Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rituals for Life, Love, and Loss

Robin Botie of Ithaca New York photoshops a ritual funeral for a dead bird.This sky lantern is for you, beautiful one, wherever you are. For your, (what do they call it?), birthday-in-heaven. Also, since the lanterns came only by the dozen, I’m mailing the other eleven to family and friends. So in this month before your birthday, you will get twelve lantern-launching ceremonies. If I could send you a dozen roses or a trillion chocolate Kit-Kat bars, I would. I love you. Lots. I didn’t really need to write this on the lantern; I’d already said it, in our driveway under an almost-full moon, to my daughter who died.

Long ago, the first rituals I created were funerals for dead birds. The neighborhood kids shared solemn words as we wrapped small creatures in Kleenex, with shriveled dandelions and daisies, and buried them in my mother’s rock garden. Later I created ceremonies, mostly around food, to acknowledge monumental changes in my life. We’re not talking séances or anything strange here. Rituals are simply small acts done to honor someone or recognize some event. We do rituals all the time. Like lighting candles on a cake and singing happy birthday. Like raising the flag. Planting a tree after a birth or a death. Clinking our glasses to toast someone.

For some reason, my most recent rituals almost always involve sending things UP. When my father died we gave his ashes to a friend, who had a small airplane, to toss them out over the Long Island Sound. For my daughter, we let loose a bunch of homing pigeons. Over the last five years, I’ve released balloons and butterflies for her, blown bubbles off high cliffs into the wind, read poems to the sun, and sang to the moon. Why, I wonder, do I keep looking UP for my daughter even though I found a page of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself among her things, the part where he wrote, “If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles”?

I’ll plant daisies, or roses, too, I tell her. It all helps. Rituals make me feel closer to my daughter. More connected. And all the singing, the lanterns, the birds, and butterflies I send UP – in the process, I’m lifting myself as well.

 

What other rituals might I do for the upcoming birthday? Or for the coming of spring and summer?

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What is Grief?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops borders around a banyan tree with hugging, intertwining branches.After life, as I knew it, got shot to the stars, grief charred me from the inside out. There were good days and bad days. I sometimes forgot my sadness. Briefly. Other times, for days, I’d be cranky and complain, “I can’t do this. I hate this. This is too hard.”

“Can we talk in terms of solutions rather than problems?” a wise friend asked, when she saw me struggling on a bad day. Then she said, “Keep coming back to what you love,” and I almost cried. Because to me, that meant coming back to my daughter who died. Everyone else was telling me, “It’s time to move on.” If grief was something to “get over” or “get through,” I was failing miserably. So to hear that I could come back, was to understand that there is no time limit on mourning the loss of a loved one. It allowed me to slowly get used to my shaken world. It allowed that my grieving might never be completely done.

Can we think of grief as something more than pain and suffering? It’s been more gently defined as love’s unwillingness to let go, the price of love, or love with nowhere to go. Holding tight to our loved one’s memory and spirit, when we grieve we are expressing our love.

Grief is also the slow redefining of our relationship with the one we love who died. It is the effort to rebuild around the giant hole they leave in our lives. We can choose to weave the emotional bond, the memory, their values and voice into a new way of carrying them with us.

And maybe grief is, now and forever, a part of your story. A part of who you are. One more layer in the trillions of layers that shape you. Maybe it’s a small spark of transformation and growth. For all that has happened, for all the heartache of my loss, I am a better person now.

 

How has grieving changed you? Or is recent grief still scorching you from the inside out?

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Why Walk?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops friends walking with dog in the woods.There are always a hundred reasons not to go walking. It’s too cold. It’s muddy. There’s too much else to do, you just walked yesterday…. But to deal with depression, grief, or stress, you should make walking a regular part of your life.

If you Google “why I should walk,” you will find that walking is good for your heart and your bones. It helps chronic back pain, reduces anxiety, improves your sleep, connects one to nature, gives back a sense of control, fuels creativity…. Walking helps you heal.

You can hike on mountains or hills, in forests, along coasts. You can stroll in crowded city streets or suburban shopping malls. Walk in hallways with walkers or wheelchairs. Walk and talk. Saunter in silence. Walk with friends, with a dog, or alone with your thoughts. Or with the memory of the one you love who walks no longer. You can walk away from troubles or walk with them. Sometimes you’ll find solutions or walk your way into being at peace with your pain.

My main walking companion is my inherited dog. Saturday, the path we followed up a hill was covered with decaying leaves. We watched chipmunks dart in and out of the hollows of dead trees. We passed a small tree growing from a crack in a rock. Geese honked over us. In another month the trilliums would start to bloom, followed by tender trout lilies, and then the mayapples with leaves like umbrellas for rabbits.

It wasn’t much of a hill. But sweating and out of breath, I looked back down at where we’d started climbing. Signs of birth, life, and death were everywhere. The circle of life. Right there in the woods. And on the top of that hill, under the sky, I felt blessed, big and small, and part of it all, at once.

 

What kind of walking or exercise do you do? What brings you out into nature?

 

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Birthdays and Death Dates

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a snapshot of her daughter who died of leukemia as a newborn baby with butterflies and rubber ducks.“Mom. I want chocolate cake. For breakfast,” my daughter, who died five years ago, announced as I awoke on the anniversary of her death. A large leftover piece of the cake I’d brought to friends the night before, to acknowledge the March deaths of our loved ones, sat in the fridge.

My daughter’s will, always stronger than my resolve, lives on within me. Birthdays and death dates are times I’m most likely to give in to her way. “Chocolate cake, mom. With ice cream. And whipped cream. For breakfast. By candlelight,” the details grew more specific the closer we got to the kitchen. That’s how the day began.

For weeks leading up to her angelversary, I’d whined and cranked in dread of that day.
“How would you commemorate your child’s angelversary? What do you do on the deathday of the one you love?” I’d put out desperate pleas on Facebook pages.

“Listen to your daughter. What would she want?” People had posted back long lists. “Sing, play her music, light candles, eat her favorite foods, share stories about her with those who loved her, release balloons or butterflies, give gifts to others, make a donation in her honor, do random acts of kindness, …look at her old photographs.”

So I did. And I had a picnic by the lake, and attended an exercise class at our gym.
“Mom, you’ve got your bathing suit on under your workout clothes so let’s go swimming,” she said in the gym. We swam. Then we went shopping and bought a red sweatshirt, and I wore it hiking with my inherited dog. I did almost everything from the lists of things to do.

In the evening, I took her best friend out for sushi dinner since my daughter had loved sushi. The friend brought along another friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and this other friend had her newborn baby with her. The baby’s eyes were so like my daughter’s at that age. He seemed to be searching my face. I almost cried. But instead, when the friends went to collect their buffet dinners, leaving me alone in the booth holding the baby, I sang my daughter’s song to him, and drifted back into old times cuddling in sweet warmth.

The time leading up to birthdays and deathdays is often harder than the days themselves. The terrifying thing is that each anniversary takes you farther away from the times you were with your beloved. Another year gone by. Then another. And one day, the number of years without will outnumber the years with them. And the thought of them being forgotten is unbearable. It brings up the inevitability of one’s own death, the brevity of our time on this earth. The need to make each day, not just the special dates, count.

“So what was the best part of the day?” I asked my dead daughter later, as I walked her dog and watched the night sky.
“Holding the newborn,” she told me. And back in the house, I couldn’t go to bed until I found the snapshot I’d taken of her shortly after she was born.

 

What small magnificent thing will you do today?

 

 

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