April Showers Bring May Flowers
“April showers bring May flowers”, so the saying goes. As we head into April, Aimee and I can’t stop thinking about Stella. More than any other time of year, this is when we feel Stella’s absence most. This is the “season of Stella”. Her birthday, the beginning of warmer weather when we would have trips to the park, farmer’s market, cottages. We attended a baby shower last weekend for our best friend, who is expecting her first child (a little girl), around Stella’s birthday. It was so easy to be with her and remember when it was Aimee and I hosting a shower with our friends, eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child. And as happy and excited I am to welcome this new little girl into our family, there were tears behind my eyes the whole time as I remembered the little girl who wasn’t there. A Stella Star hanging from the corner of the room was her symbol, so in a way she was there. But not in the way I had always hoped and dreamed. It was yet another reminder of how Stella was missing out on a special and important thing in our lives— the birth of a little girl who would have been one of her best friends in the whole world.
Sometimes I feel like I’m living somebody else’s life. I don’t recognize so much of my reality any longer. I had planned to have Stella and Sam, but now I have Sam and Hugo. And instead of Sam being the younger brother, he’s now the older brother. I am sometimes caught with a case of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”. In so many ways I feel a strange sense of déjà vu with what we are doing with the kids. Sam just started swimming lessons on Sunday, at the very same pool Stella went swimming in for her first lessons. As he laughed when the water splashed around him, I felt a pang. Other parents in the change room assumed that Sam is my first, my eldest child. I would assume the same thing in their situation. So we all make small talk about what the kids think about the water, how to get yourself changed while managing your toddler, what kinds of things the kids will learn at such a young age, etc. But I’ve already done all this once before. I took Stella to this very same pool, changed her in the very same change room, sang the very same lame “Fish Hokey Pokey” in the water with the instructor. It doesn’t make it any less special to be doing it with Sam, and someday Hugo, but it feels strange. Stella was diagnosed when she was 26 months old, so we never really got past the toddler phase with her. As a result, Aimee and I have been raising toddlers/babies for the last 4 years straight. Diapers and learning to walk and talk and all the other “firsts” that come with babies we are living over again. It’s lovely and heart wrenching all at the same time because we want to know, we demand to know, “where is Stella?” No matter how many times I ask this question to the universe, only silence answers me.
But, as unbelievable as it seems, we really are learning to live without her. What choice do we have? I find that her name runs through my head constantly. As I walk, each step I take is to the rhythm of her name, right-left, right-left, Stel-la, Stel-la. Aimee and I start countless sentences with, “Remember when Stella…” and then follow it up with a funny memory. “Remember when Stella coloured on the fridge”…”Remember when Stella refused to take her bike helmet off and tried to wear it to bed”…”Remember when Stella wanted to send baby Sam away to Catrina the dog walker”…”Remember when Stella dumped the full cereal bowl, milk and all, on her head and declared, ‘hat’ ”… We are constantly thinking of ways to include her or remember her in our daily lives. Lighting a candle with a hand-scribbled “Stella” note on it from Nanny Sandy. Calling all the little red-headed girls in Sam and Hugo’s picture books “Stella”. Bringing her photo to Gracie’s sleepover birthday party because Gracie wanted Stella to be there. Wearing Stella Stars whenever we go out to parties or places so people ask about them and we can talk about Stella (by the way—Stella Stars are available. Our webmaster hasn’t had a chance to put them up on the Stella Stars website, but if you can’t wait just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll hook you up!). I find it unbearably sad to watch videos of her or look at too many pictures right now because my brain just can’t compute how this child is no more when I see her so clearly alive and energetic dancing and talking on my computer screen. How can it be? How did this happen? It sometimes feels like a bad dream, but when I pinch myself I don’t get to wake up, it just hurts more.
As the weather is getting warmer and Stella’s birthday approaches, Aimee and I find ourselves getting sadder and sadder. I am trapped in reliving the days leading up to her birthday. It was only four years ago that at this time I was hugely pregnant with her. I remember I wrote a statistics exam on April 15th (which was my official due date), and spent the week leading up to that date studying and hanging out with my dad. He took me for fish and chips at our favourite place, I folded and refolded all the tiny baby clothes in the drawers a dozen times, and Aimee and I spoke constantly of how unbelievable it would be when our long-awaited first child arrived. We even practiced pushing our new stroller around the house and diapered and swaddled Aimee’s childhood bear to practice. I remember staring at the empty bedroom we had created for our baby and trying to picture what it would be like once it was full of new life and promise. Now that room holds the life and promise of Stella’s little brother, her watchful eyes looking down from an encaustic painting. Now we have Hugo, a child we never planned on or dreamed of but who has been helping to heal our battered hearts with his crazy hair, blue eyes and temperament that is so much like his big sisters, I sometimes slip and call him “Stella” by accident when I get overwhelmed with his constant need to move, climb, bounce.
I don’t recognize my life. I don’t recognize myself. It’s not all bad as I do feel more connected, more aware, less scared and more confident in many ways. But this April the showers pouring down from the sky feels closer to the tears pouring out of my soul than the promise of happier days ahead.
I realized this morning that my heart is broken and there is nothing that anyone can do in this entire world to change that. No amount of money or power or prayer can stop the sadness that lives deep within me. I long ago surrendered to the natural ebbs and flows of this river of grief, but it still surprises me how much has happened in the mere 6 months Stella has been gone from this Earth. Six months of living while she lay dead. It’s crazy to think about.
Today the spring weather was a bit crazy. It was cool and clear this morning. Then this afternoon it got really warm and sunny. Then this evening the clouds rolled in and it poured rain. The weather is kind of like my emotions leading into this month. Good and bad, warm and cold, bright and dark all whipped together in a frenzy of action that I have little control over. April showers bring May flowers. What else will it bring? Some peace, I hope.
The boys celebrate Easter with DeeDee, Uncle Tristan and an egg hunt:
Sam, Hugo and Xavier in the sandbox:
Sam and GrandPa have some quiet time:
Poppa enjoys the spring weather…Hugo enjoys a nap!:
Stella, a year ago: