Monthly Archives: August 2014

Anger After Loss

Anger After Loss, Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, letting go of inner angerAround the table bereaved friends spoke of anger. I listened as I scoured the closets of my mind for some story of my own anger. I found none. When my turn came to share I told them that, not wholly believing it myself.
“I need to get in touch with my inner anger,” I said, joking as the group disbanded shortly after. But it was not a joke. Across the clouded screen in my head subtitles flashed, “In Denial.” Because who was I to escape anger? Isn’t anger one of the stages of grief? I would be a rare case if I didn’t harbor some anger after loss. Most likely I had simply not faced it yet.

“This is very rare,” my doctor said, the next day. He put down my files and waited for my reaction. I sat in silence trying to picture the redundant crisscrossing, floppy colon he was describing. My colon.
“I’m a rare case?” I asked, like maybe I’d won a great prize. But really I was wondering, Why me? My stomach was rumbling. I already gave, I told myself, as in: I already gave up my daughter who died of cancer. As in: here I am trying to live my life bigger and better and how am I supposed to do that when I’m losing my health? And why is it that the more tests you doctors do, the more diagnoses I’m given? I’m still suffering from my original symptoms. And: I’m not angry; I’m just scared for my life.

Because maybe I’ve swallowed my anger for so long that it’s turned my insides floppy, upside down and backwards.

Share Button

Where’s the Joy in Life?

Where's the Joy in Life? Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, gets kissed by Suki the life-saving dog Botie inherited from her daughter who died of leukemia,Marika Warden.“Where’s your toy, Suki?” I ask every night as my dog and I make our bedtime tour of the house to collect Green Ball, her favorite toy. The dog I inherited from my daughter who died is my lifesaver now. When I think I’m drowning, Suki shows me the playground our world is. Our nightly routine is to find her toy and settle into bed, and then she rolls over so I can give her a belly-rub as I recount the best parts of the day. Before turning out the light, I tell her what we can look forward to when we wake.

The first ten days of August had been full. I performed my book reading, went to a hikers’ picnic and the theater, ate several dinners out, and spent a weekend away at Lake George. Suki and I hiked with friends almost every day. Each morning we saw a great blue heron take off from the pond. At night we watched the moon reflected in the pond as frogs sang. I tried to videotape the full moon and the frog-song but Suki whined wanting my attention and I laughed too hard to hold the camera.

Then came August 11th. There was little planned for that week other than medical tests. On the calendar was written: CT scan, mammogram, eat only clear liquids, call lab for test results. It rained, the driveway flooded. The credit card bill came due. I learned that since I had lyme disease I could no longer donate blood. The great blue heron disappeared along with the resident duck. Rodents noisily clawed their way through the house’s rafters. Robin Williams died. Lauren Bacall died. The days were spent waiting for doctors’ calls, not daring to make plans that would need to be cancelled. Another diagnosis, a rare disorder, my doctors couldn’t answer my questions, it wasn’t cancer but I couldn’t be grateful.

For seven nights I sank into bed scared.

“Where’s the joy, Suki?” I asked last night, sobbing to my sweet inherited dog as we settled into bed. Suki looked straight at me, picked up the Green Ball, and merrily squeaked it in my face.

Share Button

Mothers Healing Together

Yoga on the dock of Wiawaka Holiday House on Lake George led by Kathleen Fisk. Attended by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, and other bereaved mothers from all over New York.In my dream I am in a van with several other people riding through the Ithaca Commons. Outside on the left, we pass my daughter, Marika, who is smiling brilliantly, blindly, walking with a friend guiding her.
“Hi Marika,” everyone in the van calls out to my daughter who died over three years ago. I’m happy she hears their greetings. I call out to her myself, “Marika, we love you.” Through the back window of the van I see her turn and hold her arms out. Her smile fades and she cries.

The alarm clock woke me then. It was time to get up and go off to the weekend retreat for bereaved mothers, Mothers Healing Together.

Hours later, at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George, there were women in all stages of grief. They were healing the holes in their lives as they held close the memories of their beloved children. They looked for ways to honor them and link them to the future. I talked with them like they were sisters. We shared our stories and cried together. We laughed together. We bathed in the vibrations of gongs and walked the winding path of the garden labyrinth following one another’s footsteps.

My own memories stirred from sounds echoed over the lake. I remembered  cookouts, camps, attending soccer games, … being so proud of my daughter at school musicals. For the first time in over three years I found myself at a time and place where I was Marika’s Mom again.

I cried when I came home. And I marked my calendar for next year’s retreat.

As for my dream: I tell myself Marika walks happily, peacefully, among new friends as I do. It cheers me to imagine her jamming with the other talented children of the mothers I spent time with who, like me, sing their daughter’s songs and live their children’s dreams.Retreat for bereaved mothers at Wiawaka Holiday House at Lake George, New York with gong bathing, gardens, and sculptures by Pam Golden.

Share Button

Not Cancer

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, holds newborn Marika Warden like she is holding the moon.I am guarding life. I’ve seen it decay and be devoured by cancer. Twice I watched it disappear. So I guard it like it could melt away in a moment.

Once upon a time, to guard life was to sing to my growing belly for months and then hold the warm wriggling creature I birthed like I was holding the moon. Guarding life, I rose each morning earlier than I wanted to feed and carry and keep my beautiful helpless one from ruin. I caught the sun for her, made every day the best day, and collapsed into bed at night to sleep with one ear always awake.

Later, when cancer hit home, to guard life was to wait at her bedside and rub my daughter’s feet. It was to find favorite foods or a puppy, anything to bring sunshine back. In the end, I looked into her unconscious eyes as the nurses peered in with flashlights. They asked the family to leave but I stayed. I watched her take her last breath and felt my heart seize when her pulse stopped. Still I stood guard. I sat there until it sank in that the life was gone out of her.

Then lifeguarding became gathering up the prom dresses, the photos and journals, the bottles of bath gels and body lotions, the twenty pairs of boots, sneakers and sandals. It became learning about the parts of my daughter’s life I hadn’t known about. I looked for ways to keep her close and wondered what would get me to rise all the next mornings of my life.

After Marika died, I had to become my own lifeguard. I kicked myself up and out of bed. First I lived for her. Then I tried to live more like she did: like life was to be loved. Like my own life was worth something.

I guess I didn’t do a great job. My next three years were riddled with accidents, illness, sleepless nights, falls, and broken bones. And now there were worrisome symptoms.

The test results came back one by one. Each phone call from the doctor resulted in new pills, things to avoid, more to take care of, and mostly, gratitude. Iron deficiency. A dangerously low vitamin-D count. Giardea. Lymes disease. Each diagnosis was a blow.

But it wasn’t cancer.

Share Button