Heartache

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HEARTACHE

They call it heartache because your heart really does hurt.  I’ve found it so interesting that grief and mourning is such a physical process.  Of course your mind is constantly churning out messages to you, but it’s my body that often gives up at the end of the day.  My brain throbs from working so hard to not think about Stella every second as I go through the motions of life.  My heart aches from missing her so much.  My throat hurts from swallowing tears and pain hour after hour.  My shoulders and neck burn from carrying all the stress around.  My arms and legs seize from the sheer effort of forcing them to keep mechanically moving when I just want to curl into a ball and disappear.

I hurt all the time.  Sometimes it’s intense and overwhelming pain, but most often it’s just a dull ache that niggles at me, always constant, always there to remind me that my daughter died and nothing will ever be the same.

Did you know May is National Brain Tumor Awareness Month?  I didn’t know either.  It’s not a pretty or popular cause, and likely the only people who really know about it or participate are those who have been touched by it.  I certainly never knew that “grey ribbons” existed, or meant anything.  But now I do.  I’m part of a small minority of people who know about brain tumors, and an even smaller group who know about watching their child die.

Thankfully for most people, their children won’t die before them.  It’s one of those “worst nightmare” things that we all hear about happening to “other people”.  You listen to a story about someone whose child died and shake your head, saying, “Ugh.  That’s awful”.  But you don’t really feel any emotion when you say it because it’s so far removed from you.  Then you get to go on with your life.  That’s how it should be. That’s how it used to be for me.  Now when I hear about a child dying, my whole body shrinks with the agony of knowing another family is having to deal with the overwhelming reality of losing their most precious treasure.

So, in honour of brain tumor awareness month, let me tell you a little bit about what it means to lose your child, in my experience.

Losing your child upsets the natural order of the universe.  It’s investing all the time, energy and effort into pregnancy, birth, parenting books, tantrums, the alphabet, kisses, good night cuddles, bath time, laughter and then being left with an empty bedroom where your child once slept, neatly folded clothing that your child once wore and dust covered toys that your child once brought to life.

Losing your child is spending hours looking at the finite amount of photos and videos you have of them, trying to remember each angle of their face and the sound of their laughter.  It’s closing your eyes and forcing yourself to remember how it was before because thinking about how it is now hurt too much.

Losing your child means learning to laugh even when it sounds hollow, learning to keep moving when your whole body wants to shut down, learning to push through the pain and hurt and exhaustion because everyone keeps telling you that time will heal, even though time just passes.

Losing your child means never knowing when you will be overcome with raw grief that shudders through your veins and emerges in an explosion of silent screams and hot tears.

Losing your child is cradling a cold, lifeless body in your arms and trying to reconcile your brain’s memory of an energetic, laughing, smiling human being with this shrunken bruised waif that stares at you with unseeing eyes and slack  jaw.

Losing your child is handing over their body to a stranger to take to the morgue, then getting back a tiny, cold box that holds grey, dull ashes.  All that’s left of your beautiful baby.

Losing your child is packing away their things into boxes that you don’t know what to do with, clutching the stained clothing to your chest hoping it will soothe the stabbing pain in your heart, desperate to catch a small hint of the smell of their skin buried somewhere in the folds of the fabric.

Losing your child is showing great restraint when people tell you to be grateful for the children you have left, or say “you can always have another one”, as if your child is replaceable.

Losing your child is forever grappling with feelings of guilt and regret.  No matter what anyone tells you, your mind won’t let you think that there wasn’t something you did wrong that caused your child to die.  Diet while pregnant? Using a non microwaveable dish? A flame-retardant mattress in the crib?  There is no end to the crazy, inane and far-fetched reasons you will come up with to torture yourself.

Losing your child is being forced to watch people whom you love very much live out the dreams you had for your own child, and fighting a fresh wave of grief each time their child reaches a milestone that your child won’t.

