Making Memories

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In October of this year it will be 5 years since Stella died. Most days it seems like a lifetime ago when we held her warm weight on our lap for hours at a time on the couch and spent our days feeding her porridge, doing puppet shows and watching Dora the Explorer. I wonder sometimes who those people were sitting on the couch. So unrecognizable from who we are today.  Strangers living in our house.

I was telling Aimee a few weeks ago that I feel so badly because I don’t really have any memories of the boys as babies. We were there and I thought we were present, but either I was so distracted just trying to survive, or my memory refuses to go back to that place of intense fear and grief, that I have no recollection of that time when the boys were babies. Particularly Hugo. I don’t remember his first word, when he first walked, what he and I did all day when I was on maternity leave with him. With Sam I have some sporadic memories, mostly connected to Stella like the first time she held him, taking them both out for Hallowe’en, watching her burp him, going for walks and feeding the birds. But Hugo— almost nothing. So one night when I was up at 2am with baby Adele, it occurred to me that through my writing, I had captured my life back them.  Like a journal. I went back to my blog and I started to read.

I read entries that I haven’t looked at or lay eyes on in over 4 years. It was like reading a novel for the first time. Through the writings I began to piece together what life was like for Sam and Hugo just before and just after Stella died, when my memory is a black hole. As I read more and more entries, I started to feel like I was creating the memories of them. One particular entry titled “Hug”

Hug

and one called “Happy Birthday Hugo”

Happy Birthday Hugo

were especially helpful to my learning about the early years of the boys. After I read the one called “Hug” I sat back and thought to myself, “Wow! That sounds so crazy and chaotic…how on Earth could someone deal with two such young kids?” As though I was reading a stranger’s story instead of my own. I ended up staying up way too late— long after Adele was fast asleep in my arms I sat in the dark livingroom and read blog entries from the dim light of my cell phone. I did close ups of the photos and marvelled at how much Adele looks like Hugo at this age, and how cute Sam was when he used to wear little dress shirts and fedoras.  It was like discovering a lost friend and catching up.

The memories I have of the boys come into clear focus around the same time we bought our cottage, Bluebird, in July of 2013. Maybe it’s because that’s when we started to make memories as a family experiencing things we never did with Stella– canoe rides, walks in the woods, campfires roasting marshmallows. Maybe the cottage was my reset button. I’m not really sure, but I know that I have a really hard time recalling much about them before that summer after Stella died.

Now with cottage season upon us again, I am able to watch the boys and who they have become with a genuine excitement. And little Adele wrapped snugly in my arms is a promise of the future, of making more memories with our family and keeping our promise to Stella to find joy in day to day life.

Xavier, Sam and Hugo start another summer season at the cottage:

The boys have really started to differentiate themselves. Up until now “the boys” as we call them have been bought the same things, put in the same extra-curriculars, treated the same way. But now they are asking for change. Xavier and Sam love sports and want to play baseball, hockey, do karate, run around everywhere. Hugo has no interest in sports but has a newfound passion for building things with wood, hammers and nails. He wants to do build with lego and asked me to find him a choir to join so he can sing. It’s fun watching the kids develop into individuals. It makes me excited for the future.  But as with everything, it also comes with a certain sadness.  Who would Stella have been?  What would she have liked to do?  Would she have been heading off to overnight camp with Gracie this summer?

Sam kayaking

Hugo ready to build

Aimee and I have realized that there is great normalcy in our abnormality. I know this may not make sense, but on the surface we are like all the other families. Wake up in the morning, get ready for work/school. Have conversations about what to have for dinner, bicker with kids about wearing sunscreen, eat dinner, do laundry, read kids books at night, tuck them in, clean the kitchen, pack lunches. But in between all those normal moments there is a sadness and a knowledge of something much deeper that simmers just below. The abnormality. Waking the boys up in the morning at 6:30am and remembering how for Stella that would have been a big sleep-in. The little moment as we discuss what to make for dinner when we giggle about how Stella loved edamame. The empty bottle of sunscreen we keep in the bathroom with Stella’s faded name still on it from when she was at daycare. Realizing the boys don’t want to read Stella’s old books anymore but are asking for ones about superheroes and construction. Tucking them into their beds with a full awareness that this is Stella’s old room. Singing lullabye’s to Adele and trying NOT to sing the same ones we did to Stella because it feels like we are betraying both our daughters somehow.

Adele. The only child that Stella never laid eyes on, but they are connected perhaps even more deeply than Stella and the boys. When we hold Adele and look into her sage eyes we always feel as though she knows more than she is letting on. “Little Yoda” we call her sometimes.

Adele is lovely. I’ve heard of babies like her, but never experienced one before. Very calm and easygoing. A good sleeper. Smiley. In so many ways she is the polar opposite of who her sister was, which makes it easier to not compare the two of them so much. When I took Adele for her 2-month appointment, the nurse did her measurements and said, “all great!”. I took that to mean average and texted Aimee to say, “Another textbook baby!” —Because Stella and the boys were always in the 50th percentile for height/weight etc.so we joked our specialty was perfectly average babies. A few minutes later the Doctor came in and revealed that Adele is actually in the 90th percentile for height/weight and the 95th percentile for head circumference. I texted Aimee back..”Actually…this one is much bigger”. Another reminder that she is different. We have always known she would be, but it’s helpful that she’s decided the same thing!

Adele, two months:

It is my hope that with Adele I remember better than with the boys. She is our last baby so I’m trying to take it all in. To enjoy the way she flops against my chest breathing deeply through her nose, her first smiles at me, the delight the boys get from “helping” (i.e. Wanting to carry her around which terrifies me, or feeding her a bottle which they shove in her mouth and gag her with, or designating her the Pink Power Ranger in their game and “pretending” to karate chop her).  I pay close attention to the exact angle her nose is turned up at, how her little hand feels grasped in mine and the feathery softness of her hair brushing against my chin as I burp her.  The tiny moments are being noted.

I’m sitting in the backyard right now typing this. Adele is curled up on a picnic blanket looking up at the leaves in the trees rustling gently in the summer breeze. Sam is riding around on his bike, going as fast as he can then braking as fast as he can to see if he can make the tires squeal. Hugo is focused on checking all the boards on the deck to see if there is a loose one he needs to put another nail in. It’s a quiet, peaceful scene. A welcome break from the insanity that is usually our life.  When I’m done this blog entry I will sit back in my chair, take a sip of lukewarm tea and repeat my new mantra with the knowledge that we are okay.

“Patience in the Present. Faith in the Future. Joy in the Moment”

Sam and Hugo relaxing at the cottage:

Finding worms on a rainy day:

Day with me at the zoo:

Smiley Adele:

Stella at Riverdale Farm, summer 2010. Age 14 months:

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Birth. Day.

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Birth. Day.

April 18th, 2017 would have been Stella’s 8th birthday.  Picturing Stella at 8 is fairly foreign to me.  Her friends who are that age seem like mini adults to me.  They are not generic little toddlers any longer, but fully formed people with likes, dislikes, hobbies, friends, etc.  I can’t imagine what life would have been like “if”.  We would likely have just had Stella and Sam (who would not have been named Sam), because we never planned on having more than two children.  And they would be 8 and 5 now, so we would be in a totally different part of our lives than what we are now.  I still get jealous sometimes of our friends who have the older kids.  It’s not that I don’t love the choices we’ve made and that I’m not happy with our family and our lives, but I feel like I will always have the feeling that we are “behind” somehow.  It’s complicated and hard to explain, but it’s like being a younger sibling and constantly feeling like your older sibling is getting to do more than you.  You can’t run as fast, you can’t stay up as late, you can’t play the same games.  At some point it all evens out, but I can’t help but feel left behind somehow.  Especially now when we have made the decision to start over again with a newborn baby.

