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I don’t have much time to write anymore.  I don’t have much time to do anything anymore.  Working close to 50 hours a week as an intern funeral director and balancing that with the needs of an almost-2 and almost-3 year old in addition to all the regular crap like laundry and dishes and bill paying and there just isn’t much left.  In some ways I feel the same way I did when each of the kids was a newborn…overwhelmed, anxious, excited, happy, sad and, of course, your biggest craving is for sleep, and you never seem to be able to get enough.

So here I am, 2 months into my one-year internship in Funeral Services and I want so badly to love it— I’m trying hard to love it all the time, but the thing about being an intern is that you have to learn how to do everything, and that includes (to a large degree), the less glamorous parts of funeral services.  Such as vacuuming an entire funeral home (including Chapel), scrubbing urinals, picking up garbage, cleaning out rain gutters and hauling oversized funeral flower arrangements from the funeral home to the church and then cemetery.  It’s all part of the job, and it’s all important work, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t backbreaking, monotonous and stressful at times.  I find I spend much of my day being anxious about whether or not I am doing something correctly and/or safely. Luckily the people I work with have been exceptionally patient and generous with their knowledge and there are moments that it all seems to mesh, and I feel really good.  But there are also moments I want to burst into tears and run away.  A lot of my anxiety has to do with how new everything is.  There is a massive learning curve for me happening, but at the same time Funeral Services is not the type of industry that you can make very many mistakes in.  The result of these two things is that I am living at a high level of stress most of the time.

Stella is what gets me through the hard days.  The ones where I get home after 11pm at night, knowing I need to leave for work again by 6:45 the next morning, without seeing my kids or wife at all.  The days there is a baby or young person lying on the embalming room table.  The days when I make a mistake and 15 different people at the funeral home make jokes about it.  The days I feel lost and overwhelmed; incompetent and useless.  When I feel like giving up, admitting defeat and applying for another desk job, I reach inside and find my inner Stella Joy.  The stubborn, fearless, unrelenting parts of her that I promised I would adopt to my own personality after she died.  And then, somehow, just like she did, I keep on going.  I can see huge changes in myself already and there are many things I’ve accomplished during this internship that I’m proud of, so I think that no matter what happens long-term I will be grateful for the growth and lessons I experience each and everyday.  It’s sure as heck never boring!!!

I keep a Stella Star in my locker at work and when I’m rifling through in the morning looking for the appropriate outfit (we have funeral suits, evening suits, grubby clothes and embalming uniforms), it swings and clangs against the metal sides.  Her photo always catches my eye as it’s crookedly taped to the wall next to my schedule.  “Good morning, baby” I always think to myself.

Stella has been dead for almost 2 years now.  I can hardly believe it.  I can hardly believe it’s been that long since I felt the soft, warm weight of her body nestled into mine.  It’s funny because during the first year I feel like I really needed concrete reminders of her.  My “F**k you cancer- Stella bracelet, my Stella necklace, one of her little t-shirts, photos, etc.  But now I feel as though she is steeped right into my pores and when I breathe and think and speak, she is part of all of it but without me thinking consciously about it.  Just as she once physically lived in me, now she mentally lives in me.  I am different because of her.  I am better because of her.  And I see her in her brothers as well.  The boys are active.  They are running, talking, leaping little people.  It takes a team of us sometimes to spell each other off on all the energy the boys need to shake before they can collapse into bed.  Even as Aimee and I are sitting in their room reading books to them, they are running around us, jumping from the bed and chasing each other in circles.  Their energy is beautiful and their smiles as they sit side-by-side eating crackers from a bowl in their pyjamas and giggling as they wiggle their toes makes me want to freeze time and never leave that moment.

I can’t believe how much they are changing and growing.  Much of Stella’s physical growth stopped at 26 months of age, so it’s been amazing to see the growth and changes in Sam, who is 33 months now (if you even count in months at that age).  He hasn’t met anything he can’t climb, cocks his head to the side and says things like, “You fell Xavier?  That’s why we don’t run here, we only walk”, tells me I’m beautiful and starts most sentences with “hey guys…”  Hugo runs along behind him, a little ball of excitement and single-mindedness.  I feel like I have finally arrived at the place that DIPG robbed Aimee and I of that warm June day in 2011.  I have arrived at the moment and age where our kids are old enough to be signed up for soccer and gymnastics, to go on playdates without a parent, to talk and grow into their personalities.  Time continues to march forward, and it seems impossible to think, or to say out loud, but Aimee and I and our family…we are okay.  We are happy.

