever. How did this happen? Where is my Stella? Whose life am I living?”
It’s only been 5 months, but so many weeks and holidays and moments have passed without her already that the sadness just feels normal. So, last week, when Sam threw up on the weekend and so did Hugo, it didn’t really register as too big of a deal. Chalking it up to a stomach virus, and waiting with baited breath to see when Aimee and I would be struck down with it, we shrugged it off.
Sam recovered quickly, but days later Hugo continued to vomit off and on and then spiked a fever. After a couple of days of waiting for it to go away on its own, we began talking about if we should take him into the Doctor. I’m always a lot more reluctant to take kids into the Doctor’s office than Aimee is. All I can think about is how kids get small and minor ailments all the time that generally go away on their own with a bit of Tylenol, how difficult it is to keep them occupied as you wait for the Doctor, how miserable they and you become as they are poked and prodded. It’s such a chore. But Monday night, “Monday, Monday” after several days of Hugo showing no improvement and his chubby cheeks starting to hollow out a bit, I relented and with a huge sigh Aimee and I packed him into the minivan and drove him to a local walk-in clinic.
The Doctor who finally saw us had very broken English; so many of the words that he spoke were completely lost on Aimee and I. But a few of them registered. My brain heard, “fever”-“too high”-“emergency room”-“if meningitis not a second to lose”-“too high now”-“very sick”. I swallowed and tried to clarify what he was saying to us. “Do you mean we should take him to Sick Kids emergency right now?” I asked, my mouth dry. He looked at me and shrugged, “sure”. Sure. Sure???? Didn’t this man know that the last time I took one of my children into Sick Kids Emergency, I was told she was going to die!!!!!!??? Of course he didn’t know. As the Doctor’s words registered with me, I felt the ice cold blanket of raw fear envelop my body. I began to tremble and hot tears collected behind my eyelids. The Doctor looked at me, probably thinking I was a lunatic over-reacting mom, and said “sorry to worry you but he very sick. Fever too high”. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak as I was afraid I would scream all the hysterical screams I’ve been swallowing for the last two years.
Aimee and I grabbed our baby boy and literally ran out of the Doctor’s office, both of us lost in nightmares of the past. I was nauseous and dizzy. I was crying, panic-stricken, frenzied. I felt so helpless and frustrated. I just couldn’t understand why we could never do anything for our sick children. What if something happened to Hugo? What if he died? I couldn’t stop my brain from jumping to horrible conclusions. I cried and blubbered in the van as we raced towards home struck anew with how helpless we are as parents to do anything for our children if they are hurt or sick.
In that moment, I knew that I couldn’t go back to Sick Kids. Couldn’t go back to the same emergency room we had sat in with Stella, watching TV and impatiently waiting for Doctors, worried about getting back to work and expecting them to tell us we just needed to get some antibiotics for her ear infection so we could go home.
Aimee was upset too, but because I was in such rough shape she took on the “strong” role. We always seem to be able to balance out when one of us is feeling sad or overwhelmed. She offered to go to Sick Kids and called her father to go with them. I was tortured. I was so upset and felt so guilty that I couldn’t be there with my sick baby, couldn’t take him to the hospital to get the help he needed. But I was totally paralyzed with the fear and horror of “what if’s”. But the guilt of not being able to look after Hugo when he needed me ate me up inside, twisting and tearing my insides, a storm of horror.
At home, Aimee quickly packed up a diaper bag and waited for her dad to pick her and Hugo up. I called my sister and told her the update. She came right over, and both of us sat together in the bathroom crying. My dad came running over as well when he got the news, and though he was his usual calm self on the outside, I saw fear in his eyes as well. We were a mess. All lost in our own thoughts of Stella and Sick Kids and life and death.
Aimee left with her dad and Auntie Angie rushed to Sick Kids to meet them. We all huddled and worried and waited. I wandered around the house like a ghost, tortured that I was at home and wanting so badly to be with Hugo and Aimee, but literally paralyzed by my fear. Sam was running around but I couldn’t even put him to bed because I was so incapable of functioning. He was eating pizza with my dad and Heather and Daniel and Xavier and I at 10:30 at night.
Finally, after taking some of my anti-anxiety medications and getting Sam to bed, I crawled onto the couch and my dad held me as we watched the old black and white Marilyn Monroe film, “Some Like it Hot”. I was beyond exhausted, but sleep wouldn’t come. Hugo-Stella-Sam kept tumbling through my head. I began to wonder why Aimee and I had chosen to have children when we couldn’t keep them safe. Couldn’t keep them healthy. I was so defeated.
At around 1am Aimee called to tell me that they had determined Hugo had a bladder/UTI infection and with a course of antibiotics he would be fine in a few days. They were on their way home. The relief that washed over my body was palpatable as some of the tension snaking through my every muscle released. Within 15 minutes I was sound asleep, trapped in a dreamless black hole of fear, guilt, sadness and relief.
Aimee told me later that being at Sick Kids with Angie and her dad was very triggering and difficult for her. That every second her mind was reliving being there with Stella. The gift shop. The waiting room. The smells and sounds. She said it was awful. She said she didn’t think I would ever be able to go back there. She doesn’t know if she can ever go back either. She has been crying more often and reliving it over and over again.
Hugo has perked up considerably since Monday, and life has begun to pick up its regular pace again.
But Monday reminded me how scarred I still am— how scarred we all are. My entire family is so traumatized by what happened to our Stella. Each of us gets up in the morning and goes to work or school or out with friends and we all make small talk and smile and tell people how grateful we are to have Hugo and Sam. And it’s not a lie. We are living genuine lives. But just underneath the surface, not even a millimeter away, are gaping, raw, bleeding scars that crisscross every piece of us and are revealed easily with a simple glance at a butterfly, the light of a birthday candle, the sound of a giggle, or even a baby’s fever.
I often tell people not to be fooled by appearances, that despite what they see, we are not okay. But in this case, I really feel like I fooled myself. I got so busy with school and the boys and my friends that I pushed the hurt and fear away. But on Monday it all came rushing back and I remembered anew how tender the wounds of losing Stella still are and how far we have to go.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy
in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
moistened with His own sacred tears.”
– Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet- On Pain”
Daniel, Xavier and Sam eat pizza at 10:30pm on Monday
Xavier at the park:
Hugo is all better!
Spring picnic with Kari:
Miss you, Stellie: