Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Positive Force in Life

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, with Marika Warden living big.“Mom. You’ve been eating dinners standing over the kitchen sink for weeks now. Enough.”
From the far wall, the life-sized portrait of my daughter, who has been dead over three years, smirks at me. I turn away to rinse the tiny Stone Wave pot I store food, cook and eat from. But I still hear Marika’s words, “Mom, you’re becoming a hermit.”

“Yeah, but I’m on this weird diet that makes it impossible to eat out. All my friends are away this week anyway. And everyone else is coupled-off now so … Besides, I have a lot of work to do,” I say.
“Mom.” With this one word she can still shut me up, like gunshot.

A year after my daughter died, family and friends were sending mixed messages: get over it, it’s time to let go; take as much time as you need to heal; you will never get over this.
In support groups I watched bereaved parents tell their stories and grasp for tissues with quivering hands. Grief was not something to get over or through, the counselors told us. They said grief was a measure of love so I imagined love as a long ribbon with grief and joy at opposite ends. The evening a mother announced she still talked to her dead son, I felt I’d joined the right club. That’s when I knew my daughter would be with me, in some way or other, forever.

I decided to make it a good thing. Marika could be a positive force in my life; I’d hang onto her but allow her memory to pull me up and out into the world she loved. It meant I’d have to live bigger in order to live for us both.

That is how I came to be at Ithaca’s Istanbul Turkish Kitchen last week, seated at a table piled with beautiful food, with nine new and old friends, and eight bottles of wine.

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Finding Joy

 

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, welcomes first day of summer

Starting today, I will find a thousand things to be joyful about this summer.

Petunias, wildflowers, the perfume of cut grass, crisp salads, dogs in life jackets, fireflies, campfires, berry-picking, polished toenails, green, the nightly frog chorus, the sun, thunderstorms, Cayuga Lake, afternoons on a boat with friends, sweet time …

When she wasn’t feeling sick, every day was a party for my daughter. Every summer was an adventure. Marika didn’t get enough summers. To honor her I will embrace every opportunity to laugh and have fun.

 

Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, finds 1000 things to be joyful about this summer.

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We are ALL Dying

A woman with coffee photoshopped by Robin Botie in Ithaca, New YorkWe are ALL dying. This is what I tell myself, driving to the hospice center to train to be a morning-shift kitchen volunteer. Even with weeks of hospice training, I’m still nervous about interacting with people who are dying. I don’t want them to see behind my eyes, the hidden thought: you might not be here when I return next week. So I keep telling myself we’re All leaving town sooner or later – some of us just have an earlier flight.

Shadowing the Thursday-morning volunteer, I operate the sanitizing dishwasher and the coffee machine. She shows me where to find spatulas, and introduces me to the staff and the routine. Then she has me make an egg, my first egg for someone who is not in my immediate family.
“I’m not much of a cook,” I apologize before I’ve even cracked the shell. This might be someone’s last egg so I want it to be good.

“We’re all leaving town, we’re all leaving town,” I say to myself as I follow Thursday-Morning into a darkened room and place the tray with the egg and a tippy-cup of milk before a pale man in a hospital bed. I follow as we peek into rooms to offer breakfast.
When we return to the kitchen, a tall man in boxer shorts is rummaging about. He does not look like he’s dying. He looks like he’s hungry.
“Are you finding what you need?” Thursday-Morning asks. The man walks out with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
“That’s my kind of breakfast,” I say to him. But he is focused on his dish.

A white-haired woman sits at the dining room table waiting for her eggs. I bring her coffee on a tray hoping she won’t get impatient as I scramble around to help Thursday-Morning make a perfect egg and piece of toast. The woman is very polite to me. She’s not scary at all. And she’s in no hurry.

