Happy 7th Birthday Angel

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Today, if things were different, Stella would have turned 7 years old.  Probably would have been missing a tooth or two.  With long hair past her shoulders, and a cheeky grin.

Not having her here hurts.

For some reason, this year the memories are sharper and clearer than they have been in years.  Each day leading up to her birthday is haunting.  April 15th was her due date.  I remember going swimming with my friend Deb that day.  I remember how amazing it felt to float in the weightlessness of the water with my 9-month pregnancy belly and how I was almost shaking with anticipation and excitement.  At that time we didn’t know if we were having a boy, or girl so I practiced writing both names we had carefully and lovingly selected on my notepad…

Evan Lawrence Bruner-Methven

Stella Joy Bruner-Methven

Which would it be?  I couldn’t imagine.

I remember on April 16th I was only one day past my due date, but I was despairing that I was never going to have this baby.  I had already been off work for 2 weeks and I was bored and impatient.  In a desperate attempt to entertain myself, I looked up recipes online of things that could be frozen and I decided to walk over to Sobey’s to purchase some ingredients.  I bought green peppers and ground beef and when I was walking home, I could feel liquid dripping down my legs.  I called my midwife and she told me to come in.  2 hours later I called Aimee at work and said the magic words…”my water broke”.  I still wasn’t in labour though, so Aim and I went to her dads for dinner.  We toasted each other with glasses of red wine and thought about what was to come.

April 17th I very slowly started to labour.  At first it was almost comical.  I sat in a big chair and listened to my “Hypnobirthing” CD.  The tiny insignificant first ripples of labour I thought were “it” and was proud of how I was handling the “pain”.  Ha!  First time ignorance.  Aimee and I walked and timed contractions, but it was slow going and everything that felt like it was “true” labour wasn’t really.  When you’ve never been in labour, I guess you don’t really know what it is.  Hours and hours of small tugs weren’t labour.  When full labour finally hit me, it was ugly and I wondered how I could ever have thought when I was sitting in the chair with my eyes closed meditating that I was in labour!!!  Real labour was horrible.  Back pain that brought me to my knees.  Thrashing and screaming and vomiting.  It wasn’t until almost midnight on the 17th that things got bad enough to go to the hospital.  My dad drove, my mom sat in the front seat and Aimee was in the back with me.  It was on that van ride that I realized Stella was gong to be born on my birthday.  I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in my 30th birthday than giving birth to our baby.

It was a long, difficult and extremely painful labour.  Stella was born at 4:10pm on April 18th.  I think Aimee said, “it’s a girl!” and though my heart was full of joy, all I could say was, “I’m going to throw up” and I promptly began vomiting as the midwife stitched me up.  Not exactly a Hallmark moment, but fairly indicative of what parenting is like.  Messy and hard.  Not very glamorous, full of ups and downs.  But, if you pay attention, a myriad of exquisite, unexpected gifts.

That was an amazing day.  I turned 30 years old and became a mother all in one breath.  My daughter burst into the world, with porcelain skin, bawling-face, fists waving and a shock of red hair that made everyone laugh in delight.  There were 10 people in the room as she was born.  Two midwives plus my DeeDee, Poppa, Auntie Heather, Tutu, GrandPa, Auntie Angie, Nanny and Aim’s best friend, Ray.  Sometimes when I picture that happy scene of her birth and her first breath, it overlays a heart-breaking scene 3 1/2 years later when she took her last breath, surrounded by almost exactly the same group of people that stood in a circle and witnessed the miracle of her birth.

Sometimes it feels like all my memories overlap.

A sea of crying faces at her birth.  A circle of sobbing at her death.

Choosing the outfit she would come home from the hospital in.  Choosing the outfit she would be cremated in.

A myriad of candles lighting up the night at our wedding. A path of flickering candles as we carried her body out the door.

Taking photos of her face covered in icing, eating her birthday cake with a “1” flopped over. Taking photos of a tree in the park with a candle that says “7” on it.

Up at night because she cried. Up at night because we cry.

So how do you celebrate the birthday of your first born, when she’s not here?  Funny how we’ve fallen into a routine.  Visit her tree then run away to Great Wolf Lodge.  As always, a mixture of wanting to remember her in her favourite spots, but also needing to try to forget by distracting ourselves with the noise and activity and complete sensory overload.  I have been missing her so much these last weeks.  I always miss her, but I find that as the boys get older and more “boy-like” with burgeoning interests in super heroes and sports, I retreat further into my fantasies of having a daughter.  That’s one of the cruelties of her death, not knowing exactly what she would have been like, what she would have liked or disliked, leaving it all open to speculation and dreams.  And suddenly, I’m seeing little girls everywhere and each one is like a dagger to my heart.  I’m sure there are just as many little boys around, but it’s the girls that have been making my chest hurt.  I suddenly feel like everyone around me has a daughter.  Two nights ago I started to rattle off to Aimee the names of all of our friends and said, “they have a daughter…they have a daughter…they have a daughter…”.  Out of 15 friends I named, only two had no girls.  It suddenly felt momentously unfair to me.  I suddenly felt so jealous that I wanted to scream and rage.  Admitting these feelings is hard.  I don’t like the way they make me feel.  it’s embarrassing.  I confided in one friend a few weeks ago that I wanted my girl back and she said something along the lines of, “But you have two beautiful and healthy boys!”  I immediately felt ashamed of myself for saying anything at all, then angry that I was ashamed.  Having two healthy boys whom I love with all my heart and would do anything for, doesn’t mean that I still can’t mourn the daughter who died, and the fact that I no longer have a little girl to love.  But it’s hard to admit that to people.  Hard to make them understand.  Of course I’m grateful for my sons.  Of course I am happy with them and can’t imagine life without them.  But that doesn’t mean I still don’t miss my girl and feel bitter for everything that was taken away from us.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad when I see little dresses with crinoline and pink Dora crocs or that I’m not jealous of the little girls in mini blue jeans and pink sunglasses toddling around at the park.  Grief is complex and I’m constantly trying to understand why I act and react certain ways to things.

A family that I served 8 months ago called me Friday.  The woman had lost her father at age 87.  She called to tell me how much she was struggling.  That she was “still” so sad.  She knows about Stella and said that she didn’t know how I did it.  That I’m so strong.  She kept saying that she wouldn’t be able to live if her daughter died.  And that she was embarrassed to still be in such a funk about her dad because, after all, he was old and led a full life. She asked me what my secret was.  I told her my dad always says, “secret weapon…no choice”,  but I also didn’t want her to think that I’ve just risen above grief and grieving.  So I told her the truth.  I said, “What you’re doing is hard.  There’s no timeline.  There’s no magic cure.  I’m on meds.  I take medication everyday for depression and anxiety”. I wanted her to know that even though I’m happy, I still need help.   I’m not ashamed of it.  When I wake up each and every morning, I make a deliberate choice.   I choose to be happy.  I choose to find JOY because I know that is how I can keep Stella alive.  I truly believe that when we are forced to live without someone we love, we need to take a small piece of them and inhale it so deeply it enters our pores and becomes part of our own breath and body.  So I breathe Stella each and everyday.  I breathe her spunkiness.  I breathe her willingness to find joy in small things.  I breathe her inability to be anything but herself.  I breathe her bravery and her cheekiness and her tinkling giggle.  I use the breath I have to parent her brothers with as much understanding and love as I can.  I use it to help the families I serve.  I open my heart a teeny tiny bit to each and every grieving family that sits in front of me and tells me that they have lost someone they love.  I still hurt, but I choose to live.  I keep a yellowed cut out picture of a card I got once.  It’s a dry, dessert scene with a tiny flower growing through the cracked dirt.  And it says, “There are defining moments in a life, when faced with the choice of giving up, or going on”.

That card is taped on the inside of our kitchen cupboard.  Every morning when I get up and I open the cupboard to get my teacup out, I read it.  And I make the choice.

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Choose life.  Choose joy.

In Niagara Falls tonight, Gracie (8 years old already!) wore her Mommy Juju’s wedding dress to dinner.  She looked so beautiful and grown up in it.  It’s a burgundy and cream sundress.  It made me remember my wedding to Aimee.  I remembered the poem that was read that night, 10 years ago this August.  It was a warm summer night.  We had lit the backyard with dozens of flickering candles.  At the time, it was the poem that best reflected the love Aimee and I felt for each other.  But tonight, I thought about the fact that it is for Stella too.  And I read it out loud and wept.

Happy Birthday my beautiful girl.  Despite everything…I’m so glad you were born.  Stella Joy Bruner Methven, April 18, 2009.

i carry your heart with me

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i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

And I do.

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Sam lays some flowers at his sister’s tree for her birthday:

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Having a great time at Great Wolf Lodge 

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Every Friday night is pizza night and “Family Movie Night”.  The boys love it! (Xavier, Sam, Hugo)

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April 18, 2015

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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:

Stella kitty 1 year

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):

Stella Cell Phone age 1.5

The boys eat ice cream “just because” in honour of their sister:

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Gracie, Sam and Hugo hunt for Easter eggs:

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Happy Birthday Stella!

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“Supermom”

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On the morning of Stella (and my) birthday, I took Sam and Hugo to McDonald’s for breakfast. I have a weak spot for Bacon’n’Egg McMuffins and since it was my birthday, I thought I’d treat myself. Sam and Hugo had been particularly active that morning, perhaps channeling the energy of their sister, and by 8:30am when I finally decided to go to McDonald’s, I already felt like I had been running a marathon. Both the boys like to climb things and that morning I had been dashing between the living room where Sam was climbing and leaping off the back of the couch, and the dining room where Hugo kept attempting to use the chairs to boost himself onto the top of the table. There was crushed Cheerios crumbs spread from one side of the house to the other that kept getting more and more pulverized by little feet, and both boys were stark naked as they streaked by in a flash of shouts and laughter. Hugo had a fresh-looking cut over his eye from a fall into the coffee table a few days earlier and Sam had matching bruises on both his knees from a leap off the beanbag chair that had gone wrong the day before. I felt like they were wild monkeys. Laughing, leaping, untamed little urchins. I had on sweatpants and my winter jacket, my hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. I chased them until I could pin them down long enough to dress them, then bribed them into their stroller with promises of breakfast at “the restaurant”.  I love the stroller. It’s like a legal prison for children. I can sit them down, strap them around their waists and shoulders and take them wherever I want. But, by the time I got them both dressed and in the stroller, I was sweating. Panting a little. I was frazzled, but intent on going to McDonald’s to get my birthday breakfast.

Once outside, with the boys securely strapped into the stroller, happily playing with toy cars they had brought with them for the walk, I began to relax a bit. I thought back about the day 5 years ago that Stella was born and let the tears trickle down my cheeks as we walked. I looked down at the two little blonde heads in front of me and felt amazed at how much Aimee and I have been through since that day 5 years ago when Stella burst into the world, changing us all forever. I remembered the anticipation and excitement of waiting for her birth, and then the awe and raw fear I felt when she finally arrived— a red-faced, red-haired crying bundle of pure perfection.  Remembering her birth was emotional for me, and though I was enjoying being out in the quiet morning sunshine with Sam and Hugo, I was pretty raw by the time we got to McDonald’s. Luckily it’s busy and chaotic there, so no one paid much notice. I moved the boys from their stroller into chairs (nothing to strap them down in, damn!) and began throwing all kinds of food at them in the hopes they would sit still long enough for me to enjoy my McMuffin and tea. Alas, within a few minutes they were leaping off the chairs and attempting to make a break for the doors…into the parking lot, of course. There was remnants of food everywhere and Sam had managed to dump an entire bottle of chocolate milk on his pants, so was whining about wanting to take his pants off as well. By the time I had cleaned up the table and rounded up the boys, I was sweating again. And I was hurting because I was missing my girl. I felt like crap. Tired, sad, worn-out.  Just as I opened the door to leave, a woman called my name. I turned around and a stranger thrust a McDonald’s gift certificate into my hands. She breathlessly explained to me that she was a blog reader, and was amazed to see me at the McDonald’s that morning. I was stunned. And then, she said that before she recognized me, she had thought to herself what a “supermom” that woman was at the McDonald’s early on a Friday morning with two toddlers in tow. As I thanked her and walked away, her words seemed more and more amusing to me. Here I was feeling almost hysterically out of control and ragged, and this woman had dubbed me a “supermom”. She had no idea how much I needed to hear that on my birthday morning.  I realized that I often label other parents I see as being more put-together, more able, and better than me. But to a stranger at a McDonald’s on Stella’s birthday, I was the “supermom”. Back at home, I unloaded by wet, dirty, bedraggled boys out of the stroller and focused on making the day as fun as possible in honour of Stella. I could get through the day. I was “supermom”.

A group of us headed to Riverdale Farm and visited Stella’s tree and bench. The boys oinked at her pigs, mooed at her cows and then we tied balloons to the tree and shed a few tears as Aimee carefully placed a candle with the number “5” at the trunk. Back at home, we ordered food for everyone and sang a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday dear Stella”, after which Sam, Hugo and Gracie blew out the candles. Then everyone went home, Hugo went down for a nap and all was quiet. Juju and I walked Gracie and Sam to the dollar store where they picked out a gift for themselves (matching pink Easter baskets), and one in honour of Stella (a plastic chicken in a nest), and then dinner. 4:03pm, the exact time that Stella was born 5 years earlier, passed unnoticed. There was food to pack up, dishes to do, laundry to fold, exams to study for.

The next day, life continued on with Easter celebrations and family visits. Monday I started to write final exams for school and now, almost two weeks later, Stella’s birthday feels like a distant memory already. That is the way life is now. We carve out moments, specific times and days to remember and celebrate, but as soon as you turn around, life sweeps you back up again. We got some lovely messages and texts from people that day letting us know they were honouring and celebrating Stella, but then it was all over. We blinked and that moment of remembering Stella was over. I mean, we remember and think of her everyday, but the special compartmentalized day to celebrate her lasted only a few hours. The next morning, Aimee and I woke up and nothing much in the world had changed. That’s how it is when your child dies, the world spins around you, and you are just standing alone wondering what the hell happened.

Recently, I’ve become aware of the stories of two other children who died in the past few months. I read the words of their parents on blogs, and met with one set of parents last week. I saw the haunting horror of losing a child in their eyes, and it made my heart hurt. They wanted help, advice, confirmation that the horrific pain will someday cease. The words others told me when the diagnosis and death was fresh, ring hollow. “It will get better”. “Just give it time”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them those lies.  I told them all the things that were hard.  How Stella’s friends keep getting older, and moving further and further away.  How we wept on the first day of kindergarten.  How we feel that we are now “behind” where we are supposed to be in our parenting.  How the sense of injustice and sadness never leaves you.  But I wasn’t sure if it was what they wanted or needed to hear.  How do you tell them? How do you make them understand that it doesn’t really get better, and time is as much an enemy as a friend, but you get used to the pain and if you continue to look for tiny moments of pleasure each and everyday, you will be okay. I can viscerally feel their desperation and pain. I want to help, but the truth is, everyone has to walk their own path of losing a child and it is different for everyone. But I am glad that I am no longer “there”, in that place of darkness and anguish when the grief is so fresh and raw that it hurts to breathe. As unbelievable as it is that I had to celebrate the birthday of my eldest child at a tree and bench, instead of holding her tightly in my arms, I am glad that I am on the other side of those early moments.

Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about her. I wonder what she would look like and sound like at age 5. I ponder if Sam would be a bit “tougher” if Stella were here to boss him around. I try to imagine her and Gracie going to the movies together to see “Frozen”, and how good she would have been at sports. But I never daydream for long, because my life is good now and I don’t want to miss out on the here and now thinking about the could have beens.

The truth is, as much as my heart aches for Stella, I can’t imagine life without our two boys anymore.

Life looks differently then I ever imagined it would be five years ago.  Life for us now is not about kindergarten or playdates at the zoo or dresses or hair ribbons.  Life is naked boys leaping from furniture and food on the floor and trucks in the toy box.
Life is writing exams and talking about paint colours for the cottage. Life is getting a driver’s license and cutting coupons for orange juice. It’s messy and frantic and so very deliberate. Stella and I have both turned a year older, and as the old adage says, you should count your years in smiles, not tears. I’ve had a lot of tears the last few years, but I’ve also had more than my share of smiles and laughter. And the best way I can think of to honour Stella is to keep her love in my smile. So my dear Stella, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. Today no one else is more youer than you” – Dr. Seuss

I think I’ll take the boys to McDonald’s with my gift card tonight. I’m feeling a “Supermom” moment coming on.

