April Showers Bring May Flowers

Download PDF

April Showers Bring May Flowers


“April showers bring May flowers”, so the saying goes.  As we head into April, Aimee and I can’t stop thinking about Stella.  More than any other time of year, this is when we feel Stella’s absence most.  This is the “season of Stella”.  Her birthday, the beginning of warmer weather when we would have trips to the park, farmer’s market, cottages.  We attended a baby shower last weekend for our best friend, who is expecting her first child (a little girl), around Stella’s birthday.  It was so easy to be with her and remember when it was Aimee and I hosting a shower with our friends, eagerly anticipating the birth of our first child.  And as happy and excited I am to welcome this new little girl into our family, there were tears behind my eyes the whole time as I remembered the little girl who wasn’t there.  A Stella Star hanging from the corner of the room was her symbol, so in a way she was there.  But not in the way I had always hoped and dreamed.  It was yet another reminder of how Stella was missing out on a special and important thing in our lives— the birth of a little girl who would have been one of her best friends in the whole world. 


Sometimes I feel like I’m living somebody else’s life.  I don’t recognize so much of my reality any longer.  I had planned to have Stella and Sam, but now I have Sam and Hugo.  And instead of Sam being the younger brother, he’s now the older brother.  I am sometimes caught with a case of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  In so many ways I feel a strange sense of déjà vu with what we are doing with the kids.  Sam just started swimming lessons on Sunday, at the very same pool Stella went swimming in for her first lessons.  As he laughed when the water splashed around him, I felt a pang.  Other parents in the change room assumed that Sam is my first, my eldest child.  I would assume the same thing in their situation.  So we all make small talk about what the kids think about the water, how to get yourself changed while managing your toddler, what kinds of things the kids will learn at such a young age, etc.  But I’ve already done all this once before.  I took Stella to this very same pool, changed her in the very same change room, sang the very same lame “Fish Hokey Pokey” in the water with the instructor.  It doesn’t make it any less special to be doing it with Sam, and someday Hugo, but it feels strange.  Stella was diagnosed when she was 26 months old, so we never really got past the toddler phase with her.  As a result, Aimee and I have been raising toddlers/babies for the last 4 years straight.  Diapers and learning to walk and talk and all the other “firsts” that come with babies we are living over again.  It’s lovely and heart wrenching all at the same time because we want to know, we demand to know, “where is Stella?”  No matter how many times I ask this question to the universe, only silence answers me.


But, as unbelievable as it seems, we really are learning to live without her.  What choice do we have?  I find that her name runs through my head constantly.  As I walk, each step I take is to the rhythm of her name, right-left, right-left, Stel-la, Stel-la.  Aimee and I start countless sentences with, “Remember when Stella…” and then follow it up with a funny memory.  “Remember when Stella coloured on the fridge”…”Remember when Stella refused to take her bike helmet off and tried to wear it to bed”…”Remember when Stella wanted to send baby Sam away to Catrina the dog walker”…”Remember when Stella dumped the full cereal bowl, milk and all, on her head and declared, ‘hat’ ”…  We are constantly thinking of ways to include her or remember her in our daily lives.  Lighting a candle with a hand-scribbled “Stella” note on it from Nanny Sandy.  Calling all the little red-headed girls in Sam and Hugo’s picture books “Stella”.  Bringing her photo to Gracie’s sleepover birthday party because Gracie wanted Stella to be there.  Wearing Stella Stars whenever we go out to parties or places so people ask about them and we can talk about Stella (by the way—Stella Stars are available.  Our webmaster hasn’t had a chance to put them up on the Stella Stars website, but if you can’t wait just email stella@stellabrunermethven.com and we’ll hook you up!).  I find it unbearably sad to watch videos of her or look at too many pictures right now because my brain just can’t compute how this child is no more when I see her so clearly alive and energetic dancing and talking on my computer screen.  How can it be?  How did this happen?  It sometimes feels like a bad dream, but when I pinch myself I don’t get to wake up, it just hurts more. 


