Posted by Mishi Methven on Dec 22, 2011
I am a Christmas fanatic. As soon as Hallowe'en is over and the stores replace Pumpkins with Garlands, I am ecstatic. Christmas fills me with a lightness and joy like no other time of year. I love the music that plays incessantly from every corner, I love the lights, the trees, the over-the-top tacky colours. I love wrapping presents, watching "A Very Brady Christmas" on television and decorating the tree. I start shopping in September and by the first week of December presents are wrapped, labeled and organized by person under the tree. I decorate everything in the house, including hanging a singing Santa in the bathroom that climbs up and down the window blinds while you pee. The more people comment on how tacky my decorations are, the happier I get.
One of the first things I thought about when Stella was diagnosed this summer was how I was going to get through Christmas---the happiest time of the year---without her. Months ago, Aimee and I agreed to "cancel" Christmas. We were going to ignore it completely, head to the Chinese buffet on Christmas Day and then the movie theatre and hide from everything to do with Christmas.
Then a funny thing happened…Stella lived. Stella is still here for this Christmas. In fact, Christmas Eve marks exactly 6 months since her diagnosis. Half a year, a full fifth of her entire life. Talk about a Christmas Miracle.
To celebrate that Stella is still with us, and that it is Sam's first Christmas, we decided to do what we've dubbed "A Diet Christmas". We bought a tree and decorated it, but did nothing else. No stockings hung by the chimney with care. No buying gifts for ourselves, or anyone else. No wrapping paper littering the living room. No baking Christmas cookies. No trolling the malls, taking in Christmas windows and finding the "perfect" gift for someone. This lack of Christmas had left me with a feeling of emptiness. Some people commented that maybe we should do "ultimate Christmas" since it will be Stella's last, but Aimee and I just didn't have the energy or desire to fake our way though Christmas Cheer. And, more importantly, neither Stella nor Sam has any frame of reference for Christmas, so they don't really care one way or the other. So we've just ignored Christmas for the most part this year, although small pieces of it seep into our consciousness.
The last month for Stella has been quite good. She has been stable, she has been happy, she has wanted to go out again. We have made so many wonderful memories with her this last little while, and I realized this morning that her and Sam are the only things I want this Christmas, or any Christmas. When I think about the best gifts I have ever been given, it's never things, it's always experiences.
Memories. Shared laughter. Friendships. Trips.
I looked under the Christmas tree this afternoon and although there were no brightly wrapped gifts with my name tucked under the branches, I realized that in these last 6-months, since my world shattered into a million pieces and sliced my soul in half, I have experienced the greatest gifts in the world. Through the intense pain and sadness, there is joy and hope.
The gift of clarity.
This is a gift in which all of the things that don't matter have fallen away like fall leaves. When fall comes, the branches are left naked and bare but there is no confusion as to which way they bend or the colour of the bark. Through Stella's cancer, I have been able to truly understand what is important in life. I have seen who in my life has stepped up, and who has slunk into the shadows. I have let go of all the things that used to clutter my life---that seemed so important, like getting A's in school, spending $100 on a haircut, being inflexible about cleaning the kitchen every single night, instead of playing with Stella. I no longer get annoyed when I get in the "wrong" line at the grocery store. I wear clothes for comfort, not status. I would rather read books to Stella than check Facebook or write emails. I look in the mirror and don't recognize myself or my life, but like that tree forced into revealing itself, I know that whoever I am is the most genuine person I've ever been.
The gift of time.
Time is such an abstract concept when you think about it. An arbitrary organization of relatively meaningless ways to organize our lives that causes unnecessary stress ("I need to be married before I'm 30"), unrealistic expectations ("Why doesn't she have any teeth yet? She's 6 months old…when did Jane first roll over?) and unbelievable pressure ("By noon Sunday we have to grocery shop, bring the kids to swimming lessons and host a brunch for 30 of our closest friends…). The day that Stella was diagnosed, time stopped for Aimee and I. Our days were not measured in anything tangible any longer, except perhaps medication times. Now I am in no rush for anything. As a family, we can take leisurely walks to Sobey's and spend 10 minutes staring at the lobster tank when we get there. We can take family naps in the afternoon while Dora drones on in the background. We can take off to Great Wolf Lodge on a Tuesday afternoon and stop at the park on our way there. It isn't just the gift of "time" that we have been given, it is the gift of enjoying that time. Without work, school and social pressures, we have no obligation other than to eat ice cream and try as hard as we can to catch a fleeting glimpse of one of Stella's beautiful smiles.
The gift of Stella and Sam.
When Aimee and I decided to be parents, we went into it with the same optimism and feeling of entitlement that I think most young people go into it with. We had no reason to believe that life would be anything but full of playmates, soccer games and bed time snuggles. But right from the beginning, Stella never followed what she was "supposed" to do. She didn't listen to me. She fought me on everything. She threw food at the walls, coloured on the fridge, hit her friends, wriggled away when I tried to kiss her and instead of reading her books, ripped them. More than once I would show up at work in tears and ask my friend Jackie what on earth I was supposed to do with this kid. But when Stella got diagnosed, and I stopped having expectations for her, I got to see her in a whole new light. I learned to appreciate her spirit, her independence and her huge amounts of energy. When I stopped fighting Stella and started listening to her, I fell in love with her…her, not the vision of her I once had. Because Stella gave me that gift, right from the beginning Sam has gotten to experience me as a parent who is not trying to mould him into my vision of what a son should be, but a parent who wants to get to know him for whoever he is.
The last few weeks with Stella have been very special. Without knowing what each day will hold, we have no choice but to enjoy each small miracle we are given. Each hug from a friend, each smile from our children, each laugh shared with the people we love most in the world.
So this Christmas, gifts may not come under the tree, but they are here and they are more special and magical than any other year.
May you make some memories that last a lifetime.
THIS LAST WEEK IN MOMENTS
Friday December 16- Distillery District Christmas Festival
Saturday December 17- Walk to Sobey's for Avacados
Sunday December 18- Stella meets Santa (thanks Farrugia's)
Monday December 19- Riverdale Farm
Tuesday December 20- Sam and Xavier Hang Out
Wednesday December 21- Dinner at Arin's House
Thursday December 22--- Dora comes to visit (thanks Sarah Nelles!)