And being around death all the time certainly has a way of helping to keep me focused on what’s really important.  Death really and truly is a random thing.  The youngest body I’ve had on the table in the embalming room was a 15-week old baby.  The oldest was a 103 year old man.  But I’ve seen everything in between too.  Young, old, frail, strong, sudden death, long illness, suicide, murder.  It doesn’t matter how or what or when, it’s truly the one common denominator of all living things.  And I’ve sat through dozens and dozens of funeral services now.  I can tell you I’ve never once had anyone say in a service or eulogy that someone would be missed because their house was always cleaned and organized, or their clothing was ironed nicely.  No one ever says they will miss the fancy car that person drove, or the expensive house they lived in, or the Rolex watch they wore.  All these “things” we spend our lives collecting turn out to be totally meaningless after all.  When someone dies, the stories that are told are about kind gestures, generosity, making other people feel good, loving and being loved.  I try to remind myself of this on a daily basis when I start to feel overwhelmed by staying on top of work and life.  Life isn’t laundry, life is laughter.

So, for any loyal blog readers left out there who have been checking in and seeing no updates for awhile, my apologies.  We love that you still check in on us, and love that you still care.  If I’m not writing, it’s probably because the boys and I are spending the evening looking at a rainbow and wishing on a star and by the time we finish…we’ve fallen asleep (o:

“Perhaps our eyes need to be washed with tears once in awhile, to help us see clearly again”  – Alex Tan

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Set…

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GO!!!!!!!!

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Poppa reads the boys a story: 

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Big-girl Gracie reads to her cousins:

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Hugo’s silly face:

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Ice Cream for Stella:

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Stella and Mama, September 2011:

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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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Parenting for Keeps

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Parenting Stella after her DIPG diagnosis was hard in the obvious way of being totally heartbreaking as we watched our child slowly die, but in another way it was extremely easy.  Fairly soon after her diagnosis, Aimee and I adopted the “Whatever Stella wants, Stella gets” mantra of parenting.  I’m sure it’s every 2-year olds dream to demand whatever they want like a mini-dictator and have every adult in hearing distance go running to make every dream come true.  I remember once morning at 6:45am, Stella requested cupcakes for breakfast and we were all out.  My dad (“Poppa”), heard her and hopped right into his car and drove to the 24-hour supermarket down the street, returning with cupcakes within minutes of her request.  That first fall after her diagnosis, we literally watched 13 hours of Dora the Explorer each day.  Sitting on the couch, bodies aching, eyes burning from watching the television, we dared not turn off Dora or suggest anything else because this was what Stella wanted.  DeeDee bought her every piece of clothing you can imagine that had Dora on it; pants, pyjamas, socks, shirts.  When she showed an interest in reading things you could see or feel, GrandPa and Nanny Sandy bought her every single children’s book Indigo carried that had any kind of pop-up, or textured page.  In winter when Starbucks came out with a “Holiday Sandwich” Stella liked with stuffing and cranberries in it, Tutu would go to multiple Starbucks in a day trying to find one that still had the seasonal sandwich in stock.

 “You want 16 chocolate Timbits, Stella? Sure”.

“You want to sleep in bed with your mommies every night? Absolutely!”

“You want to go to the zoo this morning and then the farm this afternoon?  Of course!”

“You don’t want to brush your teeth?  Fine”.

“You want to read 2 hours of bedtime stories?  Happy to”.

“Ice cream for breakfast?  Everyday, my love”.

We just did anything and everything she wanted.  Nobody worked.  Nobody needed to cook (our friends and family literally fed us for 18 months).  Nobody had anything else to do other than play with Stella and give her everything and anything she wanted.  She sat on that couch and gave orders like the Royalty she thought she was, and we just followed orders all the while doing funny voices and ridiculous dances.  With no need to think of the consequences of what doing everything your 2-year old tells you to do, Aimee and I just enjoyed watching her glow with light and joy.

