Ray of Light
Mother’s Day is not a holiday full of sappy cards, brunches at a restaurant or potted plants in our house. It’s a day of reflection, of memories and going through the motions of a holiday that has lost much of its lustre. Aimee and I both wholly respect and love our mother’s dearly and are eternally grateful for the gifts they have given us throughout our lives, but we try to celebrate them everyday, so “mother’s day” is yet another reminder of all we have lost in our own lives.
This year a team of our closest family and friends took part in Meagan’s Walk, a fundraiser in Toronto that was started 12 years ago in memory of Meagan, who died of DIPG at age 5. It’s a 5km walk that raises money for brain tumor research at Sick Kids Hospital. It was an early start time (8:30am), and I was so honoured and impressed that our friends came, especially those who dragged their small children to downtown Toronto on subways, streetcars and buses lugging strollers, diaper bags and ziploc’s full of home made muffins. Donning our “Stella’s Stars” T-shirts, we sauntered through downtown Toronto with thousands of other families and friends of people affected by brain tumors. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling particularly emotional while we walked. It was actually a very fun, social event and a chance for me to catch up with friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough, so I was a bit distracted from the actual purpose of the event, which was to raise awareness of brain tumors. But at the end of Meagan’s Walk, everyone (all two thousand of us) lined up and “hugged” Sick Kids Hospital by forming a human chain around the block. As we gathered to complete the hug, Aimee remarked to me softly, “Isn’t it f—ked that we’re walking behind people wearing our kids face on their shirts”. I knew what she meant. Stella’s face beamed out at us from the back of a t-shirt with a very succinct 2009-2012 below it. Blech. The emotions began to bubble up to the surface as the magnitude of all we lost worked its way into my brain once again. As Aimee and I stood arm-in-arm with the people who have held us up the past almost two years, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried for Stella. I cried for Emma and Johnny and Evie and Miette and Oliver and Joseph and David and Jaclyn’s Family and Willa and Mackenzie and Jonathan and on and on and on. I cried for the children pressing their faces against the windows and staring down at us from inside the hospital. I cried for the mother’s celebrating mother’s day tomorrow who lost their child(ren). I cried for friends and strangers. I cried and cried and cried.
And I thought about Quinn.
This year, along with being our first mother’s day without Stella, it is also the first mother’s day for our best friends Ray and Brad, who, two weeks ago, welcomed their daughter Quinn Elora Needham to the world. She is tiny and dark haired, with little fighting fists and an adorable pouty mouth. Ray has been Aimee’s best friend since they were 16 years old, and when Aimee and I started dating 10 years ago (Ray and Brad got together the same year), we became a natural foursome of friends. I always think of us as Lucy-Desi-Ethel-Fred (although who’s who is up for debate. Personally, I think Brad is closest to Lucy). When Ray got pregnant, we were as excited and happy for them as we would be if it was our own child. It was a long, hard and complicated road for Ray and Brad, so their pregnancy was about as close to a miracle as I’ve experienced personally. As soon as I knew Ray was pregnant, I knew it would be a girl. Stella was aware Ray was going to have a baby, and was excited as well. She would smile and stick her tongue out when I would ask her if she was excited to meet Ray and Brad’s baby. After Stella died, the baby inside Ray continued to grow and thrive. Our grief with Stella grew and changed at a similar pace to Ray’s pregnancy. I would look at her swollen belly knowing there was a life growing and flourishing inside, and remember distinctly being pregnant with Stella. I remembered when her little kicks fluttering within me were like butterflies, then stomps. I remembered when Aimee and I would cuddle on the couch at night and marvel at the life under our hands, the way Ray and Brad did as they awaited their child. I would see Brad put a palm on his wife’s swollen belly and smile as he was rewarded with a small kick, and my heart would squeeze in a mixture of happiness for our friends and sadness for ourselves. As Stella lay dying, this baby was living.
