Monthly Archives: June 2015

Signs From Dead Loved Ones

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops the raven design she made for Silk Oak, an Ithaca-based design studio“The blue heron was flying too close, right at me.” The small group sat around the table, taking turns talking about signs they’d received from their children who died: ravens that stared, the moon suddenly peeking out of a totally clouded sky, a butterfly landing and staying longer than it should, phone calls with no caller, a television that suddenly turned on by itself … I nodded in agreement. Yes, I’d seen that, I’d felt my daughter’s presence. But it had been a long time. I was sad, wondering if maybe my time for receiving signs was over.

The signs I’d gotten were different. Small notes Marika had written would appear at pertinent times. Like the Mother’s Day card I found in May last year. And her drawing of a rabbit, our favorite animal, in a heart with a speech-cloud that said, “Welcome Home Mom.” I’d found it just before leaving on the trip to Australia to scatter her ashes, and then placed it on the mantle by the front door, to be the first thing I saw when I returned home. Sometimes I’d be searching for something and a gift of Marika’s would surface instead. From the time she could hold a crayon, she’d been writing and drawing. During her lifetime, she and I must have stashed thousands of these things away. The “messages” kept popping up the past four years even though I’d long ago cleaned out Marika’s room and scoured the house for any signs of her.

The morning after the group meeting I was searching for my will. When you look for something, you always find something else, I should know by now. Stuck under a pile of papers was this:Signs From Dead Loved Ones, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, finds a story created by her daughter Marika Warden, who died of leukemia in 2011

Farther and farther I went. I found my mother she went with me.
I went back up. I gasped for air. W
[h]ere was I. I was on land! I am magic!
I am a beluga whale. I was just made. I looked at my creator for the last time. She was gone. I was falling deep into the water! I heard a soothing sound like a lullaby. I started swimming.


What signs have you experienced or heard about? Do you believe in signs from after death?

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Dancing with Goats

Robin Botie photoshops multiple images of herself dancing with baby goats. Original photos by Mary Jane Hetzlein of Ithaca, New York.I had no idea I was being recorded. Or that I was being watched by anyone else besides Mary Jane Hetzlein’s goats.

“Go out and do something happy every week. Every day, if possible,” I always tell myself. “It doesn’t matter what. Just find something that feels joyful.” This is one of my solutions for warding off depression.
“You wanna come over and play with some baby goats?” Mary Jane had said in her email. After several days of rain and flooding, I finally grabbed my camera and the Wellington boots I inherited from my daughter, and drove the short distance from my house to Mary Jane’s. And there was the happiest scene I’d ever stepped into.

Mother goat in Ithaca, New York by Robin BotieGoat nursing in Ithaca, New York, by Robin BotieA goat smiles in Ithaca, New York. By Robin Botie.

Later that night, as I transferred the goat pictures from camera to computer, the television was bursting with reports of the Charleston church shooting. Looking back and forth from the TV screen to the computer, I found I’d taken a hundred photos of field and dirt with an end of a goat’s leg or a tip of an ear. There were only three shots that did not look like blurry clouds racing off the picture. All the gentle goats prancing in the tall grasses, their sweet smiles, the baby goat that chewed on my shirt and danced with me as I backed away to focus on his face – all gone. It was now just a memory stuck in my head, disappearing quickly behind the television images of grief-struck people in Charleston.

What was I doing seeking comfort and joy in a yard of baby goats when people can’t even be safe in their place of worship? I wondered. Could I justify writing about goats when people’s hearts are breaking? And should I dare try to convey the silliness of being with baby goats if I didn’t even have photos?

I went to bed miserable, thinking of my poor photography skills, the floods, the people crying in anguish, madmen with guns, … and wished us all peace. Find something joyful, I told myself. The next day Mary Jane sent me eleven emails with photos of me dancing with goats.


What do you do to balance bad times with good times?

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Where’s the Joy?

Tory, the dog that loves water, photographed by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York.I get a headache just thinking about all the things that need tending. Some people can plow right through these like they are simply small puddles in their paths. Some eagerly lap them up or skirt around them. But there are others of us who have a way of making our puddles grow into deep swamps until we are sinking in mud.

The Internet was down and the kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes the day the electrician came to fix some dead electrical outlets, and the plumber showed up to repair the heater/air conditioner, and the excavator put in a drainage pipe to stop the garage from flooding. I was supposed to be pulling cattails from the pond but instead I was shooing away crows from the newly seeded lawn and following the electrician up and down the stairs. Where’s the joy? I wondered, thinking about the responsibilities and the bills that would follow. Abandoning my post, I phoned my friend Liz.
“Take me away from here,” I pleaded. “This is too much. I need to escape. I’ll go anywhere.”

She took me to Cayuga Landscape and then The Plantsmen Nurseries. We walked the grounds, sniffing the spirea, searching for a male holly and deer-resistant evergreens.
“Don’t look at the boxwood; it smells like cat pee,” she said. “This one you have to keep deadheading if you want it to flower. What’s your budget? Whoa, how many plants are you getting?” she asked as I dragged multiple flowering shrubs from their rows.Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, selects plants at Cayuga Landscape and The Plantsmen Nursery

We drove home, the back of her car packed with Blue Princess hollies, Purple Candles astilbe, yellow coreopsis, blue catmints, and Buckley’s Quill mock orange. It was late when we got back. We unloaded the car and Liz left.

I looked at the fourteen plants that stood quivering on both sides of my front door, begging to be watered and planted. It was time to start facing my mud puddles.


What do you do to escape your responsibilities?

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Talking with my Dead Daughter

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her image in campfire flames along with photos from an exhibit of wildlife-up-close by Fingerlakes PhotographersI admit it – I talk to my dead daughter. It’s a lot easier to say this now that I’ve found I am not the only person talking to a dead loved one.
Moreover, she talks back.
“Get this one,” Marika said two months ago, when I was paging through a Garnet Hill mail order catalog to buy my birthday gift “from her.” It was a flame red dress with a floral design. Not exactly my style, but it was red. She had always bought me something red for my birthday, a red sweater, scarlet capris, red woolen socks.
“That dress is on back order,” the sales operator said when I called. “It won’t arrive until late June.” That seemed like a long time to wait. I ordered it anyway because it was the one Marika chose.

The package came earlier than predicted. The red dress was in my mailbox on the day of the campfire celebrating my friend’s husband’s life. I considered wearing it for the campfire. Whenever Marika had new clothes, she’d put them on immediately.
“No, it’ll be too buggy and cold tonight,” I told her as I tried the dress on. It fit, and felt perfect.

I wore the dress the next evening at the Hospicare and Palliative Care Services Luminaria Lighting where I volunteered as a “goodnighter,” seeing guests off as the sun set and the white paper bags with lit candles lined the walkways.
“Mom, can we take my bag home?” she asked after the ceremony.
“How will I find yours? There are hundreds of luminarias.”
It was dark. I walked alone.  The hem of my dress swept the path when I bent to read the labeled bags. I found it.

I wore the dress the evening after, at the Fingerlakes Photographers’ opening for the exhibit, A Closer Look: Independaent Visions of the Natural World, at Damiani Wine Cellars. It was my first time exhibiting three of my photos in a show. In my flame red dress I found Marika’s courage, and faced the crowd, proud of my new endeavors.

“Thanks, Mareek. What do you think?” I said before and after each event as I twirled around in the dress before Marika’s life-size portrait, my inherited dog dancing at my side. Talking to her is one way I keep my daughter in my present time. I will not allow Marika to be merely a part of my past.


How do you keep the ones you love, and thought you lost, in your current life?

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Not Just a School

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, attendingher 6th grade reunion at PS 94 Queens, her image photographed by Jane Seckel CassidyI’d never gone to any of my high school or college reunions. There had been no strong relationships, no compelling reasons, to attend these. But when announcements for the 100th anniversary of NYC Public School 94 and the reunion of its 6th grade class of 1963 flickered through my email accounts, there was no deliberation – I went.

Friday morning at the anniversary assembly, PS 94 was packed with people. Looking past the crowd, I explored the old building, searching for things that hadn’t been painted-over or replaced, for whatever remained from when I was there last, 52 years ago. What had my young eyes seen? What had I touched?

The wooden seats in the auditorium were the same. The trodden stairs, the tiles in the girls’ bathroom, the mysterious door ten-feet-up the back wall of the auditorium, and the original brass doorknobs had all been with me in this place I still knew so well. Later that evening, I discovered I’d come back to much more than just the building.

For two weeks prior, emails from familiar names had filled my mailboxes. My laptop was alive with excited chatter of long-ago friends who had gone from kindergarten through the 6th grade together. One by one, as eight of us met up on Friday, I recognized them. My classmates’ eyes had hardly changed over the half-century.

Over dinner at Marcy’s house, we shared stories of Mrs. Fagin, our teacher in the 4th and 6th grades. We named all the faces in our class photo. We went around the table telling our life stories from after 6th grade when the school system flung us into the larger JHS 67 followed by two different huge high schools. Then there were colleges and careers.

Things some of us had in common: Blue toenail polish, hair color, not-too-spicy ethnic takeout dinners, cancer stories, back pains, and work that involved writing or creating. I fit in, I thought. Even though no one else had lost a child.

“You taught me how to draw figures,” Jane said to me. I sat back in my chair sipping wine, smiling. I had done something and been remembered.

We promised ourselves we’d find more of the 39 classmates and have another, bigger 6th grade reunion.
“We’re not just a school; we’re a family,” one of the speakers had said during the assembly in the auditorium. That pretty much sums up why I think this just might happen.


(my image was captured by Jane Seckel Cassidy at our reunion dinner)

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