But parenting Sam and Hugo is different.  Sam is older now than the age that Stella was when she was diagnosed (he’s 28 months), and Hugo is 18 months.  They test us.  They push us.  They demand things constantly.  And I’m having trouble figuring out how to parent for keeps— how to balance the need we all have to instill discipline and boundaries, while still giving enough to ensure Stella’s lessons of fun and love are our guiding principles.

After you lose a child, you know how quickly a small, beautiful little life can be ripped from your arms.  It makes sense to take nothing for granted and to waste no moment.  It’s a goal to try to speak calmly to the boys no matter what is going on and to create fun and beautiful memories with them. But at the same time, I can’t just parent with complete indulgence…with a total lack of discipline and no use of the word “no”…but I want to. I want to because parenting Stella became so much more fun and happy when I did that.  But we were only going to have her for a short while, so the long-term effects of this extremely permissive parenting, were not an issue.  So, I struggle.  I give in to the boys a lot.  And recently, I’ve noticed that, in some cases, my boys are becoming unruly.

When Sam calls to me at 4am and asks me to lie with him in the bed, I know I shouldn’t.  I know it’s better for him and better for my sleep if he learns to just put himself down.  But when he wraps his tiny toddler arms around my neck and pulls me in for a cuddle, I want to freeze time.  I think about how soon it will be that he’s saying, “Mo-om!” and rolling his eyes and doesn’t want me anywhere near him.

Sometimes my arms ache from carrying Hugo around all the time.  He wants to be held constantly.  It makes it hard to cook, eat, fold, clean, etc.  I should just put him down…I’m spoiling him.  But how much longer will he want to be holding on?  Soon enough, he’ll be pushing me away.

I want to give them everything they want…cookies…staying up past bedtime to read books in bed…sips of my ginger ale…hooky days from daycare.  But I know I shouldn’t, and can’t.

I watched Sam and Hugo this morning, both totally naked, leaping from the couch to the pillows they had thrown on the ground.  They were laughing and shouting and climbing.  They had never looked more like wild monkey’s to me.  I kept saying, “Samson…don’t stand on the couch”, “Hugo, no jumping on Sam”, “Sam and Hugo, please be careful!”.  If they heard me at all, they didn’t show it.  They threw toys and spilt milk and knocked over the side table and then Sam peed on the floor.  They were wild and I couldn’t control them.

I knew the lack of discipline I’ve been giving my boys was serious when I worked a funeral on the weekend (as part of my school program for becoming a licensed Funeral Director), and I was in constant awe of the fact that when I gave people directions at the funeral, they actually listened to me.  It had been so long since that happened!  I said, “please come to the visitation room if you haven’t paid your final respects” and an entire room full of people got up and went to see their loved one next door.  I was actually stunned for a moment that anyone paid attention, and then I felt completely elated.

I had spent 20 minutes that same morning chasing Sam around with a pair of socks, trying to get him to put them on.

Let me tell you…being elated that a group of people at a funeral followed the simple directions of their Funeral Director is not a good sign of my expectations of people.

 

So, how do you do this?  How do you parent a child as though you’re going to get to keep them and send them into adulthood?  What is the magic recipe for fun/freedom/self-expression vs. control/safety/discipline?

I have no idea.  I’m getting quite used to being clueless when it comes to parenting.  It doesn’t scare me too much anymore that I have no idea what I’m doing.  Some days it’s just about surviving.  Some days it’s about creating memories.  Some days it’s easy and some days I just want to pluck my eyebrows out one hair at a time because I think it would be less painful and tedious than parenting.  Mostly, I just work hard each day and do the best I can.  Some days I kick ass.  Some days I get my ass kicked.  But everyday, I make sure I tell my kids that I love them.  I hope that’s enough to get us all through the rough patches, and I hope they remember that when I have to do and say things that they don’t understand, and don’t like.

Tonight getting ready for bed, both boys sat happily in my lap and pressed their soft cheeks into my neck as I read stories.  I inhaled the smell of baby shampoo and watched their eyes dance and widen as the “tickle monster” made an appearance.  Tonight the boys didn’t seem to care if I was good or bad at parenting, they just cared that I wrapped them tightly in towels after bath so they didn’t get too cold, cared that I sang a song while they brushed their teeth and cared that I knew exactly where Spot was hiding during story time.

All three of my kids are totally different.  They grow, they change, and the way I parent them changes.  I change.  Stella, Sam and Hugo have all shown me new things to find joy in, and new ways to look at the world.

There is a saying that says, “Children learn what they live”.  If this is true, no matter what happens as we continue this great unknown parenting journey, Hugo and Sam will learn three things for sure: love, joy and chocolate timbits.

For today, that’s enough.

A picture perfect family…NOT!  (Photo by Heather Pollock):

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Even sitting still for a picture is impossible! 

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 Playtime! (Hugo is wearing Stella’s old pyjamas):

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Colouring on the paper is optional (Stella’s rule that Sam follows):

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Couch cuddles:

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Stella, June 2011:

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The Day That Was

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October 22, 2013 started like any other day in our house.  Aimee and I got up, got dressed, fed the kids, dressed them and shipped them off to their respective daycares (each wearing their Stella Stars T-Shirt).  But then, instead of rushing off to work/school, Aimee went to Tim Horton’s to bring us breakfast, and then we retreated to home and settled ourselves into the couch.  We each ate two chocolate Timbits in honour of our little girl and lit candles on the mantle next to Stella’s picture.  A white candle Aimee bought, a Jewish 24-hour candle from our friend Sheri, and a red glass Catholic candle from Johnny’s parents.  We are neither Jewish nor Catholic, but I figured it was a good idea to hedge all our bets so we lit everything and stood back and watched the shadows of flame dance across the walls.  Little bits of fire and energy, just like our Stella.

 

Mid-morning, Auntie Heather and I took a quick trip to our local Value Village, which was a place I often escaped to on my darker days of Stella’s cancer.  Whenever I felt overwhelmed, somehow I found comfort wandering through the racks of clothing and books hunting for the elusive “must have” deal.  I hadn’t been in a long time, so Heather and I trekked out and spent an hour laughing at the things you can buy there.  When I arrived home afterwards, I found Aimee lying on the couch under a pile of Stella’s blankets and stuffed animals.  Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.  I sat next to her and rubbed her back.  We didn’t need to say anything at that point, so we just sat in silence and watched the candles burn.

 

After a good cry, Aimee and I settled into the couch and watched episodes of The Golden Girls on TV.  Our friend Christie popped by for a visit in the early afternoon.  Christie was one of the people who came by sometimes in the middle of the day, because you could always bet that someone would be home with Stella.  But since we’ve gone back to work and school, our house is empty during the day now, so it was lovely to sit there and reminisce and drink hot tea while Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia made wise-cracks in the background.  At around 2pm Auntie Angie and Gracie and Auntie Juju arrived, bringing homemade cookies with painted toenails and cupcakes that Juju and Gracie had made to honour Stella.  Aimee went to the garden and brought back some rocks and we all sat around with stickers and markers and paint and decorated stones to leave at Stella’s tree in Riverdale Farm.

 

By 4pm we had picked up the kids from daycare, and gathered around Stella’s tree.  Poppa was too sick to come, but DeeDee and Uncle Tristan, Auntie Heather, Juju, Angie, Gracie, Neighbour Ken, Tasha, Tutu, Nanny, GrandPa John, Hugo, Sam, Aimee and I put out a picnic blanket near her bench and tree and unpacked food and toys for the kids.  We spent a long time visiting the farm, especially the pigs that were Stella’s favourite and are now Sam’s.  Then as the temperature dipped and the sun dropped behind clouds, we lit a few candles and the kids sang Happy Birthday to each other.  The candles kept blowing out and we were all freezing.  It was fun and silly and totally Stella.