Back in December, when Aimee and I were in Hawaii, Ray and Brad were scheduled to find out the sex of their baby. I knew it was a girl. I don’t know how I knew, but I did without a doubt. That morning, we were waiting by Aimee’s phone for the text message that would confirm my knowledge of “girl”. Instead, we got a message stating that the amniotic fluid was low and they were awaiting another ultrasound. If it turned out her fluid was leaking, Ray would lose the baby. Aimee and I felt sick to our stomachs. Our friends couldn’t lose this baby, life couldn’t be that cruel. As we wandered, dazed, down the hotel hallway and past the shops, we floated into a personalized Christmas Ornament Store that I had discovered the day before. I was drawn to it because when I had walked in previously, all of the “sample” personalized ornaments had the name “Stella” on them. Crazy. But today, I noticed something else. Next to one of the Stella ornaments, there was another one that said “Quinne” on it. I was stunned as “Quinn” was the name that Ray and Brad had told us they would name their baby, regardless of its sex. This ornament had an extra “e” at the end, but still…it was too much of a coincidence. In this case, the name was on a pink ornament…girl as I suspected! As soon as I saw those two ornaments hanging next to one another, I knew that Ray and Brad’s baby was going to be okay. I don’t know what I believe as far as spirits and afterlife and messages from beyond, but I knew without a doubt that this was some sort of sign from Stella letting us know she was looking after her little friend. There they were, side-by-side, Stella and Quinn(e).
Later that week, we found out that Ray’s fluid was fine, and that the baby was, indeed, a girl. I love being right.
On April 25th, 2013, exactly a week after Stella’s birthday, Quinn burst into the world. Two days later, I headed to the hospital to meet her for myself. As Aimee and I entered the doors, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react when I met Quinn. When I walked into the hospital room though, I walked into a room where the love and friendship was palatable, and because of that, I relaxed immediately. This was a safe space and it was okay to cry here. Seeing another little girl, looking down at a bundle of faith and dreams in my arms both broke my heart and reminded me of all the hope and joy I have for the future. Quinn’s eyes were closed as she sighed quietly and nuzzled into my arms. I allowed myself to imagine Quinn as a little girl, dark curls bouncing on her shoulders as she giggled at the cottage. I thought about what she would look like as a sturdy toddler, toothy 9 year old, and athletic teenager. I wondered if she would be a good writer like her parents, an athlete, a scholar, a goofball. I inhaled the sweetness of her newborn scent, stroking my finger on her cheek, breathing in her promise and breathing out her potential. I noted dark eyelashes resting on ivory eyelids, pink fingernails and wisps of hair tickling her forehead. I fell in love at first site and my heart, without reservation, welcomed her in. She would forever be one of “my” kids, joining an elite club of special little people that fill my heart.
Weeks after Stella was diagnosed in June of 2011, her two best friends (Flora and Arin) each welcomed sisters to their families. Flora’s sister Alice Caroline Joy was born on July 30, 2011 and Arin’s sister Ayokari Estella (Ayokari means “joy is all around in Yoruba), was born on August 1, 2011. I’ve always thought it was incredible that just as we were losing our little girl, Stella’s best friends were each gifted with one. It has to mean something. It has to. Each of these little girls will always be extra special, and each carries a bit of Stella with her, both in their names and their personalities. We don’t have our little girl on Earth with us, but we have Gracie and Alice and Kari, and now Quinn. A whole little army of smart, strong, spirited little girls who, along with our sons and Xavier and other kids we love, help fill the gaping hole left behind by Stella’s death.
Standing side-by-side at Meagan’s walk today, part of a massive hug, made me think of the circle of life. Births, deaths, little girls, mother’s day. It all filled my heart and spilled over into salty tears down my cheeks. And I thought about how different everything is this mother’s day, and how sometimes you have to let yourself die inside so you can rise from the ashes and become a new, hopefully better, person.
Oh, and Ray and Brad picked out the middle name “Elora” after they read the blog
because Elora means “ray of light”, which reminded them of Stella. And then Ray pointed out her name was Quinn E. “Quinne”. Guess Stella knew best after all. She always did.
For Mother’s Day today, I wish everyone- parent or not, the gift of learning to build bridges, not walls.
Our Meagan’s Walk Team— these people are amongst those who literally held us up over the last 20 months. More pictures of the day can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11952371@N04/
Aimee and I do Meagan’s Walk:
Xavier and Sam take part in the human hug:
April 25th, 2013: Ray and Brad welcome Baby Quinn:
Quinn Elora, two weeks old:
The ornaments, Stella and Quinne:
Stella painting, October 2011: