Posted by on Mar 15, 2013
My Favourite Photos
Photos are a funny thing. When my great-grandparents were young, photography was still in its infancy and you had to go to a fancy studio to get portraits done. There are only a few pictures of my great-grandparents that I’ve ever seen. Their entire lives are represented by one stiffly posed photo with siblings, one graduation photo, one wedding photo and one family photo where they are about middle-aged. With my grandparents, it was similar. I think they each have about 5 or 6 photos of themselves as children. Even though my four grandparents were all from different places, each set of their childhood photos are all tiny, blurred sepia prints that are very posed and almost completely without smiles. By the time my parents were children, photographs were a bit easier to come by. They each have piles of black and white photos of their childhood and youth, but they are fairly small in size, and shaped like postage stamps. They have started to fade and the edges are crinkled and crackling. By the time Aimee and I were born (in the late 1970’s), everyone had cameras but because they were film and you only got 24 in a roll, the parts of our childhood that are photographed are a bit sporadic. Lots of photos of us at the cottage, at Disney World, on our birthdays and Christmas. But nothing really of the “in between” times. The normal, regular, day to day lives we once led. The photos we have are stuck in old photo albums with brown leather covers, cheap gold vines outlining the pages. They are the magnetic type of album covered in strips of sticky glue that hold photos to the page with sheets of clear plastic on top. The pages are turning brown at the edges and the photos are permanently stuck in their chemical beds. The pages of our childhood albums are well-worn from decades of being looked at, and all the photos in them are familiar to both us and our families.
When Stella was born, Aimee and I invested in a digital camera (as did most parents we know). Digital cameras are different. They can take dozens of shots in just seconds, and you can easily delete the ones that didn’t turn out. You can download them to your computer, or the web, and have a play by play of all the things you and your family have done. By the time Stella was diagnosed with DIPG at 26 months, we had hundreds and hundreds of snapshots and dozens of videos of her. After her diagnosis, we stepped up the photographing and videoing ten-fold, desperate to capture as many moments, looks and memories as we could of her. I have piles of printed photos and 27 folders on my computer full of Stella pictures. But I still feel as though that isn’t enough, which is funny when I consider the amount of photos my great-grandparents and grandparents had to represent their lives. But it always strikes me that there is a finite amount of photos of her. That I can spend hours looking through all the photos, but there will never be any new ones of her because she’s dead. Even though there are thousands of them, I know each photo of Stella. I remember the day that every single one of them was taken, what we were doing, who was with us. These single moments capturing both the ordinary and extraordinary parts of our lives sometimes bring grief, sometimes bring comfort, but always bring back a tiny piece of Stella.
So today I decided to share a few of my favourite photos of Stella. Most of these are from the last two years of her life, some of them might be familiar to many of you, others will be new. I have many beautiful pictures of her as a baby, but I like to look at the photos where her personality really shines through!! So, here are the ones that I come back to again and again as I continue to miss Stella and try to find ways to keep her as real as possible to me:
This is Stella at the CN Tower in November, 2010. We went to celebrate Tristan’s 15th birthday as he had never been before. Aimee was feeling incredibly sick that day as she had just suffered a miscarriage a few days earlier. We were stressed and tired. Stella was 19 months old and we were 1800 feet in the air looking down on Toronto. Grown men were getting weak knees from being so high up, and Stella was pressed against the window joyously. No fear at all in that little girl:
This one was taken on Christmas Day, 2010. I like it because Stella is totally passed out, but you can see how she insisted on dressing herself that day. She looks part toddler, part clown, all Stella! I remember she was so excited and hyper that it was Christmas and she was running around with Gracie that the only way I got her to go for a nap was to take her for a 40 minute walk in the freezing cold in her stroller. What an imp:
I like this one because it is all wrong. Two-year olds should not be sitting on the granite counter, above the tile floor and scribbling on the family calendar with appointments on it with a permanent pen. It shouldn’t have happened but…hey, this was Stella. Taken February, 2011:
With Stella even tooth brushing was an adventure. She insisted on sunglasses and her special tooth brushing song every time. March 2011:
This picture was taken in April of 2011, two months before we learned the acronym “DIPG”. We were driving home from our best friends’ house, Ray and Brad, and Stella was unusually quiet in the backseat. Since we were used to driving while dodging flying running shoes and constant demands, we looked at each other and mouthed, “don’t turn around. Don’t give any attention”. We passed the 50 minute drive in relative silence, both thrilled at Stella’s “good behavior”. Of course, when we got home and turned around we found that Stella had been busying herself the entire ride with a black pen. She had coloured her legs, arms, the carseat, car door and anything else she could reach. We learned our lesson that day, but it still cracks me up when I think about it!!
This is so Stella to me. Sitting in GrandPa John’s backyard, a warm day in April 2011. She dressed herself (of course!) and is wearing her “big sister to be” t-shirt we had just bought for her. She is just vibrating with energy and life:
These photos were taken in May, 2011 about a month before Stella was diagnosed. It was at Flora’s second birthday party at the zoo. I love them because there is clearly a 600lb polar bear swimming directly at Stella, and instead of being frightened or nervous, she pressed her face up against the window and squealed with delight. The second one which shows the bear swimming away is funny because it’s as though Stella is saying to the camera, “Scared that one away, Mama!”
This was taken a couple of weekends before Stella was diagnosed in June, 2011. Lots of weekends Aimee and I took the “divide and conquer” approach to parenting, with one of us taking Stella and the other dealing with house chores. But on this beautiful late spring day we spent the day as a family and had a great time. This was snack time at Dieppe Park. One of our last beautiful, wonderful, innocent days together as a family:
This photo was taken in September, 2011. I love it because this was just a couple of days after Stella had lost her ability to walk completely. We were at GrandPa John’s house for a BBQ with Aimee’s family and she was just glowing. Her Uncle Dave snapped this picture and we love it. She couldn’t walk, but she was so happy. It was the first of many lessons she taught us about accepting change, not just gracefully, but joyfully:
This is the first family photo we had taken after Sam was born, October 2011. Stella was genuinely thrilled to meet her baby brother and even though Aimee hates this picture (she was less than 24-hours post partum…), I love it:
This was taken the day Stella proved yet again she was in charge of this tumor. It was early March, 2012, on a day I took her downstairs to paint. She couldn’t hold a paintbrush anymore, so I was doing hand over hand with her. She kept trying to bite the end of the paintbrush and I was admonishing her, tsking and saying, “Stella, we don’t eat paintbrushes”. She finally got her teeth around the paintbrush, yanked it out of my hand and began painting herself, using her mouth. I was amazed, and she painted that way for months, sharing her ability with all of us and leaving a legacy of beautiful artwork behind which now adorns our walls:
They said she’d never make it to her third birthday, but she did! Blowing out the candles on April 18th, 2012:
This one is “famous” in our circle now. It was taken at the Butterfly conservatory in Niagara Falls in May, 2012. This butterfly landed on Stella’s cheek and just stayed there. We have about 15 photos from this moment with the butterfly on her face, but this is the best one because she’s looking straight at the camera. It looks almost staged, it’s so perfect and it was just before we began to see Stella’s journey with DIPG as a sort of metamorphosis for all of us.
This one is the only photo we have of all three of our children. It was almost impossible to get the three of them in one spot because Stella at that point couldn’t hold any of her body parts up individually and Sam was SO active and would never sit still or be held for any photos, while Hugo slept through almost everything. Taken in August 2012, this is the best one we have, and we love it:
This was taken on labour day, 2012. We had Arin and his family over for fireworks and a big one had just gone off with a loud BOOM. It scared all the kids (you can see the babies crying), and Stella let out a huge laugh. It was so HER!
This was taken in September, 2012. Stella had agreed to go to Sobey’s to buy bananas and avocados for the first time in weeks. She was so happy that day, she had just come out of a “I think she’s going to die” week, and I was bursting with joy that she was feeling better. It was a gorgeous fall day, she and I giggled and laughed and played. I remember it all so clearly, the smell of leaves and the laughter of kids coming from the schoolyard we walked by. She held the bananas and avocados and stuck her tongue out for “more”. It was a very happy, “ordinary” day.
This picture was taken just a couple of days before Stella fell into the sleep that she never quite woke up from. In the two weeks leading up to her rapid decline, she began wanting to go for walks to Dairy Queen everyday for ice cream. Aimee and I would load all three of our kids up in strollers and make the 20 minute walk there and back each day. This was taken on our last trip as a family and I love it because Stella is literally two weeks away from death, yet her smile is just as pure and beautiful as the day she was born. She is glowing with happiness despite the fact the DIPG had taken almost everything from her:
I have more photos I love to look at, many, many more. They will never be “enough”, but they are something. Thousands of snapshots in time, a time gone but never forgotten.