Monthly Archives: October 2013

Healing from Loss: A Mackerel Sky

“It’s a mackerelRobin Botie and her friend Fullis at the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes Walkathon and 5K Run. sky,” says my friend Fullis. “It means the weather’s about to change.” She bops up and down as I shuffle from side to side to keep warm and to keep in the sway of the music.

Today is the annual Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes Walkathon. A week ago I pushed myself to sign up when I learned that Fullis and her husband would be walking. Last year I’d just given money and stayed home. But things are changing now.

I have started a last combing through of my manuscript. All week I sat around turning chapter 12 into chapter 1 and scouring the first third of the book for places to improve.
“Your manuscript is never done,” say my writer friends. It is true. I could rewrite the book for the rest of my days. But it’s time to focus on finding an agent.
When I write, I relive my times with my daughter. I feel the tremendous hope we held until the very end. I soar with the small victories. I reach back into the almost three years in and out of hospitals, and Marika is with me once more. Then comes chapter 11. The loss flattens me. Again and again.

The two-mile walk around Cass Park to benefit our local Cancer Resource Center is a good distraction. There are thousands out here on this cold damp day. People wear pinks, reds and turquoise. Some wear photos of their lost ones pinned to their chests. There are children and dogs in costumes. Survivors pose together for pictures, and high school cheerleaders and musicians line the route. A friend of my daughter’s calls out to me. Two people I know only on Facebook say hello.
Fullis, her husband, and I walk our usual fast hikers’ pace and soon we are near the end of the walk. In my head I am already inside of chapter 8. In that chapter, Marika is in remission and we are in a race against time to get her stem cell transplant when she announces that she can’t have the transplant until after her concert. I can hardly wait to get back.

“Do you ever feel like your daughter is with you?” asks Fullis. I look at the dogs in costume, at my feet on the gravel path, at the changing colors of the landscape. I look anywhere but at my friend as I fight back tears.

“Don’t get me started,” I say as my eyes finally find the already fading mackerel sky.

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Healing from Loss: Teatime Ritual

 

teatime

On a small boat in the middle of Cayuga Lake, in the middle of October, I am drinking tea with my friends. In real china teacups. With saucers. We are a motley crew: me and my friends, Barb and Liz, and their fathers and one daughter, not mine. I no longer have a father or a daughter. At this moment it is easy to pine over this. But I’m the only one of the three of us with a living mother. And, I remind myself, my son comes home from Afghanistan in two days. Still, I watch the fathers sitting together and can’t help but think how my own father would have fit in perfectly. How my own daughter would have loved to be out on the lake in October.
The boat gently rocks as Barb pours the hot gourmet-blended tea into fragile cups with floral designs. It is our second annual teatime honoring the memory of her mother.
“These are lemon apricot scones from Collegetown Bagels and chocolate chip scones from Greenstar,” says her daughter, passing two bags around.
“To mom,” we all toast.
For a minute I wonder what I am doing here. I never even met my friend’s mother. I’m the only one without a relative on the boat.
But everyone here knows loss. Along with good and bad times, we build rituals into our individual life patterns to share the memories of the ones we lost. Today it feels like fathers and daughters are being shared too. I joke with the fathers and try to photograph the red fox the daughter points out on the shore.
Clouds rolling over the sky hide the sun. I am having teatime in the middle of the lake in October because of the twists and bends my life path has taken. And because of the good friends I have found along the way.on a boat in October on Cayuga Lake

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Healing from Loss: October’s Colors

Images of Robin Botie's daughter, Marika Warden, photo-shopped with the last flower from Valentina's gardenThis week there were sunny warm days where I could pretend it was still August. There were clear star-riddled skies at night with a half-moon bright enough to throw moon-shadows. But we’d already had a few frosts. The flowers by my door were gone.

I asked a dozen people to tell me something beautiful about October.

“The colors,” several said. “The smell in the air,” said others. Sniffing the crisp air, I went on walks with friends and photographed hillsides of trees blushing red. Camille showed me a big wall of stone hearts just behind us that I missed, distracted by a swollen stream. Dennis pointed out huge root systems buried under the leaves in the woods.

“See the leaves raining down?” asked Virginia. Our feet made loud shooshing sounds as we walked through the light crunchy blanket on the forest floor. It was stunning. It mostly made me sad.

My daughter loved this time of the year. Marika could make Halloween last the whole month.  She saw lights and music, opportunities to dress up, silly pumpkins, and the holidays to come. I always saw mud, short dark days, flooding, imminent storms, and long months ahead lumbering under heavy winter jackets.

At home I turned up the heat. I made chili and started to stuff the freezer with storm food. I put out plastic battery-powered candles that flick fake orange fire. It was not beautiful but the candles’ glow and the aromas of hot hearty soups comforted me.

“Look,” said my friend Valentina, “you didn’t see.” She pointed to the single flower she’d placed on the table next to my manuscript that I have started to rewrite once more. The flower stood there, simple and sweet but cheeky. Still fresh, its long petals were just beginning to tangle. It had a radiance that made me melt.

“This is the last flower from my garden,” Valentina said.

I sat with it and couldn’t help but smile. I watched it like I used to watch my daughter’s hazel eyes.

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Healing from Loss: Off Comfort Road

Rusty, a Pomeranian dog, peeks out between pink-spotted leaves in the forest off Comfort Road in Ithaca, New York.Notice anything new? What do you think of this updated version of my website? What needs to change? Somehow this hatched over the past two weeks amid many tears and tantrums.

“I want to indent. The photos should be bigger. This isn’t right. Why can’t it be like it was before?” I torment Bob at Ameriweb, my website’s new host. Bob works late nights to make the transition to my new online home go smoothly. But it is so different from what I knew and loved about my old site that I am having a hard time accepting it. “It’s too many changes,” I protest. This is just the beginning. This week I will register for a new health care carrier. I will start writing for a small online newspaper. I may even start to discover how the government shutdown will affect things.

“How much longer are you going to be working on your book? Don’t you think it’s time to move on?” my friend Liz prods. But I am still doggedly making changes to my memoir. And maybe I’m a little afraid to take the next steps.
I wasn’t always this wimpy about moving forward. I wonder what happened to the adventurous spirit that buoyed me as I got my pilot license, became a lifeguard at the age of fifty, and went alone last year to Australia to scatter my daughter’s ashes. Why am I so averse to change now?

At six in the morning on Sunday I burrow deep under the blankets not yet ready to face the new day. There is too much I can’t control. Nothing is the same anymore. My website, my book, … my life. Suddenly I need to just blow everything off.
So I go with my friends and our dogs for a walk in the woods off Comfort Road. We take a new trail in a familiar area. It is cool and damp in the forest. Then it becomes hot and muggy. The dark cloudy sky turns light as the sun comes out and I tie up my hair and tear off my jacket. If I close my eyes it feels like it’s still August. But when I open them I notice the green of summer is almost gone. The stream beds that were dry in July are muddy and wet now. And the trail is covered in red and yellow leaves.

“Look. Suki’s wearing earrings,” I say. The fallen leaves stick to her. She is like a trotting mop on the forest floor. We laugh when she shakes.

There is really no escaping change. I just have to find the joy in it.Suki, Robin Botie's Havanese dog, looks up as Robin photographs the fallen leaves at their feet

 

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