The expression “Zebra stripes, ladybugs hugs and butterfly kisses” was coined by an old friend. A friend who knew me, Ella’s mom, as a teenager. A friend who found me again, 20 years later, smack in the middle of my grief.
And upon reading Ella’s story and discovering That Ella suffered from a rare disease and the connection to Ella I have described as ladybugs and other winged creatures, she put into words the sentiment that had inhabiting my head: “Ella’s zebra stripes, ladybugs hugs and butterfly kisses”.
But before Caroline would seal the term, I lived with zebra stripes and labybugs…
First, the “zebra stripes”… It is a well known fact in the world of medicine and specifically of rare diseases that patients with no diagnosis or unexpected diseases are referred to as zebras. As in, just because it has hooves, a long tail and sweet ears does not mean its a horse…. And from the moment Ella was hospitalized in late October 2008, we heard the term zebra as a qualifier for our girl…
And now the ladybugs…
It was not until at about 2 months after Ella’s passing that I started seeing a pattern. I was looking for signs from my little angel early on and really had not seen anything, although I asked her to come see me, but it was clear the signs were there, I just was not apt to see them at the time.
The first moment Ella grabbed my attention was on the very day that Ella’s Daddy and I returned to the ICU together. I had been back to the ICU by myself, almost everyday to be exact, but this was Daddy’s first time since Ella had got her wings. It was spring, a warm day and the window on Daddy’s side of the car was open. As I stopped at a light, something came in to the car and landed on Daddy. A tiny little red ladybug… She stayed on his arm while we waited on the light, and seconds before it changed, she flew out as gently as she came in. We both noticed it, but said nothing.
The second time was a little later in the spring, a week before Mother’s Day. I was sitting with friends at the ball park on a Sunday as I had done every weekend while I was pregnant Ella. And on that particular day, the many moms that were pregnant at the same time I was were enjoying a beautiful, relaxing day with their babies. As I watched them and thought of my baby Ella, no longer with us, I just cracked… I just flipped out and ran away in tears. I made it as far as Starbucks, a couple of blocks away, dried my tears, got myself a drink and proceeded to call my friend Cathy on my way back to the ballpark, still very emotional from the pain. As I reached the park, something just flew into by bosom… I yelled, then tried to wiggle the bug out (yup, I really did – laughing my head off by then while still on the phone) but nothing worked so I just gave up, finished my conversation with Cat and then sat back down on my blanket only to have not a bug, but rather a red ladybug slowly walk out on to my arm. It stayed there for a good 10-15 minutes. And then it just flew away.
Soon after that encounter, I was going through all the condolences cards we’d received. One of the first one that came, from my friend Yvonne, just jumped at me. A simple photograph on the cover: a beautiful white mum, with a gorgeous red ladybug. It still did not really dawn on me…
And then, as I was going through documents, I came across something I’d completely forgotten about. A photo session was done at BC Women’s Hospital, on the day that Ella was discharged. On that day, I finally dressed her up in one of the outfits I finally bought. I had picked a preemie onesie, white with a bit of red and yellow, but most importantly it had a ladybug on it with a French line “Une cocinnelle avec des ailes” (a children rhyme that means a ladybug, with wings). By then, the memories of the ladybugs I encountered resurfaced… and it all became so clear. Ladybugs were Ella’s call sign to me!
After all, both my sister and I had been a “cocinnelle” when we were kids (competitive gymnastic team). And then, there was the outfit that her Dad picked for her (a top actually as he forgot to bring a bottom!). It was a cream colored camisole with a red sweater wrap that tied up at the front. On the bottom right of there was a big red ladybug, and at the top, a couple of small ladybugs separated by flowers.
An then, there was the ladybug that just flew on to my friend Charles, while were were in an indoor garage talking about Ella coming to me as a ladybug and about the fact that, an hour earlier I asked Ella for a sign that it was okay and she understood mommy’s reasons for separating from Daddy….
But what about butterfly kisses??
Simple: butterfly kisses are Ella’s gentle touch on my cheek. When I held her in my arms, she would reach out to twirl my hair or sweetly stroke my cheek, as if she wanted to say “everything is okay, maman”. On any given day, I can feel her butterfly kisses in my hair and on my cheek and I cherish every single encounter.