Hearing Through The Quiet
Posted by on Jan 16, 2013
Hearing Yourself in the Quiet
This afternoon I am sitting in the back of my house, in Stella’s room. Stella’s room is dark until about 4:30 in the afternoon, when the sun starts to stream in and casts dozens of rainbows on the pale green walls thanks to a “Rainbow Maker” that Tutu bought for her last year.
I often find myself drawn to her room when the day is quiet. Hugo is sleeping and everyone else is away at work or school/daycare. Even though Sam has been sleeping in this room for the last 8 months, we still call it “Stella’s” room and it is still full of all her things. The books on the shelf are the ones I used to sit on the floor and read to her…or, more accurately, that she would pull off the shelf and hurl across the room while giggling loudly. The stuffed animals in the corner are the ones she used to drag around by their ears, and toss down the slide at the park. The drawers are still full of her clothes (Sam’s are kept in Hugo’s room). Some of the art has changed. It says “SAM” above the change table, but there are still black marks on the wall behind his name from when Stella used to kick the old picture that hung there as I attempted to change her diaper. The far wall has one of the posters from her Funeral on it. Her smiling face looks down on me each night as I tuck Sam into Stella’s old crib. Her pink baseball cap sits in one corner, high up, where we strategically placed it after she died.
It’s unbelievably quiet here nowadays. The large community that rallied around us when Stella was sick and when she died has been disbanded. Our family and friends are still here for us, just not in such a physically present way. But there are many people who were staples in our home that have vanished. Because after Stella died, their work with us was done. There was Chris, Stella’s nurse who came to our house every week and always called Stella “Boo” as she deftly went about her work, often sharing stories of her own two daughters and their comings and goings. There were the palliative care Doctors, Kevin and Brar, who would sit on our couch, listen to our greatest fears, assure and reassure us continuously, prescribe medicine for Stella and share limitless comforting words with us. Their patience as Aimee and I pestered them with questions about “when” and “how” seemed endless. There was the local pharmacist, Barry, who got to know us, and Stella’s ever-changing prescriptions, with impressive accuracy. There was our awesome volunteer music therapist, Christina, who filled our home with beautiful music and generosity. There was Cath (journalist) and Tara (photographer) who intimately documented Stella’s last year with us, visiting us and asking questions about how we were feeling, how we were managing, how we were living; snapping photographs capturing both the ordinary and extraordinary things we were doing. At one point there was a co-worker of mine who was stopping by regularly, bringing gifts of fun socks and funny stories, but she disappeared sometime in the summer. There were the neighbours whose son died just 11 days before Stella. We clung to each other during the last couple months of our children’s lives, crying, hearts breaking, but haven’t been in contact since late October. There were energetic morning and afternoon visits from Auntie Andgie and Auntie Heather that have slowly petered off. The cupcakes from Christie, morning Timbits from Poppa, homemade applesauce from neighbor Ken…it’s all disappeared. Or maybe disappeared isn’t the right word, but every interaction is different now. Less intense. Less purposeful.
Now the phone doesn’t ring, the door stays shut and it’s mostly just Hugo and I in the house all day. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing to be creating a new semblance of “normal”, it’s just different. Quiet. So quiet that I can often hear the birds chirping outside from the living room couch. Even though Stella hasn’t been out to feed them this winter, they still loyally sing away in our tree. Now that it’s just me off on leave by myself, I’m trying to create a pattern to my days. But the thing about grief is that there is very little predictability
I signed up for a class at Glendon on Thursday evenings. I’m the oldest in the class (probably by a decade), which became painfully obvious when I pulled out a notepad and pen while everyone else booted up their iPad. I’m completely anonymous in class. Nobody there has ever laid eyes on me before. It’s both refreshing and nerve-wracking. Ditto for the “Mom and Baby Groove” dance class I’m taking on Friday mornings in the West End of the city. I went to the first class last week and quickly realized that I was, once again, the social misfit I remembered from my youth. I was a white-running-shoes and black-leggings third-time mom in a room full of high-top sneakered, fluorescent coloured, fedora-wearing first time moms. I was both envious and resentful of their innocence, speaking to each other with great enthusiasm about how little Cole learned how to roll over, baby Finn’s perceived love of the colour chartreuse, a husbands eye-rolling worthy attempt to play with baby James and watch the hockey game. I had nothing to add to the conversations, so stayed awkwardly silent, pretending to study my iPhone with great interest.
Then yesterday, the journalist Cath came over just to hang out with me. I was surprised after spending so much time with her how jittery I was about it. But I was nervous because there was nobody here but me. No other people to take the attention off me, no other person to depend on for conversation topics, no opportunity to discreetly excuse myself to another room if I began to feel too awkward. No Stella to talk to, no Aimee to bounce conversations off of. I was completely insecure. Scared that I wouldn’t be stimulating enough or keep up conversation that was interesting or intelligent enough.
I’ve realized that along with the intense grieving that goes along with losing Stella, I’m also needing to face my biggest fears again of not belonging anywhere specific. I’ve always been a bit of an “odd duck” as my Nana used to call me, but in some ways Stella’s illness was a shield to me. As one friend joked a couple of weeks ago, “People have to be kind to you. They’re like--- ‘hey, be nice to her, her kid died’, there’s a lot of power in that”. It’s funny, but also true in a way. Most people who know about Stella probably cut Aimee and I a bit more slack when it comes to relationships and social cues. But now, in the “new normal”, not everyone knows about Stella. I’m just another mom in a dance class, another student in a class, another person out on a walk with a friend. And I feel awkward because I don’t quite fit in this new role, I’m not entirely sure where the person I’m morphing into belongs.
Since I gave birth to Hugo five months ago, none of my clothing fits. I’m still carrying around some extra weight. Since Stella died, my life doesn’t fit anymore. Physically, mentally and emotionally I’ve got some work to do to make it all fit again.
Stella was so good at adapting. Within a period of 16 months she had every single physical part of her ruthlessly stripped away. And still she laughed. Still she lived. Despite the fact she was only three years old, she intuitively knew that trying to be someone else is a waste of who you really are.
So for now, cuddled up in Stella’s room, surrounded by her things, I guess I have to accept that I’m in an “in-between” place. I am still learning how to sit back and just let the rainbows dance on my face in this quiet room. I am staying present in this peaceful moment, letting all my insecurities and worries melt away, and allowing my mind to drift back to when these walls had the laughter of pure, curly-haired joy dancing in their shadows. My God, I miss that giggle.
Sam and Xavier having a bath...perhaps Sam has a bit of Stella in him after all...:
Nanny and GrandPa read to the boys:
Stella about two years ago...she was such a character! Blurry because that's what parenting her was like---she was always moving so darn fast.