When the morning shift is over I drag my feet saying goodbye. I find myself smiling, looking forward to the next time.
Then, in my car heading home, I have a flashback of long ago breakfast trays with bright cloth napkins, jolly eggs and toast, and smoothies. To  coax my daughter out of bed for high school, and later for morning drives to the hospital, I’d bring her breakfast-in-bed trays.
“Mom, you make the worst pancakes,” she used to say.

I cry when I remember. Marika, do you believe this? Look where I am. I’m gonna make breakfast trays for all these people now.
But I quickly wipe my tears. There’s something else to worry about now: when I do my kitchen shift, what if they ask me to make pancakes?

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The Last Part of Life

Father of Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, peaks out from behind dead plants.“Thank you, Dad,” I say to my father almost every day.

In September 2009, my sisters and I flew to our father in Florida. In the Delray Beach Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, we watched him sleep, hooked to machines and monitors, sensor pads pasted all over. His glasses, dentures, and hearing aids lay on the bedside table. He was beyond fixing.
He woke up annoyed, tossing his head from side to side, No.
It was not supposed to be like this. He had not intended to get stuck in an artificial extension of his life. He had planned and prepaid for his trip out of the world. The bills had been paid and a large loose-leaf binder was filled with his living will, advance directives, insurance information, and paperwork on everything he owned including a prepaid cremation. For months, maybe years, he had designed and documented his smooth exit like he was leaving on a long vacation.
“It’s time,” he said from his hollow mouth, not blinking. He wanted out.

How did he come to welcome his death with outstretched arms, I wondered? Could I ever design my own dying as if it were a shining adventure? If I watched a hundred people die might I lose my fear and see death for what it really is – the last part of life – and wrap it up royally?

I need to understand this thing that separates me from my father and my daughter. To gain a closer connection to death I attend Death Cafes, grief film series, and trainings at my local Hospice center. I photograph things that have died, determined to appreciate death’s beauty.

In September 2009, the nurses at the Florida hospital’s Hospice Unit wheeled my father into the family room unconscious and finally freed from all the life-supporting paraphernalia. He lasted long enough for me to say, “Thank you, Dad.” I wanted the last words he heard to be “thank you” although I didn’t know where he’d be taking those words. As I watched him take his last breath, I made a promise to be my father’s daughter for the rest of my time.
Five years later, in his honor, I have started to fill my own loose-leaf binder.

 

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Healing from Loss: Losing Myself

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, looking at the photo of herself in the hospital.I don’t curse. Probably because of all the hours I spent as a kid in the back of my mother’s car, stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, with my mother ranting at the wheel. There were f—ing idiots driving alongside us, damn a–holes in front of us, and  stinkin’ s—heads in the front. The swearing fascinated me. I couldn’t master her competence or style. So I never tried.

This past week, on the day of my colonoscopy, my friend drove me to and from the hospital and stayed for the brief review after the procedure.
“Do you remember what the doctor said?” she asked the next day when the whole event was a vague memory. I couldn’t even remember what the doctor looked like. “He couldn’t finish the last part of the procedure because you were in pain and were cursing,” she said.
“Me? I don’t curse,” I told her.
“You were cursing. Yes you were,” she insisted.

I was crushed. How rude, I thought. How crude. This couldn’t be true. The worst four-letter words I ever dared to use were “darn” and an occasional “what-the hell?” I got queasy just typing those. The self-image I’d always nursed of a bland, demure, tight-lipped girl-woman was suddenly gone. My self-identity was a fraud. Here I was trying to recover from the loss of my daughter and I somehow had lost myself.
Who am I? Whose words did I use, I wonder? My son’s? I’d heard a sorry earful the time he broke his leg in high school and the doctor set the bone without using anesthesia. Or did I use the long forgotten language of my mother stuck in traffic on the LIE?

Flummoxed, I then had to wonder: what else did I not know about myself?

“Right after the procedure you wanted me to take your photograph,” my friend said. I winced at the photos of me sitting up, wrapped in the hospital gown and blankets, silly and shameless.

No. I definitely don’t know her.

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