As the weather is getting warmer and Stella’s birthday approaches, Aimee and I find ourselves getting sadder and sadder.  I am trapped in reliving the days leading up to her birthday.  It was only four years ago that at this time I was hugely pregnant with her.  I remember I wrote a statistics exam on April 15th (which was my official due date), and spent the week leading up to that date studying and hanging out with my dad.  He took me for fish and chips at our favourite place, I folded and refolded all the tiny baby clothes in the drawers a dozen times, and Aimee and I spoke constantly of how unbelievable it would be when our long-awaited first child arrived.  We even practiced pushing our new stroller around the house and diapered and swaddled Aimee’s childhood bear to practice.  I remember staring at the empty bedroom we had created for our baby and trying to picture what it would be like once it was full of new life and promise. Now that room holds the life and promise of Stella’s little brother, her watchful eyes looking down from an encaustic painting.  Now we have Hugo, a child we never planned on or dreamed of but who has been helping to heal our battered hearts with his crazy hair, blue eyes and temperament that is so much like his big sisters, I sometimes slip and call him “Stella” by accident when I get overwhelmed with his constant need to move, climb, bounce. 


I don’t recognize my life.  I don’t recognize myself.  It’s not all bad as I do feel more connected, more aware, less scared and more confident in many ways.  But this April the showers pouring down from the sky feels closer to the tears pouring out of my soul than the promise of happier days ahead. 


I realized this morning that my heart is broken and there is nothing that anyone can do in this entire world to change that.  No amount of money or power or prayer can stop the sadness that lives deep within me.  I long ago surrendered to the natural ebbs and flows of this river of grief, but it still surprises me how much has happened in the mere 6 months Stella has been gone from this Earth.  Six months of living while she lay dead.  It’s crazy to think about. 


Today the spring weather was a bit crazy.  It was cool and clear this morning.  Then this afternoon it got really warm and sunny.  Then this evening the clouds rolled in and it poured rain.  The weather is kind of like my emotions leading into this month.  Good and bad, warm and cold, bright and dark all whipped together in a frenzy of action that I have little control over.  April showers bring May flowers.  What else will it bring?  Some peace, I hope.

The boys celebrate Easter with DeeDee, Uncle Tristan and an egg hunt:

Sam, Hugo and Xavier in the sandbox:

Sam and GrandPa have some quiet time:

Poppa enjoys the spring weather…Hugo enjoys a nap!:

Stella, a year ago:

Download PDF

First Day of Spring

Download PDF

First Day Of Spring

Today is the first day of Spring according to the well-worn Real Estate calendar that hangs crookedly from the fridge.  There’s still plenty of snow on the ground and a cold, biting wind froze snowflakes to my eyebrows this morning.  But never mind that, it’s officially Spring.

Spring is the season of all the RE’s: REnewal, REbirth, REvitalization, REjuvenation, REplenishment, REstoration, REgeneration .  All such promising and active words, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet. It’s easy to hide and hibernate in the winter.  You tell yourself and others that it’s cold outside, the weather is bad, your stroller doesn’t work well in the snow, your winter boots have a leak.  You curl up inside and eat heavy stews and cheesecake and shut out the sun.  But in the spring, as the weather gets warmer and neighbours cautiously peek their heads out of the front door like gophers, it will be harder for me to stay inside where it’s safe and warm.  Soon the weekly Farmer’s Markets will start up again, the invitations to cottages, the long warm days, the chance for weekend picnics and trips to the Beach. Birds will start chirping at the windows beginning at 4am, and Stella’s birthday will come and go.

I have already gotten the first birthday party invitations for three of her friends who are turning four, and one friend who is turning three.  I read these invitations with a combination of gratitude, sadness, jealousy and joy.  I want to be able to go and celebrate with my friends, with Stella’s friends.  I want to watch Sam and Hugo run around these parties and just enjoy my sons, be in the moment and grateful to be part of a beautiful community that has not run away from me, but rather held me closer and encouraged me to do what I can, when I can.  But I am always struck with the randomness of it all.  Most of my friends and I started our families together at around the same time.  We all navigated sleep training, introduction of solids, first words and first steps together.  But now their children are getting ready to start kindergarten and taking skating lessons on weekends and my child’s ashes are sitting in a stone box somewhere in a drawer on Palmerston Ave. waiting to be scattered when the ground thaws and the first buds appear on the trees.  It’s hard to fathom sometimes.  Yet I read something that actress Valerie Harper said in a recent interview.  Harper was recently diagnosed with a (different) type of fatal brain cancer, and given three months to live.  She said when people ask, “why you” she responds, “why not me?  Why would I be exempt to something as destructive and random as cancer?”  And I like that answer.