The boys at McDonald’s, morning of April 18th, 2014 (Stella’s birthday)

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Easter fun! (Xavier, Sam, Hugo):

IMG_1150Bubbles at the park (Gracie, Auntie Angie, Hugo, Sam):

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Happy Birthday, baby girl:

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Happy Birthday Big Girl (By:Aimee Bruner)

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Happy Birthday Stella!   

I want you back.

The day you were born was the happiest day of my life.  I remember it like it was yesterday – the sky was mostly cloudy that day but the sun managed to burst its way through the clouds and fill the room from every angle, when you arrived to change our lives forever.  I remember cradling your tiny head in my hands – tears dripping from my eyes onto your head full of strawberry hair – seconds before someone yelled – “It’s a girl!”  It was like my life started at 4:03p.m. on that perfect Saturday afternoon.

Today, your mama and I will take our heavy hearts to visit your tree and bench at Riverdale Farm.  Before we load up the car to go, I will put the candle, in the shape of a number 5, that I bought at the local party supply store, in my coat pocket.  We’ll stuff as many balloons that will fit into the back of the van and we’ll stop at Tim Horton’s for a box of chocolate Tim Bits on the way.  We’ll tie balloons to your tree and lean the candle up against its trunk.  We’ll eat Tim Bits and we’ll think of you.  We’ll think about how funny you were from the moment we met you.  We’ll hear your infectious cackle bounce off the inside of the walls of our hearts – that are forever cracked from the pain of missing you.  People walking through the park will glance over and smile (as they usually do) – they don’t realize that we’re celebrating the life of a little girl that never got to be 5….or 4.  They don’t realize that right underneath the surface, there are two mommies drenched in grief.

The truth is, Stella, I want you back.

Every minute of every day – I want you back.  I want to take you to swimming and soccer on Saturday afternoons.  I want to drop you off at birthday parties and pick you up from your first sleepover. I want you to curl up with your cousin, Gracie, and watch Frozen on Sunday mornings.  I want you to bully your brothers and boss your little cousin, Xavier, around.

I want you to be HERE, with me.

I want you to have a backpack and I want to make your lunches for school.  Lately, when I watch your friends play, I find myself imagining what you would look and sound like as a five year old kid.  I imagine your red curls, dangling past your shoulders and your long, stretched out frame, with knobby knees.  I can hear your voice.  It’s raspy.  You are the leader of the pack.  Just like you always were.  I love remembering how much you loved your birthday and birthdays in general, for that matter.  Nothing made you happier than a cake filled with candles heading in your direction.  Even when you could no longer sit up or talk, you always managed to figure out how to arch your back and move your torso and push out a “yyeahhh” as soon as the lights dimmed and the first notes of Happy Birthday began.

Today, your Auntie Juju, Auntie Andgie and cousin Gracie will make you a Stella and Sam cake and Uncle Tristan and Dee Dee will make you cup cakes.   Your beloved grandparents, aunts, and uncles will cram into your little bungalow to celebrate your life.  You see, even though we’re all still shattered from the loss of you – we couldn’t think of anything else we’d rather do than to remember and celebrate the day you were born.  We will always come together to honour and celebrate you.  You mattered.

We’ll sit on your couch and watch your Auntie Heather do funny imitations of you telling her that her “mouth was dirty” one morning.   We’ll laugh out loud remembering all of the times you would say “no – I don’t like you” not only to each one of us, but to perfect strangers too!  We’ll talk about how funny you were from such a young age and how you had inside jokes with people even though you were a toddler.  We’ll remember how you loved to hold your baby brothers and how much you loved them……most of the time.  We’ll remember how much you loved all of us in your own way.  We’ll remember how you used to call watermelon “waterlemon” and how you called Aldwych Park “sandwich park”. We’ll smile as we picture you leaning over the fence at Riverdale Farm, yelling “Pee-yew Stinky Pigs!  Don’t pee on the ground, pee in the potty!”  We’ll remember how much you loved accessories and how you insisted on wearing five pairs of underwear on top of your pants to daycare.  We’ll remember how much you loved your froggy boots and how many hours in a row you could watch, and enjoy, Dora the Explorer.  We’ll remember how you were the youngest human on earth to watch the Golden Girls.  We’ll remember how you knew every word to the theme song.  We’ll remember how you adored your stuffed animals – Sweet Pea, Giraffy and of course – Pink Kitty.  We’ll remember how your favourite colours were green and purple and how deeply you loved cupcakes.

