Dancing in Heaven

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Dancing in Heaven

 I’ve been home full-time caring for kids for over two years now.  The last day I worked was June 23, 2011.  I have really let myself go.  I weigh 15 pounds more than I did when I worked (thanks to a steady diet of Jos Louis and Pepsi), and wear the most comfortable clothes possible.  Clothes that daily have baby barf and spit and pee and splashes of yogurt on them.  I shower a couple times a week if I’m lucky, and only wear make-up at weddings and funerals.  I caught site of myself in a store window last week, pushing Sam and Hugo along in the double stroller and was horrified at what I saw.  Ill-fitting jogging pants that hugged all the wrong curves, a loose t-shirt with stains and a hole in the sleeve, a bandana over my greasy hair and my shoulders hunched over as I pushed the boys along the street.  Ugh. Though I loudly proclaim to anyone who will listen (usually only Aimee), about how I have no one to impress, I think there’s a difference between dressing for comfort, and wanting to disappear.  The events of the last two years have broken me somewhat, and though I am trying to piece things back together, I don’t look after myself.  Pedicures are an expense we can’t afford, my last haircut was done at the kids place the boys get their hair cut at, my clothing all comes from Value Village, I despise high heels and given the choice would eat Lucky Charms for dinner any day of the week.  The outward demeanor says I’ve given up, but that’s not true.  Yes, Stella died.  Yes, my heart is broken, but I am continuing to live a very full life.  With that in mind, I ridded my closet of all my most “comfortable” (aka—ugly) clothing, and decided it was time to start caring a little bit more.

Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to get a little bit dressed up on Saturday night. Last month, Aimee and I received an invitation to a joint 40th/50th birthday celebration from friends of friends at one of the nicest hotels in town.  It would be most like us to decline such an invitation, but at my urging, we RSVPd.  “It will be fun,” I told Aimee, “these people are going to put on one Hell of a party, and some of our friends will be there.  It will be good for us.  A night out”.  The people putting it on (Marjorie and Deb) sort of float in our outer circle of friends. They are best friends with some of our best friends, but we don’t really know them that well.  They have always been incredibly generous people, truly good hearted,  and even threw Stella and incredible birthday party (when it wasn’t really her birthday) not long after she was diagnosed.  They dubbed in “Stellapalooza” and it had face painting, Sesame Street decorations, balloons, music, etc.  It was awesome.  They also had us over to their house for a swim a couple of times last summer.  We knew they were kind and generous, but were a bit mystified as to why we were included in their party invitation since we were “second tier” friends.  But whatever the reason, we were invited, and decided to go.

So, feeling a little bit ridiculous, on Saturday night Aimee and I booked our friend Tasha to watch Sam and Hugo and got dressed.  It was a white party, and though I had gone to Value Village and picked up a white skirt I planned to wear with a T-shirt, at the last minute Aimee convinced me to wear a white dress of her mothers that was decidedly fancier.  I dug through the drawers of the bathroom looking for makeup and came up with some dried up mascara that I added water to, and some sticky bubble gum pink lip gloss that I used as blush.  It wasn’t exactly top of the line, but it was about all I could muster.  I went to our friend Christie’s house early as she had rented a limosine for the occasion, and I had never been in a limo before.  It was light-hearted and fun.  Maybe because Aimee wasn’t there (she was meeting me at the party as she was at her moms that day), and the other people were in couples, maybe it was strange for me to be dressed up…but I felt like I was acting.  Acting like I was socially smooth, when really I felt like a big dork wearing a white dress and clumpy mascara.  It reminded me of my awkward teenage years when I wanted badly to “fit in” with the cool kids, but kept looking over my shoulder wondering when they were going to realize I was a nerd, and kick me to the curb.

 

Christie is lovely enough to have a big, beautiful picture of Stella up on her fridge and as I stood in her beautiful kitchen making small talk, my eyes kept wandering over to Stella’s big blue eyes and red curls.  The two things didn’t connect in my brain.  There is a picture of Stella on that fridge.  Stella is dead.  I’m dressed up.  I’m going to a party.  This is happy. But my daughter’s dead.  Am I happy?  I can’t tell.  It was so disconnected.  A little while later as I sat in the limo, sipping champagne and giggling at my friends antics, I wondered if I would ever feel as though I belonged again, or if there would constantly be this “fish out of water” feeling.  In my grief I feel as though I am constantly straddling two worlds and trying to figure out my place in both of them.

