October 22, 2013 started like any other day in our house. Aimee and I got up, got dressed, fed the kids, dressed them and shipped them off to their respective daycares (each wearing their Stella Stars T-Shirt). But then, instead of rushing off to work/school, Aimee went to Tim Horton’s to bring us breakfast, and then we retreated to home and settled ourselves into the couch. We each ate two chocolate Timbits in honour of our little girl and lit candles on the mantle next to Stella’s picture. A white candle Aimee bought, a Jewish 24-hour candle from our friend Sheri, and a red glass Catholic candle from Johnny’s parents. We are neither Jewish nor Catholic, but I figured it was a good idea to hedge all our bets so we lit everything and stood back and watched the shadows of flame dance across the walls. Little bits of fire and energy, just like our Stella.
Mid-morning, Auntie Heather and I took a quick trip to our local Value Village, which was a place I often escaped to on my darker days of Stella’s cancer. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, somehow I found comfort wandering through the racks of clothing and books hunting for the elusive “must have” deal. I hadn’t been in a long time, so Heather and I trekked out and spent an hour laughing at the things you can buy there. When I arrived home afterwards, I found Aimee lying on the couch under a pile of Stella’s blankets and stuffed animals. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. I sat next to her and rubbed her back. We didn’t need to say anything at that point, so we just sat in silence and watched the candles burn.
After a good cry, Aimee and I settled into the couch and watched episodes of The Golden Girls on TV. Our friend Christie popped by for a visit in the early afternoon. Christie was one of the people who came by sometimes in the middle of the day, because you could always bet that someone would be home with Stella. But since we’ve gone back to work and school, our house is empty during the day now, so it was lovely to sit there and reminisce and drink hot tea while Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia made wise-cracks in the background. At around 2pm Auntie Angie and Gracie and Auntie Juju arrived, bringing homemade cookies with painted toenails and cupcakes that Juju and Gracie had made to honour Stella. Aimee went to the garden and brought back some rocks and we all sat around with stickers and markers and paint and decorated stones to leave at Stella’s tree in Riverdale Farm.
By 4pm we had picked up the kids from daycare, and gathered around Stella’s tree. Poppa was too sick to come, but DeeDee and Uncle Tristan, Auntie Heather, Juju, Angie, Gracie, Neighbour Ken, Tasha, Tutu, Nanny, GrandPa John, Hugo, Sam, Aimee and I put out a picnic blanket near her bench and tree and unpacked food and toys for the kids. We spent a long time visiting the farm, especially the pigs that were Stella’s favourite and are now Sam’s. Then as the temperature dipped and the sun dropped behind clouds, we lit a few candles and the kids sang Happy Birthday to each other. The candles kept blowing out and we were all freezing. It was fun and silly and totally Stella.
After the farm, everyone trekked back to our place and Auntie Angie and Juju went to our local hamburger joint (Square Boy) and brought back armfuls of burgers for everyone. We reminisced about how there was a period of time in Stella’s illness that I would walk up to Square Boy every single night with her in the carrier snuggled into my chest and she would order a hamburger. She would never eat it, she would just clutch it to her chest all the way home. It got to the point where one of the guys working there would recognize us and have the hamburger ready long before I made it to the front of the line. I’m sometimes curious to know if he ever thinks about the girl with the curls who used to come each night, and whether he wonders where she disappeared to. As we ate hamburgers in Stella’s honour, the house was absolutely bursting at the seams with people and energy and action and laughter. Johnny’s parents came over with a beautiful plant and warm hugs and joined the chaotic festivities. It was the first time since Stella died that we had so much action and energy around. It was nice and an unexpected way to remind ourselves of all the good that Stella brought into our lives.
One by one everyone left the house, and after 10pm Aimee and I crawled into our bed listening to the silence around us. With nothing left to be said, we did what we’ve done every night since Stella died; held each other, closed our eyes and waited for morning to arrive. Each day we wake up to face one more day without Stella, but gathering strength from the lessons she generously shared with us about bravery, being true to yourself, and finding the joy in everyday life.
Here are some of the lovely people who shared photos with us of them Stella-brating:
Caitlin and Natalie:
Jack, Nicholas and Ellie:
Stella Joy, we miss you.