Losing your child is being shut out of the play groups you planned on attending, because you don’t have a child that age any longer.  It’s skipping social events and birthday parties because you don’t want to put a damper on the party by bursting into tears at an inopportune time.

Losing your child means losing the friends and family members who aren’t able or willing to give you what you need.  It means accepting that you are changed and having to let go of a lot of people that you care for very much because you can’t bear to be around them and their lack of understanding.

Losing your child means separating the years you have lived into two different worlds, the “before” and “after”.  They don’t always match up, they don’t always reconcile themselves, and it can be difficult to remember what it was like to be blessedly ignorant about the cruelty of a world that betrayed you so badly.

Losing your child is forever losing a part of yourself.

Sometimes late at night when I can finally hear myself think, I remember all my favourite “Stella Stories”.  It frustrates me that I only have a few dozen to sift through and remember.  Today I will share one of my precious memories with you.

When Stella was two I picked her up from daycare.  As happened on many days, the daycare teacher walked over to me to talk about Stella’s day (by this time I knew enough that if they make the effort to do more than wave goodbye and smile, it’s not usually good news).  “Stella had a difficult day,” I was told.  “She was doing a lot of hitting.  I think she needs to be spoken to about it”.  I looked at Stella who was happily sitting on the stool by her cubby, swinging her legs and smiling up at me.  “Stella,” I said sternly, “it’s not nice to hit your friends”.

“But Mama,” she explained, stretching her arms out as far as she could, “I hit all, all, ALL my friends!!!”  With a big smile she hopped off the bench for a hug.  I remember trying to stifle a laugh as I buried my face in her curls.

If there was one thing Stella was, it was fair.  But what happened to her wasn’t.

Picnic at Stella’s beloved farm with Sam, Kari, Hugo, Xavier and Arin (behind Stella’s bench):

Sam has been introduced (by Poppa, of course) to Stella’s favourite…the ice cream truck!

Xavier, Sam and Hugo play in the backyard:


Stella visited the farm in March, 2012:


 

 

 

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A Christmas Smackdown

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Christmas Smackdown

 

I’ve never actually been physically beaten up before— unless you count the fights I had with my sister when I was a kid and we would yank each other’s hair and chase each other around the house, more to cause fear than actual pain.  Although I did throw a fork at her head once.  But I’ve seen boxing matches, and it always amazes me that these men and women get punched repeatedly in the guts and faces and keep getting back up, only to be punched again.

 

Since returning from Hawaii, that’s exactly how I feel— like I keep getting knocked down by grief, then I get back up again only to get sucker pummeled again.  I feel bloodied and bruised and exhausted.  The Christmas season is kicking my ass.

 

Catherine Porter’s newspaper articles and e-book came out while we were away.   I actually haven’t read the articles yet.  I wanted to.  I meant to.  I always intended to, but when I started to read the first few paragraphs of Part 1, I felt sick to my stomach.  Catherine is such a good writer, it was too hard for me to read.  The details she pinpointed so exactly and vividly were too raw for me to relive.  I’d already seen DIPG cancer strip away my daughter’s life once, and I couldn’t bear to do it again.  Since Aimee and I were on the other side of the world, it all felt very distant when the writings were published.  Auntie Angie sent photos of the newspapers to our phones while we were away, but it still wasn’t very concrete.  When we got home and walked into our living room there was a huge stack of Toronto Star’s that our family had collected for us while we were away, and there she was…  my beautiful little girl staring out at me, her strawberry blonde curls framed by rows and rows of black and white text.  Fingernails painted and looking so damn alive in the picture and in the words I skimmed.  But she’s gone.  She is a pile of ashes housed in a tiny stone box, currently sitting in storage. Newspaper’s report yesterday’s news

and Stella lives on only in yesterday’s.  There are no tomorrow’s left for her.

 

That was the first blow I felt, but they just keep coming.

 

Friday I turned on the TV only to see horror unfolding— the shootings in Connecticut.  The situation of the people who lost loved ones in that unfathomable massacre is very different from what happened to us, but I felt their pain intensely.  Whereas before I might have watched the TV coverage with interest, but distance, this time I felt myself recoiling in despair as I watched it all unfold on CNN.  This time I could picture bright Christmas presents already wrapped and labeled with names piled under trees dripping with tinsel.  I could smell the clothing that was left on bedroom floors that morning in the rush to get to school/work on time.  This time I could hear the sound of hearts breaking.  I could taste the metallic-y blood that seeps into your mouth when you bite your cheeks as hard as you can to keep from screaming when you realize all you have lost.  I wanted to turn off the TV, to turn off the thoughts in my brain, but I didn’t.  I didn’t do it because I wanted to feel the pain and sadness for the people in Connecticut, sharing the burden the way that so many people have shared it with us for the last year and a half.

 

 

Saturday Aimee and I decided that we wanted to get a Christmas Tree for the boys.  We won’t do anything else.  No stockings, no lights, no shopping.  Last year was the first time we purchased a real tree.  We set it up in the living room at the end of Stella’s couch, and she absolutely loved it.  She smiled and laughed and flapped at it.  We wanted to get a tree again this year, to honour her and remember.  Aimee took Gracie to the store and they came home, proudly carting a 7-foot pine tree with them.  Gracie and Sam bounced off each other with excitement, yanking decorations out of the boxes and chasing each other around with them.  It was a bright, happy scene full of energy and colour, but I felt as though there was a weight on my heart the whole time.  Out of the box came “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament with a photo of Stella in a red cable-knit sweater, smiling brightly.  Stella’s 7-month footprint on a glazed pottery ornament with “Stella 2009” written in black marker.  Her daycare photo from 2011, framed in sparkly wood, smiling out at us from between the branches.  It’s as though the tree this year is decorated with tears instead of ornaments.

 

Sunday at Church, I was already feeling weepy before anything started.  There is something so safe and comforting about Church that allows me to put my guard down immediately.  The first hymn we sang was about Stars, and I wept through it.  Then it was the Nativity pageant at Church.  At one point, a whole pile of little kids dressed as sheep ran onto the stage with goofy smiles and crooked ears.  They were adorable and they shattered my already tender heart.  I imagined that Stella may have been up there this year too.  She would have been almost 4, just the right age to play an adorable little sheep.  But her smile will never bleet out at me from the stage.

 

And that’s what it’s been like…Children dying, Wham.  Christmas ornaments, Wham.  Sheep, Wham.  One blow after the other.  Picking myself up and getting knocked back down again.

 

I haven’t done any Christmas shopping, except for a few odd items for Xavier and Gracie.  It surprises me how meaningless it all feels this year.  The boys are too young to care about the Holiday’s, and Stella is gone.  Whereas last year there was a sense of “just getting through” with everyone, now I feel as if there is an expectation for everything to go back to normal.  Same old Christmas full of gifts and cookies and small talk.  And I loathe it.  It feels icky this year.  Forced and fake.

 

We’ve been working on finding ways to incorporate Stella into our Christmas.  We’ve put some beautiful metal stars on our Christmas tree, a gift from Flora’s parents, that catch the light and shine.  Poppa spent hundreds of dollars purchasing huge light-up stars for family and friends to hang in their windows, “Stella Stars” he calls them. We took Sam, Xavier and Hugo for a photo with Santa and put all three boys in the t-shirts we made for Stella’s funeral (her photo is one them), so she is “in” the photos as well.  Each year I get a personalized Christmas ornament for the tree.  In 2008 it said “Aimee and Mishi” in 2009 and 2010 it said “Aimee, Mishi, Stella”.  In 2011 it said, “Aimee, Mishi, Stella, Sam”.  This year I couldn’t bring myself to not include her on the ornament, so it says, “Aimee, Mishi, Stella, Sam, Hugo” and Stella’s name is bookended in wings.  I went to a “Blue Christmas” service at Church tonight.  It was quiet and lovely and contemplative.  But no matter what we do, it doesn’t fill the hole.  Stella isn’t here and I miss her more and more each day.

 

I’ve been trying to strip away the layers of Holiday cheer this year.  Strip away the wrapping paper, the money spent in malls, the overabundance of food, the cards and chit chat.  Strip away the expectations, the stress, the running around, the self-imposed obligations and the multiple commitments.   Strip away Santa Claus, Jesus Christ, candles, prayers, carols.  What is left?  Family.  Love.

 

I will get through Christmas this year.  Like going through a storm, you don’t really have a choice but to wait for it to pass.  I will continue to get up even when I know it will hurt.  And my gifts this year will be as follows:

 

To my friend who hurt me deeply, forgiveness.

To the people who don’t quite get it, tolerance.

To my sons, smiles and energy.

To my family, love.

To my daughter, a bit more fearlessness

To myself, patience.

 

Gracie and Sam decorate the tree:

Christmas Tree, 2012:


Stella at Christmas last year (2011):


 

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Time Heals

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Time Will Heal

 

“Time will heal”

Time doesn’t heal.  Time takes Stella both further and farther away from me.  Maybe time numbs, but it doesn’t heal.  Nothing will ever heal me and time is not the answer.

 

“At least you have your sons”

My sons are not Stella.  It doesn’t matter if I had 100 children, none of them would be Stella.  I love them but they don’t make up for losing my daughter.  They are not comparable.

 

“She’s in a better place now”

A better place?  What place could possibly be better than here, in my arms, surrounded by all the people who love her most in the world.

 

“You need a vacation”

You don’t understand.  There is no “vacation”.  There is never a break from the intense pain that comes with every breath.  It doesn’t matter if I’m lying in bed, or lying on a beach, I can’t get away from the grief.

 

“Why don’t you go for a nice, long walk?”

Because when I go for walks, I see three year old girls everywhere.  They skip down the street, curls bouncing merrily on their shoulders as they chatter incessantly to their mothers.

 

“Have you tried a change of scenery?”

It doesn’t matter where I go.  There are avocados at every grocery store.  There is a Tim Horton’s on every corner.  The stores have racks of brightly-coloured dresses and shelves full of Dora The Explorer running shoes.  There are cupcakes and ice cream and poppies and butterflies and stars dotting every corner of this earth.

 

 “She lived a full life.  At least you had her for three years”

Is three years enough?  Is thirty?  Is three hundred?  It doesn’t matter how long we had her for, how happy her life was, there is no good time for your child to die.  There is no way you can tell me that in three years Stella accomplished everything she could have.  Her life should have been so much fuller, so much longer.

 

“You’re so lucky to have such a close-knit and supportive group of family and friends”

I love my family and friends.  I would not be here without them.  I’m blessed.  But don’t tell me I’m lucky.  There is nothing lucky about what I’ve just had to live through and witness.

 

“It was meant to be.  Just look at all you’ve learned and how much you’ve grown through all this.  She did what she was supposed to do”

Losing a child is completely unnatural.  It will never be “meant to be”.  None of the lessons learned are worth the pain that comes with them.  She didn’t do what she was “supposed” to do.  She was supposed to live a long and healthy life.  She was not supposed to die. 

 

“I’m sorry for your loss”

I didn’t lose Stella.  She was taken from me.  She was ripped from my arms by a cruel, aggressive and rare form of cancer.  I didn’t misplace her, she died.

 

“I know how you feel”

No you don’t.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost a parent, dog or even a child.  No one knows how I feel.  My feelings are my own.  My thoughts are my own.  My journey is my own. 

 

I am aching.

 

I am sad.

 

I am lonely, though I’m not alone.

 

I have not moved on.  I will never “move on”

 

I can’t forget.  Don’t make me pretend I have.

 

Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away.

 

I am lost.

 

Time does not heal

Time does not heal

Time does not heal

 

Healing is curative.

Grief is not something I can be cured of.

 

Healing means to make something better.

Nothing can make this better.

 

Healing has to do with wholeness. 

Without Stella, I will never be truly whole again.

 

Time does not heal

Time elapses

Time does not heal

Time numbs

Time does not heal

Time hurts

 

“She is still with you.  She is always with you”

Then why can’t I find her?????  I’ve looked in every room.  I’ve called her name until my throat got hoarse.  I’ve closed my eyes and tried to feel the soft weight of her in my arms.  I’ve even searched my dreams late at night.  But she’s gone.

And time has not brought her back.  Time has not healed. 

 

Just tell me you’re sorry.

Just hug me.

Just be there.

Just say her name, shout it, celebrate it.

 

Just give me time.

But don’t expect it to heal me.

 

Visiting Stella’s Memorial Tree at Riverdale Farm with the boys, and our friend Tobin:

Gracie spends time with Hugo at her weekly sleepover:


Aimee and our boys:


I just found this photo on my IPad.  It was taken a year ago, when I was figuring out how to work the camera.  I’ve never seen it before.  I don’t remember much about taking it…which is why I like it.  It’s a new moment with Stella:

 


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I Miss Stella

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I Miss Stella

 

I miss Stella.

 

It seems like such an understatement when I type it like that, yet I don’t really have another way to express the way it feels to be beginning this next part of life.  The part where Stella is gone forever.

 

After 16 months of Aimee and I focusing almost all our energies on Stella, suddenly we find ourselves with not that much to do.  Both Auntie Angie and Auntie Heather went back to work on Monday.  It was strange for them, strange for us.  GrandPa and Nanny went on a week-long trip.  DeeDee and Tutu are both working full-time again.  Gracie is back at school, Juju is back to her regular schedule of the gym in the morning and work all day.  Poppa still comes over in the mornings, but without chocolate Timbits.  He is back to playing in bands almost every night (he is a trumpet player).

 

It’s as though we are all supposed to pretend like nothing changed, but everything has changed. There is a certain amount of a feeling of, “okay…that part’s done, let’s move on”.  But most of us are not ready yet.  We are still lagging behind saying, ‘wait…the world is different now…we don’t know how to act anymore…we’re not ready to live without her…’  But the world keeps steadily marching forward whether we’re ready or not.  So we are running a bit behind, trying to find our way and playing an exhausting game of catch up.

 

Since Stella died Aimee and I have been inundated with offers of visits, social events, dinners.  We are happy to get out.  Happy to be distracted.  But it feels strange somehow, like an old favourite shirt that doesn’t quite fit anymore.  We laugh but the laughter sounds hollow to me.  We enjoy ourselves, but feel guilty about it.  We push the pain down as much as possible, but it resurfaces at odd moments.  We go outside but the sun hurts our eyes and we just want to return to our home.  Return to the place where photos stare out at me from every single wall of the house, where her art peeks out from all corners, her clothes remain neatly folded in her drawers, her room virtually untouched other than the fact that Sam’s crib is in there.  It feels like she is everywhere, but I can’t find her anywhere.

 

I miss Stella.

 

I miss saying her name 50 times a day.  When she was alive, it seemed like every other minute someone was saying “Stella”.  I love the way the two L’s of her name roll off my tongue.  Now an entire day can go by and we say her name only a few times.

 

I miss looking over on the couch and seeing a pile of reddish curls piled on the pillow.  We cut off a bunch of her curls as she lay dying and they now sit in a box in our bedroom.  I’ve opened it a few times to look, but I don’t find the curls comforting like I thought I would.  I find them devastating to look at.  That my beautiful, vibrant, energetic daughter is gone leaving behind a pile of inanimate curls behind.  It’s so wrong.

