Learning to Live Again
Posted by Mishi Methven on Nov 15, 2012
Learning to Live Again
The flowers from the funeral that sat on the hutch in our living room died a week ago and got thrown out.
The red toolbox that was once bursting to the seams with medications, instructions, labels, medical supplies has disappeared.
The visits from palliative care Doctors, nurses, physio have stopped.
The stack of brightly coloured children’s books that lay piled on the floor next to the couch is untouched and starting to get a thin layer of dust on top.
The folder with all the information from Sick Kids Hospital--- on call numbers, medical history, medication notes--- is filed neatly away.
The bottles have all been cleaned and are sitting on an unreachable kitchen shelf.
The clothing is freshly laundered, neatly laying in drawers that never get opened.
Stuffed animals stare blankly from the spots they were last dropped.
The couch looks empty.
The house feels empty.
My heart is empty.
It’s been over three weeks since Stella died. It feels like so much longer. Much of it feels like a dream. Did all that really happen? Did all the things neatly typed out on the pages of this blog really happen? The answer is yes, but it’s still hard to believe most days.
Saturday night our friends arranged a “Stella-bration” for Stella. A gathering in the park by moonlight, just outside the gates of her beloved Riverdale Farm where the pigs and the cows waited patiently to see a little girl that would never get to visit them again. There we told stories about Stella, lit candles in her honour, and sang her favourite songs. It was extremely powerful to see our community of friends working together, wearing bright green “Stella-bration” T-shirts, and pulling together to honour our girl. At the end, Stella’s Poppa and his friend Shawn played “Happy Birthday” on their trumpets and as the last chords reverberated through the cool air and everyone’s voices trailed off, a huge gust of wind came and blew out almost everyone’s candles with a great big “whoosh”. It was Stella. It was beautiful and magical, and over all too soon. The next morning Aimee and I woke up in our home with Sam and Hugo and looked at each other…what do we do now? All the formal stuff is over. The funeral is over, the death certificates are printed, Poppa’s morning Timbits are no more. Stella has been taken from our arms and transformed to ashes and memories.
The only thing we can do is wake up every morning and move forward. So we do. Even though it hurts. Even though some days we don’t want to.
The hardest part of this wasn’t letting go. It’s starting over.
I went to the local drop-in with Sam and Hugo on Tuesday morning. It’s the one I’ve been taking Stella to since she was 6 months old. I have a lot of memories of Stella there, and we were there just a couple of days before she slipped into the sleep she never quite woke up from. The staff have always been incredible to us, and greeted us with a loud and happy, “Stella!” whenever they saw us come in. So I found it a bit odd when I went there and the staff didn’t say anything to me about the fact she had died. I kept glancing at a few of the “regulars” and giving them half smiles, inviting them to come talk to me, so I could thank them for everything they had done, and they could offer their condolences. It took me a good half hour to realize something…the staff had no idea who I was. Without Stella, I was just a random, nameless, faceless mom coming to the drop-in with her kids. Once I went over and re-introduced my self, I saw the realization in all of their eyes and they were wonderful to me, as always, but it was still a shocking experience. Just as shocking as the lovely mom who casually asked me, “how many children do you have?”. I’ve been expecting this question. Been mulling over how to answer it for a long time, but it still caught me off guard. I had no response. I must’ve looked so confused as I stuttered through an answer that alluded to the fact I had three, but was vague about the one not with me. My identity has completely changed, and I feel like I’m having to start all over again. People need to get to know me as Sam and Hugo’s mom now. Stella is no longer my identity.
Hours later I took both boys to their regular check-ups. The pediatrician (who was never Stella’s Doctor), I hadn’t seen in a couple of months. As she was buzzing around weighing the boys and asking questions about how often they drink milk, and how much, she casually threw in a “and how’s Stella doing?” with a big grin. It took me off guard, but I stuttered something along the lines of, “Oh…um…actually…she died a couple of weeks ago”. The Doctor couldn’t conceal her shock and gave me a big hug. I realized as I was hugging her, breathing in the smell of her shampoo and my head was buried in her hair, that it was the first time I’d said the words, “my daughter died” out loud. It felt like I had just said something in a foreign language. It made me realize how very, very far I have to go before I get used to my new identity.
Somewhere along the way these last 16 months, I got used to being the mom of a dying child. But the mom of a child who died is still new to me. I’m still learning, still hurting, still confused.
Yet we continue to find great joy on a daily basis in small, unexpected places. Those moments of happiness that creep in are like tiny bursts of hope that push us to the next minute, and the next, and the next. Sometimes, before I know it, I’m smiling down at Hugo and Sam playing together in the bathtub and feeling Stella’s arms around me in a hug when her fuzzy green towel falls from the hook, landing on my shoulders. And then I remember, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu) and I plan on following Stella’s lead, and dancing with abandon through as many of those steps as possible.
Sam and Hugo play together in the bathtub:
Sam and Xavier, both over a year old now!
Getting some cuddle time with the big boys, Sam and Xavier:
Uncle Tristan celebrates his 17th birthday: