Stella would have been six years old today, April 18th 2015.
There are some “days” in this journey of grief that are harder than others. Her birthday is a doozy. Because it is a “date”. Something we can use to measure how long it’s been since she lived and died. It’s a time that we remember the excitement of awaiting our first born child. The moment I got to call Aimee at work and tell her I was in labour. The moment that Stella was born with a group of 10 enthusiastic adults in the room all there to witness the incredible moment that Aimee shouted, “It’s a girl!” and the room erupted with cheers and tears of JOY. Stella Joy.
It’s also a day to reflect on how different life turned out from what we expected that first day of her life. We pictured the first day of kindergarten, soccer matches, high school graduation, laughter and a lifetime of getting to know our little red-headed miracle.
But life had something else in store for us.
Sometimes when I think about what we were robbed of, I get so angry. Incredibly angry. Because the world not only took our daughter away, it took away our blissful ignorance of the terrible things that can happen. It took away our dreams of the future. It took away our plans and hopes. It robbed us of beautiful friendships that didn’t survive after our daughter died. It robbed us of the life we planned for ourselves. It’s very easy to get sucked in to a vortex of anger and bitterness. It’s very easy to fee as though life is unfair and you have been so deeply wronged that you have the right to be angry all the time.
The anger comes easily to me. And when I feel it bubbling up, I work hard to remember all the gifts and beauty that Stella’s life and death gave me.
I have to consciously remind myself of the new friendships that have grown from her cancer and death. I have to remind myself that Aimee and I have become better parents, better daughters, better people because of the lessons she taught us. I have to look at Sam and Hugo and allow their laughter and love of life to wash over me and cleanse the anger from my soul. I have to look in the mirror and think about how brave Aimee and I are. How proud I am of what we have accomplished and the people we have become. I have to say out loud, “Stella would be proud of you”.
Some days I can cope better than others. I find myself trying to push memories aside as a coping mechanism. I don’t flip through photo albums of Stella. I don’t keep her little shoes where I can see them, but bury them deep inside my closet. I never read the old entries from the blog. I try to live in the present all the time. To enjoy where I am and what I’m doing and who I’m with. I try not to think of the “what if’s” and get envious of Stella’s thriving friends who are doing all the things that she should have had the chance to do. I try not to stare at little girls in the mall and feel jealous.
Lately though, I’ve been finding that even when I try to push things aside, the memories find me. If I go up to the attic to put away the boys winter clothes, I see all the bins that hold Stella’s things. Her clothing, her favourite dolls, art and then the guest books from her funeral. Yesterday I needed to thin out the children’s books that drip off of our shelves and I kept finding books I remembered reading to Stella. I couldn’t bring myself to give them away, so I just shoved them to the back of the shelf. We still keep Stella’s baby bottles on the top shelf of our kitchen cupboards. We need the space they occupy for other things, but neither Aimee nor I can bring ourselves to throw them out. And even almost three years after Stella has died, Aimee and I sleep with a space between us. The space that was occupied by Stella throughout her illness. The exact space that she took her last breath. We never talk about it, but neither of us touches that gap between us. Her “Pink Kitty” stuffed animal sits there day and night. Almost like a placeholder, waiting for her to come back and snuggle in. A hole in the bed, mirroring the holes in our hearts. A physical space that acts as a constant reminder of the little girl we loved and lost.
Stella fast asleep on Pink Kitty, at age 1:
In some ways, Aimee and I live in a world now where Stella isn’t on the hearts and minds of many of the people we see. Aimee’s work has seen many staffing changes with old staff leaving and new staff coming in. Staff that know nothing of Stella or her journey. I’ve begun a new career and there is no one at my place of work that met Stella or read the blog, or has any idea about the long days and nights we spent caring for her. Old friends have drifted off, new friends have come in. Of course you tell people about her, but it isn’t the same as those people who were with us from the beginning. Those that cared and watched and waited and grieved right along with us. It’s hard to go into work on “those” days (for example, I’ll be working on Stella’s birthday), and act as if everything is normal when you’re heart feels like it’s been ripped right out of your chest. I don’t have the right words to explain to people who weren’t here what it is like to wake up on your dead child’s birthday and not have her there to hug and sing Happy Birthday to, and tell funny stories about the day she was born.
For Stella’s birthday this year, I will be running a funeral. A funeral for a baby that didn’t get a chance to live past its parents imagination and hearts. I will push aside my own grief and stand with them as they mourn the future that they were robbed of because of “bad luck” or “circumstances”. I won’t tell them anything about Stella. They will have no idea that my heart is also broken. They won’t know that when I look into their eyes and tell them, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” that I’m not just saying the words, I’m actually sorry because I can feel the same sharp pangs in my chest that they can. People at work will wish me a Happy Birthday, and I will smile and say thank-you. They won’t think to wish Stella a happy birthday too, because even though they may know we shared the same birthday, it won’t occur to them to say anything. After I run the funeral and help another family bury their baby, I will head to Chuck E Cheese with my family. In a place of chaos, noise and screaming children we will both celebrate and mourn the little girl who couldn’t be at her own birthday party. There will be a balloon on the table with her name and age. There will be family. There will be cold pizza and warm pop. There will be cake. But Stella will be missing.
Everyday Stella is missing.
I worked a funeral two weeks ago for another young girl who cancer stole away from the world. Her mother ended the Eulogy by recalling a conversation between a child and it’s mother:
“Mama…why did she have to die? Why her? She was the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most incredible person”.
“Yes, she was. Le me ask you… when you choose a flower from the garden, which one do you choose? Isn’t it always the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most incredible?”
She sure was.
Happy Birthday baby girl.
Stella JOY (age 2):
The boys eat ice cream “just because” in honour of their sister:
Gracie, Sam and Hugo hunt for Easter eggs:
Happy Birthday Stella!