There are good and bad things about staying in the same city, with the same group of friends, in the same physical environment when your child has died. The good things are you know who your true friends are— the ones who stuck by you, who came out of the woodwork, who called and emailed even when you didn’t respond. You don’t have to explain to these people why you disappear when everyone sings “Happy Birthday” to one of the kids at a party, why you tear up when you see backpacks in store windows, why your heart aches when you see pictures of your child’s peers on facebook with the tagline “BFFs”. They get it and they love you even though you’re totally messed up. The street and the house you live in echo with memories of when your child ran here. The playgrounds and libraries house recollections of a time long gone where you lived in blissful ignorance. The local play centre has a little corner dedicated to her memory. These things are comforting at times, painful at others, but there is something soothing and reassuring about familiarity. About knowing where you are and how you got there.
Lately though I’ve been finding that, once in awhile, I just want to disappear. Go somewhere that I’m anonymous, where I shed the stigma of being the parent of a dead child. Whenever I run into someone on the street and they’re with someone I don’t know, I am aware that once I keep walking there will be a whispered conversation about “She’s the one whose daughter died…” I don’t really mind, after all, I’d do exactly the same thing, but it makes me self-conscious. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from all that. To go to a place where you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder to see who you know, prepping yourself for a stilted conversation, or worse, running into someone from your baby group who gushes about kindergarten starting in the Fall.
Enter BlueBird. BlueBird is the name of a cottage that we have been staying at this summer. It’s a two hour drive from Toronto, so easy to go back and forth. It’s located in a small town that has a grocery store, library, post office, ice cream booth and playground. It’s on the water, surrounded by pine trees and when I’m there, I feel free.
I think sometimes we underestimate the affect that the city can have on our bodies, and minds. It is a constant hammering of sensory information. Noise and signs and lights and voices. Go two hours North of Toronto and you can actually see the stars, hear the birds and taste the freshness of the local strawberries. I can physically feel my shoulders releasing as we turn down the dirt road to where BlueBird waits, I feel my forehead smoothing and my lungs expanding. Half the time I don’t even realize my head was hurting until I see the little brown cottage come into view, and all of a sudden the tightness and pain around my heart and temples eases up a bit.
I’ve been spending more and more time there this summer. BlueBird is part of a group of 10 cottages on a private property. It’s secluded and though it can be quiet, it is also teeming with life. All the cottagers have children, so splashing water and laughter and shouts of joy are a welcome part of the environment. BlueBird is just a small, clapboard type building with tiny rooms and mismatched furniture. But it is cozy and beautiful and I love it.
When I’m up there with Hugo and Sam, I feel like I’m a better parent. Without the distractions of television, cell phones, computers and scheduled classes, I am able to just focus on them. We go swimming on the beach, visit the local library for Toddler Storytime, walk into the dollar store for bubbles and cheap toys, try to spot turtles and bunnies, feed the ducks and roast marshmallows on the fire. I laugh at their antics, watch in fascination as they figure out how to dig holes with shovels and fill them with water. “Mud Puddle!” Sam exclaims excitedly to me. When I’m at BlueBird, or in town, I’m just another parent with two young children. Other mothers at the library make conversation with me, completely oblivious to Stella’s existence. Though I do want to talk about her, once in awhile it’s nice to be able to let my guard down and join an inane conversation about potty training, without letting on that I’ve done it once before. There are a few cottagers who know about Stella, but because none of them knew Stella personally, interactions about her are not as intense or emotional as they can get in the city.
It’s a balance. There are times I want nothing more than to shout Stella’s name and talk about her incessantly, seek out those who loved her and talk about her. There are other times I want to retreat and hide and pretend that I’m not a grieving mother. Time when I don’t want to go to the same playgrounds that Stella skipped through, or attend the same parties with her friends who continue to get bigger and older while my daughter will stay forever 3. And so I have spent the summer going back and forth—straddling my old life and a new beginning. BlueBird is a place where I don’t have strong memories of Stella. Funnily enough, I did bring her there once when she was 4 months old, but she was so little and we were in a different cottage, so I don’t have deep feelings about it, or any memories of her using any of the facilities other than the beach. I realized recently that BlueBird is the first place where Aimee and Sam and Hugo and I have started to make new family traditions, doing things I never did with Stella. I see it as an important step forward for our future. We are building new memories, finding our way in a place where we don’t start every sentence with, “Remember when Stella threw her doll from the top of this slide”?
I find it easier to mourn Stella in a healthy way up at BlueBird. In a physical location where I’m not pinned in by people and expectations. Where I can sit and look at the water as I sip a hot tea, allowing myself to think about her in a natural and organic way. It is good for my soul to be up there, and I always feel refreshed when I step out of the car. Something about the wind and the water and the quiet is a balm for my bruised soul.
I recently found out that traditionally, the Navajo believe the BlueBird is a spirit in animal form that has to do with the rising sun. They sing a song to remind tribe members to wake at dawn and rise to greet the sun:
Bluebird said to me,
“Get up, my grandchild.
It is dawn,”.
I believe we were meant to find peace at BlueBird. It is so fitting that the BlueBird is a reminder to get up and greet the new day, because that is what Aimee and I and our friends and family do every morning. We greet each day with the knowledge that it is another day without Stella, but with faith that we will find our peace and be buoyed by the love we carry for her in our hearts.
“The bluebird carries the sky on its back”
– Henry Thoreau