A Christmas Smackdown
Posted by Mishi Methven on Dec 17, 2012
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):