 

I miss reading books to her.  Sam and Hugo aren’t old enough to sit patiently as I read through favourite books.  The books that we once read multiple times a day (King Hugo’s Huge Ego,  Adele and Simon, Stella and Sam), sit idle now.  Piled on the floor next to the couch, gathering dust.

 

I miss working so hard to make her smile.  Stretching the limits of my imagination and ability to play, sing, dance just for a glimpse of one of her precious beams of teeth and light.  Sam and Hugo smile so easily for me.  It warms my heart, but I miss her smile so much.

I miss watching Stella interact with her brothers.  I miss Sam crawling all over her and giving her lots of kisses.  I miss Hugo cuddling into her.  Miss seeing her laugh when she sees them.  Now when you ask Sam “Where’s Stella?” he smiles and points to her picture.  It’s cute and heartbreaking all at the same time.

 

I miss the feel of her warmth next to me in the bed.  I used to fall asleep holding her hand in mine.  I used to wake up and place my head on her cheek or her chest.  When she was able to, she woke me  by smacking me in the face or whispering “couch”.   I miss being able to reassure myself that she is still here by simply reaching for her in the dark and feeling her next to me.   After so many months of having her between us, Aimee and I cling to each other desperately at night now, both needing the reassurance of another body in the bed.

 

I miss taking photos of her.  We took hundreds of photos of Stella, frantically trying to capture each moment of her life.  Now I have to remind myself to take photos of the boys, remind myself that their smiles and experiences are just as important as Stella’s and need to be captured as well.  But whenever I look at the photos I find myself wishing Stella was in them too.

 

I miss being known as “Stella’s mom”.  That was my title, my identity for over three and a half years.  Now I don’t know who I am.  I need to rediscover myself, reset my life, review my goals.  It’s overwhelming to think about it all at once, so I am remembering what Stella taught me and living one day at a time, one tear at a time, one laugh at a time and one dream at a time.

 

It’s been so incredible to continue hearing from people all over the place about how they are having “Stella Moments” in their lives.  Everytime I hear from someone who still thinks of Stella, or tells me she affected then somehow, it’s a balm for my broken heart.

 

This Saturday in the park just outside Stella’s beloved Riverdale Farm there will be a public “Stella-bration” with candle lighting, a Timbit Toast and some storytelling.  I’m so excited at the prospect of talking about Stella to people again and seeing how many people she touched and being reassured that she did live an important life, even though it was short.  I also love hearing from people about their plans for the Stella Stars (http://www.stellastars.ca/).  It’s an obsession I have to ensure Stella is not forgotten.

 

People have been asking about the blog, what our plans are for it.  The blog was supposed to be Stella’s story, something for her brothers to read someday but it also became the story of how Aimee and I learned to accept the unknown, grow, love deeper, embrace life and, ultimately, let go.  And Stella’s story isn’t over yet.  I have read so many blogs from people who stopped writing after their child died, but I’m not ready to stop writing about Stella and so I will keep going as long as it is meaningful for me. It likely wont be as rich as it once was, because life is less rich without Stella in it.  But it remains an outlet for me to work through my thoughts and feelings, to share my daughter with others.

 

And when I miss Stella the most, I come on here and look at her pictures and remember.  And then even though I miss her, I feel her in my heart and I can pick myself up, go play with my wonderful sons and get lost in their laughter.

 

But I still miss Stella.

 

Breaking Amish…baby style (Hugo and Violet):

Uncle Tristan takes Hugo out for his first Hallowe’en:

The Boys:


 

Stella a year ago with Sam:


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What Happens Now?

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What Happens Now?  That is the question that everyone has been asking for the last 11 days, since Stella died.

 

The first few hours were a whirlwind of family and a few friends rushing over to our house to cry with us, bring food, and say their final goodbye to Stella’s body which lay resting in our bed for a few hours.

 

At around 8pm, as darkness fell on our house we called the funeral home to come and get our beloved daughter.  Our friends and family lined the hallways and kitchen and front porch, each one holding a white candle.  Aimee gently picked Stella’s body up for our bed, wrapped in a soft white blanket, and carried her outside to the waiting car.  We all stood in the driveway and watched the black car carrying our daughter drive away down the street, huddling and crying with each other.  Gracie let out a primal cry of desperate sadness, and it was suddenly all over.  We left the candles burning all over the front of the house and a few hours later we heard them all sizzle out as a gentle rain began to fall.

 

Aimee and I didn’t sleep at all that first night, haunted by visions of what it had been like to watch Stella actually die.  Death is not pretty.  We were ready for her to go, it was too hard to watch her any longer, so there was a relief when she finally took her last breath in our arms.  But getting there—those last two weeks—was horrific.  It was peaceful and loving, but death from this type of cancer is not the type where your loved one just falls asleep one day and that’s it.  Stella did, indeed, fall asleep but it took 12 days for her body to shut down fully. 12 days of no food or water.  Of watching her body shrivel, bruise, turn blue.  12 days of counting her breaths, whispering in her ear, watching Gracie play on the bed where her best friend lay dying.  12 days of knowing it was almost over and feeling your heart break, the shards of it puncturing your soul until the pain is so horrible you sleep just to escape it for a few moments.

 

That first morning Aimee and I walked aimlessly from room to room, not sure what to do with ourselves.  Our arms felt as empty as our hearts.  After over a year of sitting with Stella on the couch, suddenly it didn’t feel right to not have something in our arms.  We took turns holding Hugo and then filled our arms with other things…food…a magazine…one of Stella’s stuffed animals.  We felt so lost.  Stella has been our sole directive and biggest priority for so long that suddenly we didn’t know left from right.  We tentatively did small things all day, but kept returning to our comfort spot on the couch.  Even showering felt strange as usually one of us would stay with Stella and the other would take Hugo and/or Sam with us.  But suddenly we can shower alone again.  Alone.  It all feels so lonely.

 

Even now, so many  days later, waves of grief continue to hit us as we remember our beautiful girl. A wave hit when I was finishing up folding the last of the laundry a few days ago and came across two shirts of Stella’s that she was wearing only two weeks ago, during some of her last days on this Earth.  I paused for a moment, not sure what to do with them…fold and put away? Throw out? Giveaway? Nothing felt right, so I just folded them and hid them under my pillow in the bedroom.  A wave hit when I dug to the back of the closet looking for a winter hat and one of her small red mittens fell to the floor.  Mittens she wore to get ice cream with me just a few weeks ago and laughed in delight at when I pretended to put them on Hugo’s feet instead.  A wave hit when Sam saw Stella’s picture on the computer screen and bumped his head over and over again trying to kiss her, looking up at me in confusion when he couldn’t figure out how to get closer to her.  A wave hit when Gracie said to me, “Can we watch a video of Stellie talking?” and then cuddling into my arm said, “I miss Stellie”.  A wave hit when I tried to figure out what to do about Hallowe’en this year.  DeeDee had bought Stella, Sam and Hugo each bear costumes so they could be the three little bears and I couldn’t bring myself to just have two little bears.  Something is missing— she is missing.

 

Each time grief hits, I have to stop what I’m doing for a moment and just breathe through the pain that comes.  It’s both physical and emotional.  In some ways it’s like labour where unimaginable pain sweeps through your body in waves and you just have to give into it until the contraction of agony passes.

 

We are trying so hatd to find our way in this new life.

 

Until today, we were frantically planning Stella’s funeral service, her Celebration of Love.  It took a lot of our time and energy.  It had to be perfect.  And it was (the whole thing was videotaped and we hope to have it up on the web in the next few days in case anyone not able to attend wants to see it).  We were so proud of how it all came together, so grateful for all our friends and family who helped to make our vision a reality, and especially thankful for the incredible care we got from the Funeral Home (Simple Alternatives, Mount Pleasant).  Once we get it up on the web, I’ll post some pictures and tell you more about it.  But trust me, it was beautiful :o)

 

We don’t know yet what we will do with Stella’s stuffed animals, her clothes, her books.  We aren’t making any decisions right now about too much.  Aimee and I are planning on taking a trip somewhere soon— just the two of us so we can reconnect, have some quiet time to think, relax, unwind, remember the past and plan for the future.

 

Our sons make life bearable because they urge us forward.  Two hours after Stella died in our arms, Aimee had to put Sam to bed.  As I sat with our first child’s body in our bedroom, I could hear Aimee next door singing Sam a lullaby… “All the Little Birdies”….the same one she used to sing to Stella.  It occurred to me that life will always keep moving forward, it won’t wait for us, so we need to be as present as possible for Sam and Hugo, and live our lives in honour of Stella by welcoming each and everyday.

 

Our family knows Stella is still with us, somewhere and somehow.  As Stella lay dying, we asked her to please send us a sign to let us know she was okay.  All of us- Auntie Heather, Auntie Juju, Auntie Angie, DeeDee, Uncle Tristan, Tutu, Poppa, GrandPa, Nanny, Daniel- believe different things about where Stella’s spirit might have gone, if anywhere at all.  We are all enormously respectful of each other’s beliefs and thoughts, but all agree that she must be out in the universe in some form, somewhere.  Since she died, many of us have gotten what we believe to be special, individualized signs from Stella, letting us know she is okay.  Some examples…

 

–       The day after Stella died we couldn’t find the channel changer ANYWHERE in our house.  We looked and looked and looked, to no avail.  We were therefore stuck on a random television channel all day.  In the afternoon a game show came on the channel, a show none of us would ever choose to watch.  Andrea, Julia and I all commented how lame this show was and just then another contestant was called down on the TV.  Her name was Stella and she was dressed as a lobster with red antennas that drooped down over her eyes in curls.  We all had a good laugh and knew it was Stella giving us a thumbs up!

–       Our friend Catrina was driving just after we spoke about signs from Stella and she called right back to say as she turned the ignition in her car, a song came on with the exact line, “Calling all Angles…give me a sign”.  Awesome.

–       My sister Heather was at Goodwill and while browsing a section that had nothing to do with children’s books came across a Dora The Explorer book we had never heard of before (and trust me, I thought we had ALL the Dora books).  The book is called, “The Brightest Star”.  Thanks Stella.

–       Aimee’s friend Jo came for a visit and said her 3-year old daughter AJ had  randomly thrown a book in her bag.  When she arrived at our place and checked her bag the book was, “Twinkle Twinkle”.

–       Just a few moments ago I was sorting laundry when I looked down and saw a tiny yellow star sticker stuck to my finger.  I have no idea where it came from, or how it got there so I took it as a little kiss from my girl!

 

What happens now?  Well, we just keep getting up.  We keep trying our best to live the way Stella taught us to— never wasting a day, being grateful for what we have, living fearlessly.

 

What happens now is that we focus on building a new life with our sons, giving them the opportunity to have our full attention now and the benefit of having parents who are super excited to help them discover the incredible community surrounding them, and all the wonderful experiences that await.

 

What happens now is that we will proudly talk about our Stella to anyone willing to listen.  We will celebrate her whenever we can.

 

What happens now is that we will begin to look forward, begin to think about a future without Stella.  It’s scary.  We are just as unsure as anyone else about where we will be in one year, two years, ten years from now.  But we plan to march forward with our hearts full, our heads high and Stella’s spirit guiding us.

Sam Turned 1 on October 20:


Xavier Turned 1 on October 21:

The day Stella died we covered her body in “hugs” made by her family and friends.  When Stella died she was literally covered in love by her family and friends!


Some of the candles that lit Stella’s path as she left our home from the final time:


Sam and Hugo fill our broken hearts with happiness:


 

 

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