My due date for the new baby was April 17th.  There were camps of people that were hoping the new baby would be born right on Stella’s birthday.  That would be so full circle.  So Hollywood.  I was adamant that this baby could be born any day EXCEPT on Stella’s birthday.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a little girl to have to share her birthday with her dead sister.  I didn’t want to have to deal with another layer of complicated grief on that day.  So I proclaimed to the universe that this baby would have its OWN birthday.  I even did a bit of research to find out what would happen *if* your baby was born one day and when you filled out the paperwork online, you put another date if it would be caught. Just in case.

When Stella’s birthday arrived on April 18th, I breathed a sigh of relief that there were no labour signs.  Compared to past years, her birthday was very quiet.  I struggled quite a bit that day.  It was a very strange feeling to be remembering the birth of our first child, our beloved daughter Stella, while 9 months pregnant with our fourth child, another daughter.  Aimee and I had a couple of big cries, and for the most part we just stayed close to home.  We got lots of texts from friends remembering her on that day, and each one made me cry that even without us reminding people of mentioning it, those people whose lives she touched remembered.  Aimee and I visited her tree and brought some timbits and a balloon and candle to mark what would have been her 8th birthday.  It was a little less emotional than it could have been because it just so happened that while we were there two people had parked themselves on her bench and were drinking and laughing and gossiping loudly with one another the whole time we were there.  I thought Stella probably would have thought that was pretty funny, and it definitely kept our tears at bay as the two women sitting there were oblivious to what we were doing and who we were and continued to talk about their shopping trips and boyfriends and sip on their latte’s while we lovingly wrapped ribbons around the trunk of her tree and put up the balloon with #8 on it.

We then picked the boys up early from school and brought them to Chuck E Cheese for dinner.  It was just the four of us until my sister came, and that was it.  No other family or friends were able to come because it was a Tuesday and everyone was working, but it was perfect in its own way.  The boys loved it and Chuck E Cheese was empty, so they thought it was the greatest thing ever.  When we got home my mom and brother came over and sang Happy Birthday to me and Stella.  Then it was over.  A mixture of happiness, sadness, quiet, noise, grief for the past and anticipation of the future.

Chuck E Cheese:

 

Once her birthday was over, our family and friends went on full “baby watch”.  Since this baby was my third pregnancy, everyone—-even the midwife—- expected me to go fairly close to my due date.  But the days past and nothing happened. I was off work as of April 5th, and filled my days visiting friends, shopping, relaxing and enjoying nights of sleep.  “Any baby yet?” texts filled my phone each day.  As the days passed by, our midwife started asking about induction. At 41 weeks pregnant, we agreed to induce a couple of days later if I didn’t go into labour on my own.  The days passed and still nothing, so at 7:00am on April 26th Aimee and I met our midwife at the hospital and prepared to meet our newest daughter.  I actually thought it was a quite civilized way to do things.  With a known date we were able to arrange for childcare for the kids, let our support people for labour know to take the day off work, and prepare the boys for the day their sister would be born.  It really appealed to my type A personality!

Aimee and I just outside the hospital on our way in for our induction:

Labour itself was—-labourious.  Luckily we have the absolute best midwife in the entire world (Christie who also delivered Sam and Hugo), and when the going got tough, she made it all okay.

After a nerve-wracking few moments during delivery when she got a bit stuck and I swore like a sailor, our baby was born and as she was placed on my chest I turned to my dad and said, “I can’t believe I have a daughter again!”.  The room was fairly vibrating with emotion.  Happiness, sadness, relief, joy.

April 26th, 2017 at 6:58pm we welcomed Adele Margaret Bruner-Methven to our family.  Weighing 8lb 9oz and measuring 53cm.

Her name was fairly easy to settle on.  Stella had named both of her brothers after her favourite books.  Sam is from the Stella & Sam book series, and Hugo she chose for her favourite book King Hugo’s Huge Ego.  When it came time to name our newest child, we went right to Stella’s bookshelf again and pulled another of her favourite books, Adele & Simon.  There are 3 books in the series which focus on Adele and her little brother Simon.  Simon is always losing things and the reader has to find in the picture where he has lost the item.  Stella loved finding things and even as her body failed her she would life her shaking arm and smack her hand down on the page where the items were found.

