Monthly Archives: March 2017

An Old Lady’s Song of the Open Road

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cabbage in winter.“The roads are open. Let’s do dinner and the opera,” my neighbor announced.
“Well, MY weather app still says ALERT, Winter Storm Watch, and Weather Advisory in effect,” I said, immovable like an old cabbage in winter, lodged comfortably in its patch.

“The weather advisory is over,” she said, desperate to get out after two snow-days stuck in her apartment.
“We’ll never get out of the driveway. There’s a huge mountain of snow where it meets the road. And I don’t know when the guy’s gonna plow.” She and another neighbor then began shoveling the 2500-foot long driveway we share. I stayed inside wondering if we weren’t all just begging for heart attacks with all this restlessness and shoveling.

“So, will you go?” she asked, all red and steamy from working in the snow.
“But the roads, the travel alert. Nothing’s been plowed yet.” I went on and on.
“I have four-wheel-drive,” she said, smiling smugly.

We threw my snow shovel in the backseat. In case. And we held our breaths as the car clambered through deep snow that hid the driveway’s hills and holes. Inching out onto the road, I checked my seatbelt. And suddenly it was as if the car was flying towards town. We sailed the slushy deserted streets in search of an open restaurant. And in the almost empty theater, we giggled, “See, all the OLD people stayed home.”

For hours, I was transported back to the times in my 20s and 30s, when adventure overpowered any fears, and a storm watch was an invitation to take off and go who-knows-where. Like Walt Whitman’s poem: Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me…. I was back in the good old days before I became a cabbage in winter.

Later, when we returned, the roads and shared driveway had been plowed. My neighbor parked the car and handed me the shovel from out of the back. Laughing like we’d gotten away with stealing something, like we’d conquered something bigger than ourselves, we said goodnight several times.

It was late. Dark. The small mountain of snow by the garage could wait ‘til morning. But the shovel was already in my hands. Digging it in deep, I lifted and tossed chunky piles of snow over my shoulder. High. Like in the good old days.


When’s the last time you ventured out in a storm? Or took to the open road? When’s the last time you felt lighthearted, healthy, and free?

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Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs an abandoned farmhouse somewhere off NY route 96 near Ovid while on a photography field trip with the Finger Lakes Photographers.

“They’re hard, like porcelain,” a friend said, referring to her recently reconstructed breasts. “Do you want to see them?” she asked. I said no. She showed me anyway. “Feel this,” she said. Gently pressing a small spot with two fingertips, I felt her breast, the way I might have touched a dead fish.
“It’s soft. Like memory foam.” I was surprised. “They’re beautiful,” I said, admiring their perfect roundness, and grateful not to have to contend with the gutted ruins I had expected.

Gutted ruins came two days later. On the photography field trip. Ten photographers in three cars careening across the countryside, stopping to shoot old farms, demolished derby cars, and tiny towns that had seen better days. And the abandoned farmhouse somewhere off NY Route 96 near Ovid.

It stood among tangles of thorny shrubs and gnarled trees. We emptied out of the car and padded carefully on spongy ground toward it, behind our cameras, all trained on the house like we were attacking it. Someone tried the doorknob. Not locked. The others went through the door, crept into every room and up the stairs. I held back. It was someone else’s property. Someone’s home. I was not comfortable trespassing.

It was cold waiting outside, and the photographers were taking a long time. I hovered near the door, and finally inched my way in. It was a wreck. The whole house was cracked and crumbling. Ravaged. Debris lay everywhere. I looked to find traces of former inhabitants. It was just shards of junk. Little survived of past lives. The place was less haunted than I was. So I staggered back out the door, and took a few last shots of the house’s shell. It was still beautiful, even gutted and scarred. And it was still standing.

Gutted ruin. That describes my heart. Although I can laugh and love life again now, there are days I wonder, what am I doing here? Sometimes it feels like I’m trespassing, like I don’t quite fit in with my company or surroundings, like I need to be extra careful not to offend anyone by talking about my loss. I consider myself a survivor though, as in: my daughter died of cancer but I survived. I’m gutted. Scarred. But still standing.

When was the last time you felt like you were trespassing?

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Parallel Lives

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a rorschach inkblot to illustrate parallel lives and shared journeys of bereaved parents.As a child, I used to imagine that a double of myself was walking around somewhere else on the planet, far away. Later, when my world expanded to college, instructors and fellow students insisted I had a twin on campus. And when I was busy birthing and raising children, I saw myself replicated in mothers everywhere. But after my daughter died, for a long time, I felt like the only one on earth to ever lose a kid. Nobody was like me.

Last week, before writing my post, I googled “grief and gratitude.” That’s been my focus for a while; somewhere around the fifth anniversary of my daughter’s death, gratitude started sopping up some of my grief. And there in Google was someone else named Robin whose life was like a Rorschach inkblot of my own life. If you folded a map of the US in half, her home on the west coast would be juxtaposed with mine in the east. On the opposite side of the country, a stranger’s life was running parallel to my own.

Four months before my daughter died, this other Robin lost a son who was the same age as my Marika. This second Robin, also an avid hiker and writer, started blogging about her grief journey seventeen months after her son’s death; I started sixteen months after my loss. She wrote, “I am not the same person I was and this loss is an integral part of who I am now.” In over 97,000 words posted since 2012, I have tried to express the same truth. West Coast Robin currently facilitates grief support groups while I organize a bereaved parents group and make bereavement calls for Hospicare.

There may be millions more of us lighting candles for loved ones, posting their photos on Facebook, watching the Afterlife TV series on Youtube, and reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Maybe tens of thousands of us are hoping to publish our own memoirs. And if there are hundreds of Robins howling to the moon, how many of us are now out there somewhere, contemplating the chances there’s a double of our child who died? A twin who’s still singing.


Did you ever wonder if there is someone just like you somewhere in the world? Did you ever find a soul mate? Or a look-alike?

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From Grief to Gratitude

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops friendship bracelets around a photo of her daughter who died of leukemia being hugged by friends.Saturday was my daughter’s sixth angelversary. Angelversary is the name bereaved parents often use to gently refer to the date of a child’s death. It marks the day a son or daughter became an angel. Or the day they took up a heavenly abode. I’m still on the fence about heaven and where one ends up after life. And Marika was no angel. But these wretched anniversaries wreak a range of emotions. What bereaved mothers and fathers really want, besides having their children back, is to know their child is loved and won’t be forgotten.

The first few angelversaries I was immobilized with fear and dread, wondering how I could survive the day. Then there were years when I obsessed about exactly how to commemorate such a time: to turn off the phone and stay in bed, or line up back-to-back meet-ups with friends? To curl up and cry? Or celebrate Marika’s life with balloons and butterflies?

“I’m declaring a personal holiday,” I told a bunch of other bereaved parents last week. “I’m going to party and drink and do all the things she liked to do. I’m gonna be really good to myself. Cake. Chocolate. Hiking with my daughter’s dog. I’m going shopping.”

I was going to write about all those things. I was looking forward to barging into the day full force, like my daughter would, feasting on the beautiful free time to do anything I wanted. And then, first thing on the day of Marika’s sixth angelversary, I felt a desperate urge to grab onto my grief again. I needed to drown in sorrow. Feel pain. Cry. Maybe so I could remember how much I loved, and how much that love costs me still.

There was a box of Marika’s photos. The ones from her last years. I knew they would fuel a major breakdown. What I didn’t know was, after the deluge of tears from seeing dozens of photos of Marika being held and hugged in the middle of friends, how grief could melt into gratitude. It warmed me as much as the cocoa, the chili, and the good cheer I found the rest of that day among my own friends.

All the beautiful, wonderful friends. Hugs to those who keep me going. And brimful thanks to everyone who filled Marika’s life with love. She was no angel. But she was loved.


How do friends keep you going? How do friends keep you grateful?


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