 

We’ll remember everything about you.

 

We’ll put five candles on your cake and we’ll sing Happy Birthday to you as tears stream down our faces.  We’ll eat cupcakes.

And when the party is over and our family has gone home, your mama and I will sit quietly and remember our little girl.  We’ll remember the weight of your body as we held you in our arms, the smell of your curls and the feeling of your soft cheek against ours.  We’ll remember the things that no one else gets to know – just us.

We will remember you.  Always.

Happy Birthday Big Girl!

Love, Mommy.

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Crib Notes

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Final Exams for me are starting this week.  The last few days have been a whirlwind of trying to balance motherhood, school and marriage.

I’ve had no time to write on the blog, no time to breathe or respond to emails or phone messages.  And just when everything is ramping up, when everything is starting to feel overwhelming and stressful, I realized that Stella’s birthday is just a few days from now.  Friday April 18th— Good Friday.   For Christians the day marking the crucifixion of Jesus.  How appropriate and inappropriate all at the same time.

This is one of those times when I realize that being a grieving parent means sometimes having to ignore the ache in your heart to focus on the immediate tasks at hand.  I wish I could just walk up to all my teachers at school and hold up my hand and say, “STOP!  I need to walk away from school until I can get through my daughter’s birthday.  I don’t care about the exams, projects and presentations.  I need to grieve”.  But life doesn’t work that way.  I have been swept up in the stress of real like expectations and requirements and so I cannot allow myself time to sit and cry over my beautiful curly-haired daughter today.  I have to study, study, study.  3 exams in the next three days, then her birthday off to celebrate and mourn and then study, study, study, 4 exams next week.  Running, running, running.  Reading cue cards as I clean up the dinner dishes.  Reviewing notes over breakfast.  Watching pathology videos on my phone as I absentmindedly try to read stories to Sam and Hugo.   Frantically reading powerpoint slides on the bus to school, demanding that my brain soak up information even though every cell is telling me it’s tired, worn out and wants to do something else now.  Trying to keep up with classmates who often yawn at the end of classes and tell me they are going to go home and have a nap before they begin studying, or complain about how they have catch up to do because they went to the bar Thursday night. I sometimes want to punch those students.

I’ve got to hit the books, just wanted to say I haven’t forgotten about the blog…it’s just I’ve got no time.  I fall into bed at night and then jump up in the morning and it’s go-go-go all the in between times.  Aimee is writing a blog post for Stella’s birthday on Friday, so there will be something coming then (o:   .

Stella’s birthday.  A day to celebrate.  A day to mourn and rage.

Ice cream for breakfast.  Timbits for lunch.  Macaroni and cheese for dinner.  Golden Girls and Dora The Explorer all day long.

Missing my daughter.  Reading The Principles and Practices of Embalming.  Wiping Sam’s nose and changing Hugo’s diaper.  Listening to Aimee’s work news.  Laundry to put away, dishes to do, groceries.  Buy balloons for Stella’s birthday.    All of life colliding into one big mess of priorities and I am emerging frazzled and teary, but determined.

One more important thing… Baby Stephanie is sick.  Very sick.  Please send your wishes, prayers and thoughts to her and her family.  I remember being where they are now.  Nothing to distract you from the agony of helplessness and despair.  Nothing to stop you from free-falling into the blackest darkness on Earth.  A kind word is like a small candle burning through the clouds, making the journey a little less lonely.  You can connect with Stephanie’s family through : babystephanie2014@gmail.com

 

 

Studying now.  Crying later.  Celebrating (hopefully) after.

 

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.- -Ecclesiastes 3:1

Xavier and Hugo at park:

 

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Sam at park…wearing his pink Dora crocs…inspired by Stella!
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Breakfast at McDonald’s:

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Breakfast at home:

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A new photo!  My friend Omo found this in her collection and sent it to me.  I LOVE seeing new photos of my girl!!!

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