 

The party was just as I had imagined it— a sea of gorgeous, put-together people sipping champagne and eating finger foods with grace and ease, the beautiful backdrop of the city behind us, shimmering in the floor-to-ceiling windows.  These people were definitely one echelon up on the social ladder.  Aimee laughed at my clumsy attempts to manage the hors d’oeuvres (seriously though, how do you balance the food, napkin, your drink and purse without dropping something???), and came to the rescue when I dropped a big plop of dip onto my foot and the carpet.  “Can’t take you anywhere,” she teased.  It seemed as though everyone who walked in was gorgeous and smart and oozed self-confidence.  I was in awe as I shoved chicken skewers and mahi-mahi tacos down my throat, comfortable in my flat ballet slipper shoes even as I gawked at all the women wearing 6 inch heels.

 

As the evening progressed, I ate, spent time with Aimee and our friends and laughed.  It was fun, and beautiful.  I realized it had been a long time since I socialized without kids and it felt good.  I even took part in a surprise flash mob that I had gotten an invitation to join.  I’d always wanted to be part of a flash mob, and thought it was such a hoot.  We were near the back so couldn’t really see anything, but I waved my arms and shook my butt just like the other participants.  It was a fun, silly moment that had me dissolve into giggles when it was all over.

 

Near the end of the night, the hosts made a speech.  It turns out that this joint 40th/50th birthday party was just an excuse for them to have a really great, fun party.  It was neither Marjorie nor Deb’s birthday.  They explained that when thinking about what they each wanted for their birthday’s earlier in the year, they came to the conclusion they didn’t need anything.  They just wanted to have a great time and celebrate life.  “You are our gift,” said Marjorie in her speech, “your joy is our gift”.  I knew she wasn’t thinking specifically of Stella when she said that, but it felt as though a lightening bolt went off in my brain.   Joy is the gift. “Choose Joy”.  Isn’t that what Aimee always said, because that’s what Stella and our family had done?  Faced with the worst news possible, and a long, tumultuous journey with cancer and illness, we had chosen joy over sadness and celebration over wallowing.  I felt Stella’s presence in that moment, felt her urging me to choose joy.  As the speeches ended and the DJ began to play music I did something completely out of character— I grabbed my friend Omo and told her that I wasn’t leaving until we had danced to at least one song.  It was wayyy past my bedtime at this point, and I felt awkward on the dance floor, but I didn’t care.  Stella would have danced, and so did I.  Forming a small circle of some of the people that had held us up through Stella’s illness, Omo, Jean, Christie, Kate, Aimee and I danced together.  Aimee twirled me around and gave a little fist pump into the air that made me laugh.  In that moment, it occurred to me as I looked out from the 21st floor of the Ritz-Carleton hotel in Toronto that it felt like we were literally dancing in the sky.  With everyone around me dressed in white (it was a white party after all!), I wondered if this is what it would be like to be dancing in Heaven.  I wondered if Stella went to dance parties in the sky like this where the stars were the wallpaper, white swirled all around, and laughter and light were more important than whatever song was playing.  The thought of Stella dancing in the sky made me smile. Surrounded by friends, throwing my arms up in the air and wiggling around like a fool, I felt Stella’s approval around me.  As Aimee and I descended the elevator from the party, I felt truly happy.  I had chosen joy, and my reward was feeling Stella’s spirit around my shoulders in a warm hug.

 

The thing about joy is that it comes from deep within.  It’s not the same as other emotions that are a result of circumstances beyond your control.  Joy is always inside you, and it’s always there ready to be set free.  So, in honour of Stella, let us all CHOOSE JOY today.

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Aimee and I join Stella’s best friend Arin’s mommies at the party!

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Hugo and Poppa finding joy in bubbles

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GrandPa, Sam, Aimee and Hugo ride the toy train at Don Mills Centre

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Wheee!!! Swinging on the Beach in Pickering

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Uncle Tristan and his boys

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Another girl who didn’t need a particular reason to celebrate! Stella enjoying one of her many un-birthday, birthday parties! September 2011

 

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Tour For Kids

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s that grieving is a very personal, very unique experience.  As a married couple, and parents to Stella, Aimee and I have grieved very intensely the last almost two years.  It was clear from the onset that we had very different styles of dealing with our sadness and pain.  Aimee preferred to surround herself with friends and family, finding comfort in large groups of people surrounding her like a shield or blanket.  I liked being around people, but craved being by myself a lot.  I found the most peace going for walks, or in silence.  Gradually as the months have passed since Stella’s death, we’ve settled comfortably into our different styles.  I have become more withdrawn, preferring after a busy day to read in bed, write emails on the computer or sit silently and watch TV.  Aimee loves talking to her friends on the phone, making fancy dinners and chatting to me.  We’ve managed to find a balance in meeting each other’s needs, and have had to learn to give each other the space we need to grieve Stella in our own ways.

 

One of the things that Aimee discovered shortly after Stella’s death was biking.  She’s always been athletic—was on every High School sports team you can imagine, has run the Camp Oochigeas 10K for several years and genuinely loves to exercise and eat healthy foods.  When Sam was born and she suffered from Diastasis Symphysis Pubis, which is basically a fancy way of saying that her pelvis separated during his birth.  As a result, she was unable to continue running and found it difficult to exercise due to the strain put on her pelvic region.  Enter biking, a sport she discovered that her body responded very well to and that didn’t hurt her at all.  Before I even knew what was happening, Aimee had become a voracious biker.  She bought herself all the gear she needed and soon began going for long, solitary bike rides.  She would return from these rides red-faced and sweaty with her legs aching, but she would be smiling and glowing.  “I love it”, she would tell me simply.  Later, she explained to me how cathartic she found biking.  She said she felt as though she could really mourn Stella in this way, riding as fast as she could, becoming lost in the rhythm.  She said it was like meditation, and every time she got to a hill she thought she couldn’t get up, she would simply think of Stella and all she had been through with her cancer, and push herself to keep going.  She even hung a Stella Star in the trees at the top of Pottery Road by our house and told me that each time she tackled that massive hill she would focus on the Star waiting and grunt and sweat and swear her way to the top.  She pointed out the star to me from the car at least a dozen times, and each time I was sure she was going to get into a car accident as her eyes left the road and she pointed excitedly at where it hangs.

 

Though I fully support Aimee’s bike riding, I would be lying if I said I understood her passion for it.  I’d much rather read a book about biking than do it myself, and don’t find the pain that comes from exercise inspiring or liberating at all.  So, while Aimee rode her bike I would take the kids to a drop-in centre or the farm with Heather and Xavier and we would meet back a few hours later, each content with our day.

 

Several months ago, Aimee declared to me that she was going to complete the Tour For Kids.  I was vaguely familiar with it as I’d known a couple of “real cyclists” that had done it, and was aware that it raised money for Aimee’s workplace, Camp Oochigeas.  I smiled my encouragement, said all the things a good partner is supposed to say about, “Sure you can do that”, and continued on with the kids.  But I had grossly underestimated this ride and what it meant to Aimee.  Before I knew what was happening, she was taking herself on grueling training runs for hours at a time, biking up huge hills and even riding to Markham (for those of you who are not from Toronto, Markham is about 25km or 16 miles away, so she was doing 50km to go there and back).  I soon learned The Tour for Kids is a grueling 4-day bike ride, riding 121km a day, that raises money for the three cancer camps in Ontario (Camp Oochigeas, Camp Trillium and Camp Quality).  She began to actively recruit people to join her bike riding team, calling it Stella’s Stars.  Unfortunately, of the people she got to agree to do it with her, two ended up becoming new parents and two had to attend weddings on the weekend it was happening, so by the start date Stella Stars was a team two strong:  Aimee and Auntie Juju.

 

As race date approached, Aimee’s focus was something I’ve never seen from her before in our over 9-year relationship.  As we drove back and forth places, her eyes would dart from the car to the roadways as she made notes of where there were good bike routes for her to try.  If we were going somewhere for the weekend, she would try valiantly to fit her bicycle in between our bags and the two carseats.  At one point I joked that perhaps we should leave one of the kids behind to make more room for her bike.  She didn’t think that was nearly as funny as I did!  But as much as I don’t understand her passion for riding, or her drive to complete this bike race, I DO understand that it is part of her grieving and healing from Stella’s illness and death.

 

On Thursday morning, Aimee left the house at 5am and headed out to the start line with Juju.  They were lucky enough to get incredible custom racing Jersey’s donated by a company called Genumark (http://www.genumark.com), and decorated their bikes with pictures of Stella.  Juju is completing the race with Stella’s favourite puppet “Fred” attached to her bike, and Aimee brought Stella’s beloved “Pink Kitty” doll.  For the last three days, they have been riding hard throughout Southern Ontario, laughing, crying and sending me tons of photos along the way.  Aimee has told me that this has been a magical time for her and Juju.  They flop into bed each night, their bodies burning and aching, but their hearts full.

 

Our friends and family are so proud of these girls for doing this race.  I am inspired by their drive and cry each time I get a new photo with the caption, “Take That Cancer!”.  Stella’s face is on one of the Sandwich Boards that lines the race, designed to remind racers why they are doing this, and tonight (Saturday), Aimee will be one of the Speakers at the racers dinner.  Aimee and Juju have described this ride as “Incredible”.

 

Tomorrow, Aimee and Juju will cross the finish line, and as many of us who can will be waiting for them, celebrating their awesome accomplishment and remembering the special little girl that was their inspiration.  If you’re going to be in the Oakville area on Sunday August 18th, why not come join us!  The finish line is at Bronte Creek  Provincial Point and the Stella Star’s team plans to cross sometime between 1-3pm.

 

This bike ride is more than just a ride for Aimee and Juju, it is a labour of love and fervor in Stella’s name.  It’s a chance to do something active to remember her and continue to spread her story and message.  It’s a statement about how Stella has inspired all of us to do things we never thought possible.

 

As the race ends tomorrow, Stella’s presence will be all around us and Aimee and Juju will have taken another step forward in this long journey towards healing and meaning-making.  Correction, not a step…an epic cycle.

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Stella’s Sandwich Board

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Juju and Aimee, ready to start the ride!

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Auntie Juju gives Stella’s puppet “Fred” a hug

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Stella’s Star on the route!

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Day two Complete!

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Stella would be so proud

 

 

 

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We’re Back!

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Hi everyone!

As you can see—the website is back.  A different look, but still all about Stella.  Thanks so much for your patience as our crack IT team struggled to deal with server issues beyond our control.

In order to get the site up and running again, we’ve had to start fresh with the most recent posts, beginning July 2013.  Eventually, all the old postings will be moved over as well but for now…let’s focus on the present!

All the best!

Mishi, Aimee, Sam, Hugo and, forever, *Stella*

 
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BlueBird

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Sam, Hugo and Poppa enjoy Popcorn on the deck

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Stella at the cottage, August 2009

 

There are good and bad things about staying in the same city, with the same group of friends, in the same physical environment when your child has died.  The good things are you know who your true friends are— the ones who stuck by you, who came out of the woodwork, who called and emailed even when you didn’t respond.  You don’t have to explain to these people why you disappear when everyone sings “Happy Birthday” to one of the kids at a party, why you tear up when you see backpacks in store windows, why your heart aches when you see pictures of your child’s peers on facebook with the tagline “BFFs”.  They get it and they love you even though you’re totally messed up.  The street and the house you live in echo with memories of when your child ran here.  The playgrounds and libraries house recollections of a time long gone where you lived in blissful ignorance.  The local play centre has a little corner dedicated to her memory.  These things are comforting at times, painful at others, but there is something soothing and reassuring about familiarity.  About knowing where you are and how you got there. 

 

Lately though I’ve been finding that, once in awhile, I just want to disappear.  Go somewhere that I’m anonymous, where I shed the stigma of being the parent of a dead child.  Whenever I run into someone on the street and they’re with someone I don’t know, I am aware that once I keep walking there will be a whispered conversation about “She’s the one whose daughter died…”  I don’t really mind, after all, I’d do exactly the same thing, but it makes me self-conscious.  Sometimes it’s nice to get away from all that.  To go to a place where you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder to see who you know, prepping yourself for a stilted conversation, or worse, running into someone from your baby group who gushes about kindergarten starting in the Fall.

 

Enter BlueBird.  BlueBird is the name of a cottage that we have been staying at this summer.  It’s a two hour drive from Toronto, so easy to go back and forth.  It’s located in a small town that has a grocery store, library, post office, ice cream booth and playground.  It’s on the water, surrounded by pine trees and when I’m there, I feel free.

 

I think sometimes we underestimate the affect that the city can have on our bodies, and minds.  It is a constant hammering of sensory information.  Noise and signs and lights and voices.  Go two hours North of Toronto and you can actually see the stars, hear the birds and taste the freshness of the local strawberries.  I can physically feel my shoulders releasing as we turn down the dirt road to where BlueBird waits, I feel my forehead smoothing and my lungs expanding.  Half the time I don’t even realize my head was hurting until I see the little brown cottage come into view, and all of a sudden the tightness and pain around my heart and temples eases up a bit.

 

I’ve been spending more and more time there this summer.  BlueBird is part of a group of 10 cottages on a private property.  It’s secluded and though it can be quiet, it is also teeming with life.  All the cottagers have children, so splashing water and laughter and shouts of joy are a welcome part of the environment.  BlueBird is just a small, clapboard type building with tiny rooms and mismatched furniture.  But it is cozy and beautiful and I love it.

 

When I’m up there with Hugo and Sam, I feel like I’m a better parent.  Without the distractions of television, cell phones, computers and scheduled classes, I am able to just focus on them.  We go swimming on the beach, visit the local library for Toddler Storytime, walk into the dollar store for bubbles and cheap toys, try to spot turtles and bunnies, feed the ducks and roast marshmallows on the fire.  I laugh at their antics, watch in fascination as they figure out how to dig holes with shovels and fill them with water. “Mud Puddle!” Sam exclaims excitedly to me.  When I’m at BlueBird, or in town, I’m just another parent with two young children.  Other mothers at the library make conversation with me, completely oblivious to Stella’s existence.  Though I do want to talk about her, once in awhile it’s nice to be able to let my guard down and join an inane conversation about potty training, without letting on that I’ve done it once before.  There are a few cottagers who know about Stella, but because none of them knew Stella personally, interactions about her are not as intense or emotional as they can get in the city.

 

It’s a balance.  There are times I want nothing more than to shout Stella’s name and talk about her incessantly, seek out those who loved her and talk about her.  There are other times I want to retreat and hide and pretend that I’m not a grieving mother.  Time when I don’t want to go to the same playgrounds that Stella skipped through, or attend the same parties with her friends who continue to get bigger and older while my daughter will stay forever 3.  And so I have spent the summer going back and forth—straddling my old life and a new beginning.  BlueBird is a place where I don’t have strong memories of Stella.  Funnily enough, I did bring her there once when she was 4 months old, but she was so little and we were in a different cottage, so I don’t have deep feelings about it, or any memories of her using any of the facilities other than the beach.  I realized recently that BlueBird is the first place where Aimee and Sam and Hugo and I have started to make new family traditions, doing things I never did with Stella.  I see it as an important step forward for our future.  We are building new memories, finding our way in a place where we don’t start every sentence with, “Remember when Stella threw her doll from the top of this slide”?

 

I find it easier to mourn Stella in a healthy way up at BlueBird.  In a physical location where I’m not pinned in by people and expectations.  Where I can sit and look at the water as I sip a hot tea, allowing myself to think about her in a natural and organic way.  It is good for my soul to be up there, and I always feel refreshed when I step out of the car.  Something about the wind and the water and the quiet is a balm for my bruised soul.

 

I recently found out that traditionally, the Navajo believe the BlueBird is a spirit in animal form that has to do with the rising sun.  They sing a song to remind tribe members to wake at dawn and rise to greet the sun:

 

Bluebird said to me,

“Get up, my grandchild.

It is dawn,”.

 

I believe we were meant to find peace at BlueBird.  It is so fitting that the BlueBird is a reminder to get up and greet the new day, because that is what Aimee and I and our friends and family do every morning.  We greet each day with the knowledge that it is another day without Stella, but with faith that we will find our peace and be buoyed by the love we carry for her in our hearts.

 

“The bluebird carries the sky on its back”

– Henry Thoreau

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Toddler boys hungover on the cottage deck. Too many marshmallows. Groan.

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Breakfast at BlueBird- popcorn by the fire

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Neighbour Ken and Sam enjoy the early morning view from BlueBird

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Sam roasting marshmallows

 

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Happy Birthday Hugo

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On August 2nd, our youngest child turned one.  It was an odd feeling as we came up to it.  Most “dates” are, because you naturally think of where you were at that ecact time in previous years.  I remember clearly the day Hugo was born.  I was a few days before my due date, and started feeling the onset of labour at Omo and Jean’s little girl Kari’s first birthday party on August 1st.  By the next morning, I was having regular contractions but I wanted to keep busy so Heather, neighbor Ken and I took a drive up to WalMart where I calmly shopped, walking through my contractions. By the time we got home, labour was ramping up and I remember going to see Stella and telling her that her new baby brother would be coming soon.  She smiled up at me, but I couldn’t hold her on my lap for very long, because the contractions made it uncomfortable to sit so I disappeared to the basement and labored alone for a couple of hours, pacing and watching old reruns on TLC.

 

I remember the pain getting really intense, and rushing over to the hospital.  I remember being in a lovely and large room with Aimee, my dad and our two lovely midwives and, once the epidural kicked in, I remember lying in the bed and feeling relaxed and happy as we chatted and joked.  It felt shockingly normal for a time in our lives when “normal” was relative.

 

After Hugo was born, I have only sporadic memories of the times Aimee and the kids and I lived as a family of five.  We spent a lot of time sitting under the tree in our front yard. Aimee and I took the kids in two strollers for walks along the Danforth, and to Dairy Queen for ice cream.  We went apple picking with Omo and Jean’s family, and to the Thursday Farmer’s Market with our friends.  Time was so meaningless back then, but the reality is that by the time Hugo was 11 weeks old, Stella was dead.  Such a short time we were all together, yet I remember clearly looking at my three children sitting together on the front lawn and wondering how life had changed so drastically in less than a year and a half.

 

As July petered out this year, Aimee and I threw around ideas on how to celebrate Hugo’s birthday.  We were very conscious of the fact that Sam and Xavier’s big 1st birthday blowout bash scheduled for last October 21st was cancelled as Stella was actively dying at that point.  We held our breath as October 20th and 21st passed, hoping against hope that our girl would hang on until all the birthday’s were through.  Of course she did— she never liked missing a birthday party- and died October 22nd.  But their birthdays will always remind us of the fact that Stella died just hours after they each turned one.  So, we decided to keep Hugo’s first birthday low-key.  We had our immediate family over for a small BBQ, ate cupcakes and simultaneously celebrated and mourned.  It turned out nicely, but as we lit the candle we keep on our mantle for Stella, there was a definite feeling that someone was missing.  We were celebrating Hugo, but with the knowledge that without Stella’s death, he would not be here.  It’s an odd thing to reconcile—knowing the child you have now that you love so much, is only here because you lost a child that you loved equally as much.  It’s a hard feeling to describe.

 

Hugo’s first birthday was also a time for reflection for me about our youngest child.  Hugo, a son that is very much loved, but never planned.  My children were supposed to be Stella and Sam.  For months after Aimee got pregnant, we planned a future and pictured life with our new baby and daughter.  Then, everything changed.  With those four letters- DIPG- the rug was ripped out from under us, the breath was yanked from our chests and our dreams for the future lay shattered on the ground, forming a carpet of agony and tears.

