Happy Birthday Big Girl! (By: Aimee Bruner)
My firstborn and the love of my life turned four last Thursday. As I sit on our beloved couch and write this, an oversized helium balloon hovers over my shoulder. It has a big, yellow star on it and an even bigger picture of everyone’s favourite mouse – Chuck E Cheese. In black marker, it reads “STELLA 4!”
Right now, at Riverdale Farm, Stella’s tree shows signs of new life. Buds are starting to find their place on the branches and there are four balloons gently tied there, dancing overhead. The balloons are each a different colour – green, pink, purple and blue. Stella’s favourite.
On Thursday morning, Mish and I woke up under the weight of the day. This day that was once so sacred, so joyous, has become one that’s riddled with the greatest heartache we have ever known. She’s not here. On a day that we should have been racing around planning our daughter’s 4th birthday party, wrapping presents and putting the finishing touches on loot bags for her friends – we were baking a cake that she would never get to eat. We were wiping tears away as we piled into the van to go to Riverdale Farm to visit her tree. We were broken. We ARE broken. As we pulled up to the farm, our friends and family were waiting for us. We all took the day off work to be together and to remember our girl.
We brought the essentials with us – a “Stella Star”, a birthday candle and the biggest box of chocolate Tim Bits you’ve ever seen. The birthday candle was one that I bought last month and is in the shape of a 4. When I bent down to place the candle at the base of the tree, I felt like I could never get up. It was as if someone was standing on my chest, pinning me to the ground. I remember thinking “how the hell did we get here?” How is it that I’m leaning over a plaque with my child’s name and the dates marking her short life on it? It’s a question that I know no one will ever be able to answer for me. Just when I felt stuck there, holding the bottom of the tree as if it was a piece of Stella, that huge box of Tim Bits that Poppa had brought in memory of his girl, caught the corner of my eye.
There it was, sitting proudly in the middle of Stella’s bench that’s right beside her tree. A smile washed over my face and my cheeks forced the tears that had been brimming in my eyes, to fall. Stella loved Tim Bits. There they sat, right underneath her beautiful name. Not only did Stella love Tim Bits – she LOVED her birthday! Right then and there, the day became just a little bit easier for me. I wanted to celebrate her. I needed to celebrate her.
For the rest of the day, I found myself being comforted by the thought of her being so happy on her birthday. She would have let everyone know (in the loudest voice possible) that it was her birthday. She would have loved her number 4 candle and her balloons but most of all – she would have loved the fact that she was surrounded by all of her favourite people in the world. After making the rounds at the farm and paying a special visit to “Stella’s pigs”, Poppa played his famous rendition of Happy Birthday on his trumpet, our eyes filled with tears once again and we took the kids home for a nap. As family and friends started to trickle into our house, it began to fill with a soft but ever present energy. I know this energy. This is the energy formed by the people who held us up during the darkest days of our lives and it’s what became the small glimmer of joy that came out of the most horrific reality Mishi and I could have ever imagined for our lives. It was nice to have our house brimming with people again. I find so much comfort in having Gracie, my niece and Stella’s big cousin, around. Watching her bounce around the room, picking up Sam, reminds me of when she used to do the same with Stella. My heart breaks when I watch her make up her own games. I wish Stella was here to play with her, to keep her company.
I wish Stella was here.
Mish planned a big party at Chuck E Cheese for Stella that evening. She invited our family and friends, booked the reservation, ordered the food and made a cake covered in chocolate Tim Bits. She did all of this for Stella. She did this to celebrate a day. This day. This incredible day that marks the date that both Stella and Mishi came into the world decades apart. On a day that she should have been showered with birthday wishes and cracks about getting older – she ran a birthday party for her dead daughter. Not only did Mishi lose her daughter, she lost her birthday too (she’s asked us not to celebrate it because it’s too painful for her). I hope that one day, the thought that they share a birthday, makes Mishi feel tightly tethered to Stella instead of shattered and unraveled.
When we arrived at Chuck E Cheese, Mishi and I took a deep breath, held hands and braced ourselves for what we were about to walk into. Chuck E Cheese was exactly how I remembered it from the last time we were there with Stella – bright, loud, over stimulating and FUN! It really is a kids dream. Stella loved it (and so does Mishi). When we arrived at the table, it was flooded with decorations, party hats and balloons. I felt like my heart was in a vice, crushing further everywhere I looked. There was a big balloon tied to the table with her name on it, only, she wasn’t there. Her friends started to arrive and so did their parents – many of whom were wearing green for Stella. As people started to file in, it occurred to me, that they were there not only for us but for their profound love for Stella.
As we spent the rest of the evening running around, chasing kids, stuffing our faces with greasy pizza, dancing, laughing and crying – all I could think about was how much Stella would have loved the party. When it was time to sing Happy Birthday, you could feel the adults in the room quietly brace themselves. We sang Happy Birthday to our girl and then her best buddies in the whole world blew out her candles.
Happy Birthday Big Girl!