Today, if things were different, Stella would have turned 7 years old. Probably would have been missing a tooth or two. With long hair past her shoulders, and a cheeky grin.
Not having her here hurts.
For some reason, this year the memories are sharper and clearer than they have been in years. Each day leading up to her birthday is haunting. April 15th was her due date. I remember going swimming with my friend Deb that day. I remember how amazing it felt to float in the weightlessness of the water with my 9-month pregnancy belly and how I was almost shaking with anticipation and excitement. At that time we didn’t know if we were having a boy, or girl so I practiced writing both names we had carefully and lovingly selected on my notepad…
Evan Lawrence Bruner-Methven
Stella Joy Bruner-Methven
Which would it be? I couldn’t imagine.
I remember on April 16th I was only one day past my due date, but I was despairing that I was never going to have this baby. I had already been off work for 2 weeks and I was bored and impatient. In a desperate attempt to entertain myself, I looked up recipes online of things that could be frozen and I decided to walk over to Sobey’s to purchase some ingredients. I bought green peppers and ground beef and when I was walking home, I could feel liquid dripping down my legs. I called my midwife and she told me to come in. 2 hours later I called Aimee at work and said the magic words…”my water broke”. I still wasn’t in labour though, so Aim and I went to her dads for dinner. We toasted each other with glasses of red wine and thought about what was to come.
April 17th I very slowly started to labour. At first it was almost comical. I sat in a big chair and listened to my “Hypnobirthing” CD. The tiny insignificant first ripples of labour I thought were “it” and was proud of how I was handling the “pain”. Ha! First time ignorance. Aimee and I walked and timed contractions, but it was slow going and everything that felt like it was “true” labour wasn’t really. When you’ve never been in labour, I guess you don’t really know what it is. Hours and hours of small tugs weren’t labour. When full labour finally hit me, it was ugly and I wondered how I could ever have thought when I was sitting in the chair with my eyes closed meditating that I was in labour!!! Real labour was horrible. Back pain that brought me to my knees. Thrashing and screaming and vomiting. It wasn’t until almost midnight on the 17th that things got bad enough to go to the hospital. My dad drove, my mom sat in the front seat and Aimee was in the back with me. It was on that van ride that I realized Stella was gong to be born on my birthday. I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in my 30th birthday than giving birth to our baby.
It was a long, difficult and extremely painful labour. Stella was born at 4:10pm on April 18th. I think Aimee said, “it’s a girl!” and though my heart was full of joy, all I could say was, “I’m going to throw up” and I promptly began vomiting as the midwife stitched me up. Not exactly a Hallmark moment, but fairly indicative of what parenting is like. Messy and hard. Not very glamorous, full of ups and downs. But, if you pay attention, a myriad of exquisite, unexpected gifts.
That was an amazing day. I turned 30 years old and became a mother all in one breath. My daughter burst into the world, with porcelain skin, bawling-face, fists waving and a shock of red hair that made everyone laugh in delight. There were 10 people in the room as she was born. Two midwives plus my DeeDee, Poppa, Auntie Heather, Tutu, GrandPa, Auntie Angie, Nanny and Aim’s best friend, Ray. Sometimes when I picture that happy scene of her birth and her first breath, it overlays a heart-breaking scene 3 1/2 years later when she took her last breath, surrounded by almost exactly the same group of people that stood in a circle and witnessed the miracle of her birth.
Sometimes it feels like all my memories overlap.
A sea of crying faces at her birth. A circle of sobbing at her death.
Choosing the outfit she would come home from the hospital in. Choosing the outfit she would be cremated in.
A myriad of candles lighting up the night at our wedding. A path of flickering candles as we carried her body out the door.
Taking photos of her face covered in icing, eating her birthday cake with a “1” flopped over. Taking photos of a tree in the park with a candle that says “7” on it.
Up at night because she cried. Up at night because we cry.
So how do you celebrate the birthday of your first born, when she’s not here? Funny how we’ve fallen into a routine. Visit her tree then run away to Great Wolf Lodge. As always, a mixture of wanting to remember her in her favourite spots, but also needing to try to forget by distracting ourselves with the noise and activity and complete sensory overload. I have been missing her so much these last weeks. I always miss her, but I find that as the boys get older and more “boy-like” with burgeoning interests in super heroes and sports, I retreat further into my fantasies of having a daughter. That’s one of the cruelties of her death, not knowing exactly what she would have been like, what she would have liked or disliked, leaving it all open to speculation and dreams. And suddenly, I’m seeing little girls everywhere and each one is like a dagger to my heart. I’m sure there are just as many little boys around, but it’s the girls that have been making my chest hurt. I suddenly feel like everyone around me has a daughter. Two nights ago I started to rattle off to Aimee the names of all of our friends and said, “they have a daughter…they have a daughter…they have a daughter…”. Out of 15 friends I named, only two had no girls. It suddenly felt momentously unfair to me. I suddenly felt so jealous that I wanted to scream and rage. Admitting these feelings is hard. I don’t like the way they make me feel. it’s embarrassing. I confided in one friend a few weeks ago that I wanted my girl back and she said something along the lines of, “But you have two beautiful and healthy boys!” I immediately felt ashamed of myself for saying anything at all, then angry that I was ashamed. Having two healthy boys whom I love with all my heart and would do anything for, doesn’t mean that I still can’t mourn the daughter who died, and the fact that I no longer have a little girl to love. But it’s hard to admit that to people. Hard to make them understand. Of course I’m grateful for my sons. Of course I am happy with them and can’t imagine life without them. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t miss my girl and feel bitter for everything that was taken away from us. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad when I see little dresses with crinoline and pink Dora crocs or that I’m not jealous of the little girls in mini blue jeans and pink sunglasses toddling around at the park. Grief is complex and I’m constantly trying to understand why I act and react certain ways to things.
A family that I served 8 months ago called me Friday. The woman had lost her father at age 87. She called to tell me how much she was struggling. That she was “still” so sad. She knows about Stella and said that she didn’t know how I did it. That I’m so strong. She kept saying that she wouldn’t be able to live if her daughter died. And that she was embarrassed to still be in such a funk about her dad because, after all, he was old and led a full life. She asked me what my secret was. I told her my dad always says, “secret weapon…no choice”, but I also didn’t want her to think that I’ve just risen above grief and grieving. So I told her the truth. I said, “What you’re doing is hard. There’s no timeline. There’s no magic cure. I’m on meds. I take medication everyday for depression and anxiety”. I wanted her to know that even though I’m happy, I still need help. I’m not ashamed of it. When I wake up each and every morning, I make a deliberate choice. I choose to be happy. I choose to find JOY because I know that is how I can keep Stella alive. I truly believe that when we are forced to live without someone we love, we need to take a small piece of them and inhale it so deeply it enters our pores and becomes part of our own breath and body. So I breathe Stella each and everyday. I breathe her spunkiness. I breathe her willingness to find joy in small things. I breathe her inability to be anything but herself. I breathe her bravery and her cheekiness and her tinkling giggle. I use the breath I have to parent her brothers with as much understanding and love as I can. I use it to help the families I serve. I open my heart a teeny tiny bit to each and every grieving family that sits in front of me and tells me that they have lost someone they love. I still hurt, but I choose to live. I keep a yellowed cut out picture of a card I got once. It’s a dry, dessert scene with a tiny flower growing through the cracked dirt. And it says, “There are defining moments in a life, when faced with the choice of giving up, or going on”.
That card is taped on the inside of our kitchen cupboard. Every morning when I get up and I open the cupboard to get my teacup out, I read it. And I make the choice.
Choose life. Choose joy.
In Niagara Falls tonight, Gracie (8 years old already!) wore her Mommy Juju’s wedding dress to dinner. She looked so beautiful and grown up in it. It’s a burgundy and cream sundress. It made me remember my wedding to Aimee. I remembered the poem that was read that night, 10 years ago this August. It was a warm summer night. We had lit the backyard with dozens of flickering candles. At the time, it was the poem that best reflected the love Aimee and I felt for each other. But tonight, I thought about the fact that it is for Stella too. And I read it out loud and wept.
Happy Birthday my beautiful girl. Despite everything…I’m so glad you were born. Stella Joy Bruner Methven, April 18, 2009.
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
And I do.
Sam lays some flowers at his sister’s tree for her birthday:
Having a great time at Great Wolf Lodge
Every Friday night is pizza night and “Family Movie Night”. The boys love it! (Xavier, Sam, Hugo)