 

But somehow, some way, we found the courage to keep going and to open ourselves up to the possibility of more children.  Getting pregnant with Hugo when Sam was only two weeks old and Stella was so sick was something that shocked even our most ardent supporters. It seemed crazy—it was crazy.  But, a credit to those we choose to surround ourselves with, he was welcomed with open arms and open hearts by our friends and family.  Aimee and I were so happy that Stella got to meet and name him, and though by the time he was born she had lost any capabilities at all regarding movement or speech, she smiled each time we put Hugo’s heavy newborn body on her chest, and she giggled when he gave her sloppy baby kisses.  We know that neither Sam nor Hugo will have any memories of their sister, but we have a few dozen photographs of them together to show the boys as we teach them about her.  Already Sam ends every night of his life by kissing a painting of Stella that hangs on his bedroom wall and saying, “good night Stella”, and soon Hugo will be able to do the same.  Its not enough.  It will never be enough to look at two-dimensional photographs of her, but it’s all we have.

 

Because of the time in our lives that Hugo was born, it took me a long time to feel bonded to him.  He was there, but he was a newborn, and newborns are easy to put down somewhere and come back to much later, still sleeping or staring up at the ceiling.  I’ve had trouble with all my kids as newborns, I learn to love them slowly, and it’s never been a lightening bolt of “everlasting love and affection” when a baby is placed in my arms.  I need time, but in that time I struggle with self-doubt and fears.  Because Stella required so much of our physical, mental and emotional energy when Hugo was born, and because Sam was actively crawling and moving around, Hugo was often put aside.  We met his basic needs and he was held and cuddled by many people, but I feel like I never really go to know him until after Stella died.  Even then, the first few months the only thing that I, or many people, could do was compare him to Stella.  He looked like her, and early on he began to show some of the stubbornness and intelligence that she exhibited.  “Just like Stella…” we would laugh.

 

But slowly, as time passed and the dust surrounding Stella’s death settled, something happened.  Everyone drifted back to work or school.  Sam started daycare.  So day in, day out, it soon became just Hugo and I.  I finally had the time and energy to turn my attentions to this little person and learn about him.  I had the opportunity to get to know my son as an individual, not “just like” anyone, but unique and special in his own ways.

 

Hugo is incredibly driven.  He walked before he was a year old and at just over 12 months, reliably says almost a dozen words.  He is fiercely independent, rough-and-tumble, fearless and does not believe he is a baby, but sees himself as a toddler just like Sam and Xavier.  He keeps up with them quite readily and though he seems to get hurt quite often, he just gets back up and continues on.  Hugo has a great laugh, and he finds his brother Sam endlessly entertaining.  Sometimes they crack each other up with a type of gibberish that makes no sense at all to the rest of us.  He is easy-going, game for just about anything, and he actually likes sitting in my lap while I read to him.  Perhaps out of necessity, he has learned to keep himself occupied and sometimes will wander away from the group and play quietly by himself.  He has a beautiful smile, a cackling laugh, and crazy blonde hair that is so straight it sticks straight up if we don’t brush it.  Like his older brother, he is crazy about construction vehicles, and loves peek-a-boo.  He is not clingy, not whiny, and hasn’t met a food he doesn’t like.

 

I don’t know exactly when or how it happened, just like I’m not sure when it happened with Sam, but I’ve fallen in love with my littlest guy and can no longer imagine life without him.  I didn’t get Stella and Sam, but Sam and Hugo are incredibly special together, and I can’t wait to celebrate them and their burgeoning relationship as the days and years pass.  Hugo is also important symbolically to Aimee and I, as he was the first concrete sign that we gave ourselves and the world that we were going to continue to embrace life and live it as well as we could, despite the fact we were going to lose our daughter to a terrible disease.

 

So, Happy Birthday Hugo!  Thank-you for giving me a million more reasons to smile.

 

xoxo

Mama

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Stella meets Hugo for the first time, August 2012

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Happy First Birthday Hugo

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Hugo and Sam get ready for a canoe ride!

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Sam follows Gracie’s chicken dance

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Hugo helps to bake his birthday cupcakes

 

 

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