Walking the Walk
I was giving Sam and Hugo a bath the other night, when I glanced at the side of the tub and noticed a green crayon mark. I smiled to myself as I remembered the day that Stella had (unbeknownst to me), thrown a green crayon into the bathtub while I was running it, so that when she got in, she was able to get a big green swipe on the pristine white porcelain before I grabbed it from her hand with a startled, “Stella, No!” I remember she giggled and splashed at me as I tried furiously to rub it off the tub. I thought I’d gotten it all, but evidently there was a second small scribble that I had missed because there is was, looking like a crooked smile on the inside of the tub.
As I sat there watching the boys splash around, I wondered if my reaction would be the same now if Sam or Hugo suddenly produced a crayon from the bubbles and began to colour. When Stella did it, I was upset. I was frustrated and gritting my teeth at the fact that the tub was “ruined”. One of the things I often talk about to people and in my blog is Stella’s lesson about living each day to the fullest, and not sweating the small stuff. I began to wonder if, 20 months post-diagnosis, 3 ½ months post-death, I’m truly walking the walk of living better, loving better and parenting better.
The thing about change is that it’s hard and long-term change takes a huge effort. It’s easy to change for a short time, but sooner or later most people revert back to their most comfortable selves or place. So I began to think about whether or not there have been any truly lasting changes that I’ve been able to make. It’s so easy to say, “I’m living a better life”, but is there concrete proof of it? Here is what I came up with:
I know I walk the walk of “People are more important than things”. I’ve really stopped focusing almost completely on objects. I don’t care if the clothes I’m wearing are “cool” as long as they’re comfortable and seasonally appropriate. I am now a huge proponent of buying clothing at Value Village (thanks Heather!). I can’t bring myself to pay full price for something in a department store when I know I can get good quality clothes for a fraction of the price. They’re gently used, but I’ve never had anyone look at me or my kids and say, “hey…did you buy that used?” I would rather spend time with my friends and family than clean the house. If I was offered a high paying job that meant I had to work 60 hours a week, I wouldn’t take it. I even (gasp!) let the boys play with my iPhone. They both love watching videos of Stella on there, and because she’s my screensaver Sam takes the phone every morning and kisses her picture, jabbing his finger at the screen and saying, “Della. Della. Della”. Last week the screen of my iPhone shattered. I didn’t care. It still works and I wouldn’t give up the memories of Sam looking at his sister and kissing the screen each morning for anything. So now the phone is encased, broken screen and all, in a protective carrier and the kids still get to play with it.
I know I walk the walk of “Now is what matters”. I spend less time dreaming about the future, and more time being grounded in the present. I used to always be trying to multitask; answering messages while cooking dinner, texting while bathing the kids, doing homework while eating dinner with Aimee. Now I try really hard to make time for everything, without having to do multiple things at once. Instead of getting frustrated and shoving toys at Sam so I can try to empty the dishwasher, I involve him in the process. I talk to him and engage him and let him “help”, even though his helping means having to rewash all the spoons he bangs on the floor or sucks on. It makes a chore fun. It makes my time with him more rewarding. It allows me to focus on him and empty the dishwasher as a secondary thing instead of the other way around. I have gotten bad at responding to emails and voicemails. Sometimes I’m weeks behind, but it’s okay because I’d rather be playing with the kids, helping Tristan with his homework, watching a video with Gracie or visiting with friends and family than sitting in front of the computer by myself. I feel like I’m enjoying life more by simply focusing on one thing at a time instead of multitasking. Multitasking is no longer a goal of mine, it’s something to be avoided when possible.
I know I’m walking the walk of “Fearlessness”. There are so many things I used to be scared of that I just shrug off now. Simple things used to throw me off, like having to ask for help carrying my stroller over a snowbank. I would walk two blocks out of the way to avoid asking for help. Two days ago I flagged down a stranger from the opposite side of the street to help me lift Sam and Hugo’s stroller over a puddle. I shouted at him over two lanes of traffic and pretty much shamed him into helping me. It’s a small thing, but a big change for me. There are still lots of times that I feel as though I don’t fit in, or I don’t want to do things because they make me sad but I’m not afraid of them. I can go to a wedding by myself now. I can introduce myself to strangers. I can speak publically. I can disagree with people. I’ve been looking into some career choices that are a bit unorthodox because Stella would have told me I could do anything I wanted. Stella was brave and daring and I learned by watching her.
I’m not quite at my goal of “Making a real difference” yet. This is not something that I’ve gotten to where I want to be on. We have been overwhelmed with generosity, friendship and love over the last 20 months. I have attempted to respond to emails, give verbal thanks, to show appreciation and be. But I think the best way for me to show how much these have meant to me is to give back, and I haven’t gotten there yet. Those that I’m closest to all seem to be giving back in some way. Aimee has gone back to work at Camp Oochigeas (camp for kids with cancer), where their entire reason for existence is ensuring children get the most out of camp experience, despite their illness. Auntie Angie works at the YWCA (see a very cool video she did in one of her programs here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDCBPKPG-YU ) where they are dedicated to girls programs meant to empower and educate young women, especially those who are marginalized or at risk. My sister Heather is a Special Education teacher as well as a respite worker and has spent her life dedicated to teaching those children who have often fallen through the cracks of the education system, giving them a chance to succeed. Auntie Juju works at the 519 community centre where she runs programs for the homeless and underhoused and advocates for the LGBTQ community. All these people also volunteer in their spare time. Me? I have yet to discover a career that speaks to me. I have yet to reach out and help others in a concrete way. I have yet to fulfill the promise I made to myself to make the world better, the way that Stella did. I still give excuses when people ask me about volunteering that I’m too busy, have two babies at home, etc. I am not selfless. If this were a report card, I would get a “Needs Improvement”.
Many of the ways in which I’ve changed are small. Small changes that have made a big difference. But here is something else I’ve learned about change. Not only is it difficult to put into practice, but it can result in losing some relationships, because when you change your values may no longer be in line with the people you were once closest to. Personally, I can’t stand being in an environment where things I perceive as petty are being discussed at length. It’s not anyone’s fault, but I just can’t be around it. As a result, there are certain people or situations that I am no longer interested in being part of. And it’s hard. Hard for those I may have hurt by my decision to not spend time with them, and hard for me to accept that I can’t be the person I once was. But you know what? I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it to be true to yourself, even when it means having to accept that the person you once were wasn’t good enough. To change the world, first I will need to continue working on changing myself.
Many people have commented since the blog started about different things they have done because of Stella. I LOVE hearing that someone has taken their kids on a vacation, even though they won’t remember it, because it’s more important to see them having fun in the moment than wait until they’re old enough to appreciate it. I LOVE knowing that someone took the time to volunteer at a hospice organization because they were inspired by Stella. I LOVE seeing Stella’s friends find ways to incorporate her into their lives even though she died. I LOVE meeting new people and telling them about Stella, or hearing from them about how Stella made a difference to them.
As I drained Sam and Hugo’s bath that night, Sam put his fingers up in the air and wiggled them. I smiled. This is his sign for wanting to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” little star. He and Hugo splashed in the rapidly draining water both laughing as I belted out the song with my “spirit fingers” wildly waving, my heart and head nowhere but in the bathroom with my sons. Out of tune, but not out of step.
Grief doesn’t just change you, it reveals you.
Sam at the library:
Hugo eating his cracker:
The boys enjoy a big dump of snow: