Monthly Archives: May 2016

New Chapter in Life

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops honeysuckle and life on deck.They’re just beat up old chairs, I told myself, wiping away tears as I stuffed the deck chairs into my car. The white Windsor-back chairs had once been part of my prized dining room set. Then, years ago, they were relegated to the deck where we grilled steaks on hot summer evenings, and draped the chairs with towels while we swam in the pond below. Sometimes the kids dragged the chairs off the deck for campfires, and assembled s’mores on the seats.

For the past eight years I had little to do with the deck. The three summers before my daughter died, we were in hospitals. After that, I was not able to bring myself out there. The chairs quietly deteriorated. And now they were headed for the Salvation Army, the first stop on my list of things to do before going to the Ithaca Hikers’ Picnic. The four chairs and three cushions (one had been carried off by the wind way back) filled up the trunk and back seat of the car, wedged around empty water jugs. My second stop before the picnic would be the weekly fetching of fresh water at Greenstar Natural Foods Market.

In this new chapter of my life, five years after Marika’s death, I am reclaiming the deck and summertime. The past week, in a frenzy of clearing and cleaning, I weeded the overgrown gardens, clipped back the honeysuckle that hung over the driveway, swept years of fallen leaves from the deck, and raked algae from the pond. I replaced the four dilapidated deck chairs.

“We can’t take those, they aren’t saleable,” the woman at the Salvation Army said, after I’d unloaded three of the chairs. The chairs felt heavier as I stuffed them back into the car. In shock, I drove to Greenstar. The water jugs were unreachable. So I went on to the picnic. But first I parked in the lot of an abandoned storefront. To cry. Because there would be no new chapter for these chairs; their last stop would be the dump.

The last hikers were leaving as I arrived at the picnic. They listened as I held back tears.
“Just put them by the road at the end of your driveway, with a sign that says FREE,” they said. So I drove back home, unloaded the chairs, and lovingly lined them up on the narrow strip of grass by the road. And minutes later, when I came out of the house with a sign that said FREE, they were gone.

 

What relics release the floodgates of grief for you?

 

Share Button

Moon Watching

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a full moon with flowers to celebrate the Full Flower Moon and Mother's Moon and Mars at opposition.

Bright light poured into the bedroom when I awoke in my mother’s house in the middle of the night. Street-lamps. Their white radiance puddled on car tops and on the newly paved street. I tiptoed from window to window, peeking beyond the glowing. The sky was a thick mass of clouds, as it had been most of the day.

“I wish we could see the moon, we’re missing the moon,” I’d announced before bedtime.

“May’s Full Moon was called the Full Flower Moon as well as Mother’s Moon,” according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. They’d promised a Full Flower Moon for Saturday night. A Mother’s Moon. How perfect that I was visiting my mother. Waiting for weeks in anticipation, I’d known it wouldn’t look any different from other moons. Farmer’s Almanac uses colorful Colonial and Native American names to track the moons in changing seasons. May marks a time of warming, blooming, increasing fertility. Bare trees were finally budding. Wild violets and fresh white trilliums dotted the slopes off woodland trails. The gray winter was really over.

For me, any light in May, even a street-lamp, is something to celebrate.

A Flower Moon. It was also a Blue Moon, the third full moon in a season of four full moons. And Mars was at its brightest and closest point to Earth in more than a decade. But Saturday night there was not even a hint of Mars, or the moon, in that dark sky.

Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to have faith that there will be light, that summer will come again, that there will ever be another beautiful bright time. But then, there are things that leave no doubts in my mind: I can’t always see the moon, but it is out there, somewhere. I can’t see my daughter who died, but I believe she is out there. Somewhere. Watching the moon. Watching me.

And somehow, through long winters and many moonless nights, a small light inside me stays aglow with hope.

 

What does a full moon mean to you?

 

Share Button

Curating my Life and my Website

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops multiple bordres around her old outdated website graphics.

“This is Me, it’s like a part of me. I can’t just get rid of it. These graphics are my branding,” I told the Ithaca College student who was writing a critical evaluation of my website for his final project. But I knew the distracting purple and black zigzags had to go. It was the Me from four years ago, when I was clinging to my past artwork because I no longer knew who I was or what I was capable of. Thinking I’d never do art again, a year after my daughter died, I’d grabbed graphics from decades earlier to design my site. I’d filled every corner of my online home, as if I could pad and protect my new life.

“Cluttered …crowded … crazy patterns … Unclear what the purpose is,” was written in the student’s report. Many of his classmates had voted in agreement, “The site doesn’t look trustworthy.” A suffocating heaviness enveloped me. Like grief. And I wondered how I had failed, and why my readers wouldn’t trust me. After all, I had emptied my heart onto the blog posts. Each week for four years I’d dug deep into my gut to extract the truth about losing a loved one, and planted it on the pages. What else could I possibly expose in order to be “trustworthy?” I decided to tear down and whitewash the whole site.

Days later, I learned that trustworthiness referred to the credibility of the website, and the safeguards utilized to secure the site from scammers and malicious hackers.
“We’re updating your secure connection, and getting you the certification sticker,” Bob, my webmaster at Ameriweb Hosting, assured me, when I called, in tears. But by then, my mind was made up. It was time to clean up and clear it out.

So please excuse the mess on my website the next few weeks as I peel away the old distracting layers of design, and Bob adds layers of protection. I’m lightening up and simplifying our looks. There’s room to spread out now. More space. It’s secure. Finally, I can breathe again. I can fly.

 

 

 

Share Button

Afraid to be too Happy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, poses with her photoshopped pictures from her new book.Holding a huge photograph with both hands raised high, I wove my way through the photography lab around students, worktables and computer stations, with my eyes transfixed on the image before my face, like I was waltzing with a tall lover. Fourteen times I lifted a new larger-than-life-sized photo from the printer, and danced across the crowded room, admiring my work as I carried each piece to the wall, to be hung.
“Behind you,” I chirped, passing my classmates. “Ooooops, excuse me,” I cheeped. “It’s so amazing to see these enlarged,” I crowed to students I’d never met who, attracted by the display, stopped to congratulate me. “Harry, can you take a picture of me and my photos?” I asked my photography instructor. Hiding my glasses behind my back, I smiled at the camera thinking, this is too much fun. This is scary.

At the end of class I bundled my fourteen huge prints into a humongous folder, and drove home singing. And the next two nights, I was hunched over my computer doing more work, staying up past midnight both nights. I would allow myself only small doses of happiness. I couldn’t stop working; I needed to keep striving.

What is joy anyway, this thing I’m supposedly always on the lookout for? I keep advocating for living joyfully, but I’m always worried something bad will follow, that my happiness might be taken away. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not worthy of happiness. Or maybe joy seems too frivolous for a mother whose daughter died.

Depression, you’re saying. But, am I not entitled to a little depression after that?

A little sticky-note on my computer’s keyboard says, “I deserve joy.” It sits below the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie that, between two tiny smiley faces, reads “All your hard work will soon be paid off.”

With all our wishing and wanting, you’d think we would learn to grab every opportunity for joy with two hands raised high and hanging on. You’d think we’d be waltzing with whatever joy comes our way for all the crazy, blessed, depressed or high-flying time we have left.

 

 

What gives you joy? How do you hang on to it? And how would you help someone who’s afraid of being too happy?

Share Button

A Little Book of Hope

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the cover of her new book of hope for the grieving.“OMG, You hafta see this. Look what I did,” I stop friends and strangers. “Look. I’m so proud,” I say, carefully unwrapping the small bundle that’s always in my arms these days, and shoving it at them. This must be terrifying to people. This is not really like me. It’s a little embarrassing, actually. And it feels a lot like I’m in love.

After my daughter died, five years ago, it took me six months to discover the healing powers of writing. Over a year passed before I found myself completely captivated by Photoshopping. And now, I have put these two life-saving pastimes together and birthed a tiny new book.

Stories with pictures are like comfort food. NeverGone: Reframing the Death and Grieving of the One You Love, with its twelve short illustrated stories (many from my recent blogs), is about regaining life and redefining it. It examines different ways to look at death. I wanted to make a book that would hug the heartbroken. Thinking of all my friends who are grieving for loved ones, I tried to plant hope on each page.

I’d always said I would never self-publish anything. And my 200-page memoir manuscript may end up being like one of those grown children who never leave home. But to see one’s work transformed into a freshly bound, polished package is to feel your blood turn into maple syrup.

It is just a little book (28 pages, half the size of a piece of copy paper). But writing it, and producing the illustrations, opened a window to the sun from the dark basement of my grief. I poured all my time, energy, and love into it. As if it were another daughter.

 

 

Do you know someone who is grieving? Are you grieving? NeverGone: Reframing the Death and Grieving of the One You Love is available for sale at Magcloud.com.

 

 

Share Button