The kids pose with Stella’s favourite books that inspired their names:

Adele’s middle name Margaret is a family name; both the name of my mother and Aimee’s grandmother.  We also like that the initials are AM (Aimee-Mishi)

The boys are delighted with their new sister.  They vacillate between being fascinated with her, and ignoring her completely, which I imagine is completely normal for a 4 and 5 year old.

Adele is one week old today and we are all still adjusting.  My past of anxiety and depression puts me at high risk for postpartum, which I struggled with after both Stella and Hugo’s births.  I’ve definitely been weepy and emotional the last few days.  I’ve had several bouts of “how the heck are we going to balance all of this” breakdowns.  Thoughts of how active the boys are and how much energy they require and whether it’s humanly possible to keep up with the demands of this new dynamic with our careers and at our ages make me nervous.  So I’m being very gentle with myself.  Trying to sleep as much as I can (with the help of my awesome wife), and remind myself that these feelings are normal.

Adele has much darker hair than either Stella or Hugo, and looks like no one but herself which is comforting in some ways.  As our last baby (yes—-she’s it, promise (o;    ), I am working very hard to be present with her.  I have pretty much zero memories of Sam and Hugo at this age.  We were so grief stricken and moved around in a fog.  We had so many people around all the time to hold the babies.  So this go around I am taking the time to really try to enjoy the way her little body feels when she is sleeping on my chest.  I am taking note of the curve of her little nose and her little rosebud lips.  I am stroking her hair and trying to make a memory of how soft it is, and when I’m up with her at night I keep reminding myself that this stage doesn’t last forever and that someday—- we will sleep again.

Christie our midwife came for a visit a few days ago.  She asked how it was going and I unleashed on her a torrent of words about my insecurities and fears about balancing everything.  I said that the past weekend was hard having her and the boys at home, that I felt overwhelmed and Aimee and I couldn’t figure out how to keep on top of the grocery shopping and laundry and making lunches.  I felt tired and stressed.

Christie listened and gave some advice.  As she was putting her coat on to leave, she said, “it’s nice to have you talk about all these completely average and normal fears”.  She reminded me of how with the last two babies we had people dropping food off all the time, people volunteering to sleep over and do all the overnight shifts with the babies, people to take them out during the day.  Now it’s just us trying to figure it all out.  Her observations stopped me in my tracks and I had to laugh.

She is so right.  Instead of being worried about our dying daughter.  Instead of wondering how we were going to wake up and survive the next day weighed down with so much grief and confusion swirling around, our worries this time are the same as almost all new parents.  And we are trying to do it ourselves.  We need to do the grocery shopping, the laundry, the overnights, the caregiving.  We are a “normal” family.  It’s foreign in a way.  Although it’s our fourth child, we’ve actually never done this before.

This is one of the many, many times in my life when I am drawing on the experiences and lessons that Stella gave us.  To try to look at life in tiny chunks when looking at it for longer is too overwhelming.  When the years seem too long, focus on the month or the day or the hour or even the minute until it passes.  To try to find the joy in each and every day.  When I felt overwhelmed at having the boys and Adele home for dinner at the same time, because the boys were fighting and not listening and I needed to feed Adele, I remembered how lucky I am to have three healthy, energetic children.  Then I decided to stop struggling with them and just make it easy on myself, remembering that having ice cream for breakfast once in awhile doesn’t do any long term harm,  I turned on the TV and let the boys sit on the couch and watch it (which they normally aren’t allowed to do in the evenings).  They calmed right down and peace was restored.  When Aimee isn’t home and I can’t bring myself to cook, I make it okay to order pizza.  And I am allowing myself to look into Adele’s eyes and dream.  I’m allowing myself to picture a future with her and Sam and Hugo and try not to be afraid that it will all be taken away from us again.

As we navigate this new normal, as we adjust to this new stage in our lives, I know that Stella’s legacy will help guide me and continue to teach me.  And I will always find her smile in the smiles of her brothers and now, her sister.

Uncle Tristan reads Adele and Simon to Stella in August, 2012:

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