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After the farm, everyone trekked back to our place and Auntie Angie and Juju went to our local hamburger joint (Square Boy) and brought back armfuls of burgers for everyone.  We reminisced about how there was a period of time in Stella’s illness that I would walk up to Square Boy every single night with her in the carrier snuggled into my chest and she would order a hamburger.  She would never eat it, she would just clutch it to her chest all the way home.  It got to the point where one of the guys working there would recognize us and have the hamburger ready long before I made it to the front of the line.  I’m sometimes curious to know if he ever thinks about the girl with the curls who used to come each night, and whether he wonders where she disappeared to.  As we ate hamburgers in Stella’s honour, the house was absolutely bursting at the seams with people and energy and action and laughter.  Johnny’s parents came over with a beautiful plant and warm hugs and joined the chaotic festivities.  It was the first time since Stella died that we had so much action and energy around.  It was nice and an unexpected way to remind ourselves of all the good that Stella brought into our lives.

 

One by one everyone left the house, and after 10pm Aimee and I crawled into our bed listening to the silence around us.  With nothing left to be said, we did what we’ve done every night since Stella died; held each other, closed our eyes and waited for morning to arrive.  Each day we wake up to face one more day without Stella, but gathering strength from the lessons she generously shared with us about bravery, being true to yourself, and finding the joy in everyday life.

Here are some of the lovely people who shared photos with us of them Stella-brating:

Caitlin and Natalie:

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Zev, Maya and Nate:Maya Zev Ice Cream

Nate Ice Cream

Cheryl and Stella’s beloved “Lucky Dog”:uckyDogTreat

Peter, Nicole and Angela:Farrrugia IceCream

Jaclyn:

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Arin and Kari:ArinKariTimbit PinePoint 9am Board Meeting: PinePointTimbit Danielle and JohnDanielle and John Weisbrod

HayDraude’sHayDraude Candle

Eamon: EamonTimbit

Holden:

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Jack, Nicholas and Ellie:

Jack Nicholas Ellie Timbit

Camp Oochigeas:

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Stella Joy, we miss you.

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Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving

You know, thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite holidays. Not only do you have the benefit of what most holidays consist of (family and good food), but there is no gift-giving or bizarre rituals you are expected to do in return. You just eat and visit.

This Thanksgiving, Aimee and I took the boys up to our beloved BlueBird Cottage. The weather up there was nothing short of phenomenal. Golden sunlight and warmth highlighted long days of play and visiting as we spent time with Poppa, neighbor Ken, Flora’s family, Tutu, Gracie, Auntie Angie and Juju, Aimee’s great Aunt Arlene and great Uncle Frank. All weekend people came and went, filling our days with conversation and friendship.

After a busy few days, on the holiday Monday at 9am, Auntie Juju and I took Hugo, Sam and Gracie for what should have been a 20 minute walk into the nearest town. We were gone for over two hours. As the kids began the walk, they were constantly being distracted by things in nature. Bullrushes that had exploded into big balls of cotton proved to be an endless source of entertainment as Sam and Gracie ran up the road shaking them and filling the air with cottony fluff that landed on our hair, clothes, stroller and faces. That game lasted quite awhile! Then they discovered a series of mud puddles that splashed big waves of greyish guck on their pants when they took a running jump at them. There was a dead snake that caught Gracie’s eye, and a dead frog Sam insisted was sleeping. We noted tree roots and looked at birds and flowers. Julia and I just strolled along, enjoying seeing life from our children’s eyes as each rock they picked up was declared more beautiful than the rest and each leaf more perfect. Eventually, we ended up at a local antique store that was closing down and Gracie and Sam each bought a wooden wagon for $5 that they then insisted on pulling all the way back home as Hugo toddled along behind them. They stopped continuously to make adjustments to their wagons, fill them with items, get them unstuck from rocks and roots. It was slow progress, but so refreshing to, for once, have nowhere to rush to and nothing particular to get done. It reminded Julia and I of the old days with Stella when the only goal was to fill her days with joy and wonderment. As much as we try, the demands of everyday life generally make it impossible to be leisurely anymore and so moments like this where dawdling and enjoying the small gifts of life are more precious then ever before.