But the truth is, no matter how much I love my friends and their children, it always hurts just a little bit to be around them.  But I chose long ago to endure the pain because the friendships that comes along with it are more than worth it to me.  Still, birthday’s will continue to be challenging for me.  Stella’s birthday is April 18th, so if she were alive we would likely have had a party for her somewhere around the weekend of the 13-14th.  Instead, we received a cordial invitation in the mail yesterday that says:

The Staff of the Haematology/Oncology Program,

The Hospital for Sick Children,

Respectfully invite your family and friends to our 13th Annual Memorial Service honoring the life and memory of your child.

April 14th 3-5pm

It just makes me want to scream until my throat is hoarse.  Instead of planning a birthday party, we will be lighting a candle with other bereaved parents and looking at “a picture or a sample of your child’s art” that they recommend you bring to the ceremony.  Blech.

Some bereaved parents in their blogs and writings talk about their children celebrating birthday’s in Heaven.  They write things like, “Happy Birthday James, celebrating 8 years since he was born and his 4th birthday in Heaven”.  How I long to be able to believe the way they do.  I am still searching for exactly what I think happens after death, I think Stella is somewhere but I don’t know exactly where.  I sometimes try to picture Stella sitting somewhere in the clouds surrounded by friends, wearing a pink tutu, matching sunglasses and her curls blowing in the breeze as she, giggling, blows out candles on a big chocolate timbit cake.  But I don’t really see that as being a realistic vision of where she really is, so as a result I get little comfort from these images.

But the first birthday to celebrate without Stella, is Gracie’s.  Gracie had her fifth birthday party last weekend and when it came time to sing “Happy Birthday”, as Gracie’s eyes glowed under the light of her birthday candles, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks as I swallowed to keep the pieces of my heart from ricocheting up my throat.  Gracie, sweet as ever, made mention of her cousin Stella in her “Frances” as she calls the thanksgiving prayers we sometimes give at special occasions, and a candle was lit in her honour.  Still, something was missing.  She was missing.  I thought back to all the other birthday’s that Stella had been there for.  She was always placed right next to Gracie, to help blow out the candles and celebrate next to her best friend.

Strangely enough, the place that Gracie had her party was at her Nona and GrandPa’s house.  These are Aunt Juju’s parents, and they lost a daughter once too.  Julia’s older sister was hit by a car and died when she was a child.  As we stood there singing to Gracie, I looked at them and wondered if they still think of their daughter, 30 years later, every time someone blows out the candles on a birthday cake.  I see their dead daughter’s picture around the house.  I counted two with her in them, 1980’s pictures that have a bit of a yellow tinge to them and look almost antique.  I thought about how many parties, celebrations, holidays, etc. they have endured without their eldest child and wondered what it would feel like for Aimee and I, thirty years in the future, to maybe be looking at one of our grandchildren turning five while a faded picture of Stella smiled at us from the curio.  But it hurts my heart to think to far into a future without Stella, so I quickly tried to dismiss these thoughts and wiped the tears from my eyes.  Yet I continued to wonder, what will it feel like when Stella has been dead so long she isn’t mentioned at the birthday parties?  She isn’t talked about during “Frances”, and other people in our lives never met her, but just heard a bit about her form us and looked at a couple of outdated snapshots sitting around the house.

In that moment, I decided that Aimee and I were going to celebrate Stella’s birthday this year.  Not as a “Birthday in Heaven”, but as a true celebration of the day she was born.  We will be happy that day, and be grateful for the time we had with our girl and the incredible gifts she gave us.  We will laugh and remember and do all her favourite things, and eat cake and buy balloons.  Stella’s birthday will be celebrated here, on Earth with us.

The 4 o’clock sun is beaming into my windows now, causing a glare on the computer screen and making little prickles of sweat pop up on my temples.  A sure sign that Spring really is coming.  And hopefully once the snow melts and the sun begins to peek through the grey clouds, I will be able to welcome Spring and partake in some of those “RE’s”.

Especially REflect and REmember.

Happy Birthday Gracie!

Poppa and Hugo (photo by Natalie Hemmerich):

Sam at Jungle Cat World (photo courtesy Natalie Hemmerich):

Nanny and Hugo:

A bittersweet day. Sam, riding Stella’s bike (March, 2013):

Stella on her bike (October 2010 same age as Sam in pic above):


Download PDF