Back at the cottage, Gracie jumped into a huge pile of raked leaves, followed closely by Sam and Hugo. As they frolicked on the grass, running and rolling in the bright colours, I thought about how this was a picture-perfect moment, right down to the sun glinting off the lakes and the echoes of unbridled laughter dancing across the crunching leaves. The moment I felt that sense of pure bliss, I also felt my heart constrict and my eyes begin to burn with unshed tears. Here, in a moment where I felt lightest and happiest, my heart broke yet again as I wished that Stella were there with us. I cleared my throat and tried to push the thoughts away. Not because I don’t want to give grief its space in my life, but because I knew that Stella would have encouraged me to focus on the present moment and the joy in front of me, not the sadness inside me. I reflected on the fact that already Sam and Hugo are growing up so fast. It won’t be long before neither one of them turns to me with their arms outstretched and a huge grin each time I walk into the room. It won’t be long before our cuddles and kisses get fewer and further in between. It won’t be long before they become their own people and start to move away physically, emotionally. I can hardly believe that Sam will be turning two this weekend, and shortly after that we will mark the one-year anniversary of Stella’s death.

Speaking of Stella, many people have been asking us what we have planned for that day— if there will be a public celebration or party of some sort. Aimee and I have talked a lot about it and decided that she and I are going to spend the morning together, just the two of us, the way it once was before kids, before DIPG, before all the lessons on life and loss. We will sit on Stella’s couch by ourselves with the door locked and eat Timbits and ice cream. We will light our special Stella candle and let the flame flicker for 24 hours straight. We will watch episodes of the Golden Girls and wait for the waves of sadness to splash against us as we huddle together against the storm of tears and rage that we feel will come. At some point in the day we will likely end up at Riverdale Farm and leave little trinkets by her tree, but we’re not really sure.

As for people who have been telling me they feel they want to mark the day, we were thinking that the best thing to do would be to create your own ritual or tradition. One of the things that I kept thinking as this day approached was that if we had a public memorial this year, would we have another one next year? What about the year after? And as so many people who have walked this journey before have told us, as the years go by and changes occur, less and less people tend to come to these public memorials and/or events. Things change. People move and grow and fade away. There’s a saying in the world of bereaved parents, “where did all the people go?”. I just can’t stand the thought of seeing 100 people come out to honour Stella one year and only 7 people five years later. Even though it’s not what it means, it would feel like people had forgotten or didn’t care anymore and I’m afraid that would hurt more than I’m prepared to deal with right now.

So, instead of anything formalized or public, we are telling people that if they feel it’s important to mark the day Stella died, they should start their own tradition. For example, our friends Caitlin and Natalie have told us that they will be having ice cream for breakfast on Tuesday morning, and plan to do this every October 22nd no matter where in the world they are. Another friend told me they will surprise their kids by picking them up early from school and heading to Chuck-E-Cheese for a “fun night” that they hope will become an annual tradition. Others may choose to light a candle, eat ice cream for breakfast, visit Riverdale Farm, pick up chocolate timbits after work, eat copious amounts of avocados, hit a friend for no reason, watch Golden Girls or throw a birthday party for someone when it isn’t their real birthday. The idea would be for other people to create meaning in their own lives in honour of Stella. Something that becomes meaningful and special for you personally, that 12 years from now you can say to someone, “Oh, we always have Dairy Queen on October 22nd, it’s tradition”. And when you’re asked why, you can tell them about Stella. And if you or your family does end up doing something on October 22nd for Stella, please feel free to snap a picture and send it to us. I’d love to post a bunch of photos on the blog of people honouring Stella in their own way (you can email to stella@stellabrunermethven.com).

Life moves so quickly. It feels like we’re always waiting. Waiting to get a job, find a partner, get a house. Waiting for the pregnancy to be over, then the teething, sleeping through the night. Waiting for everyone to grow up and move forward. With Stella we were constantly waiting for the next phase. For her next progression, for the day of her death. Waiting for the funeral we had planned, the cremation garden plaque we ordered. Waiting for the fear and pain to subside. But this thanksgiving, I was grateful for the opportunity to realize that I wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. I was just spending time outside with my friends and family, honouring my daughter by finding the Joy, living in the now and appreciating the thousands of things I had to be thankful for. The first on my list, of course, was the chance to be- forever- Stella’s Mama.

Things to be thankful for…

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