Monthly Archives: April 2017

Grateful to Nurses

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, restores a photograph of her daugher with two oncology nurses at Strong Memorial Hospital.“You can have all the ice cream cups you want,” the nurses at the oncology unit told me, back at the beginning of the journey through the wilds of cancer with my daughter. They knew I wasn’t hungry so much as in need of kindness. But even more than kindness, I desperately needed to know Marika was in good hands, that the people around her cared. Over the course of her cancer, hundreds of nurses would come to look into Marika’s eyes, check her vitals, listen as she scored her pain on scales of 1 to 10, and treat her like a princess. And even when I hollered at the nurses, the time they barred me from her room (as per the princess’s request), I was thoroughly grateful for all their caring.

National Nurses Week, an opportunity to honor the hard work and dedication of nurses, is May 6th through 12th. From the bottom of my broken heart I’m sending out my warmest wishes to nurses everywhere. And many thanks, especially, to the ones who carried sweet light into our nightmare.

Cheers to the nurses who showed me the secret shower in the hospital mop closet. To the nurses who let Marika sneak her puppy into the hospital room and brought doggie treats. Thanks to the nurse who gently washed my daughter’s hair as she lay unconscious in the ICU. And to the one who sang to her. Hugs to the two nurses who, when Marika ran out of underpants and I bought her Jockey briefs, used their lunch break to go buy her bikinis and thongs. When Marika had to miss her senior prom, those same nurses decorated an empty room with balloons and crepe paper, added a boom-box with favorite tunes, propped Marika up in bed with prom dress hiding catheters and IV tubes, and invited her boyfriend over for a private prom-night. Nurses brought Marika books and CDs, stuffed animals, an electric keyboard, and restaurant-takeout recommendations. They made her chocolate ice cream milkshakes.

One day I found Marika flushing out her own vein-access port under the careful guidance of an oncology nurse. Beaming with pride, Marika announced, “Mom, I got accepted into the nursing program at University of Technology Sydney.” Inspired by the people who had kept her going with their kindness and skills, Marika had decided to become a nurse herself.

Two weeks after that though, the princess’s situation had changed. Her journey was ending. Nurses from the three units Marika had frequented over the almost-three years of cancer came by in pairs to see her. They silently stood over their princess one last time. There were no words. They left me with hugs. And a feeling of having been taken care of and held in warmest kindness.

 

What is your nurse story?

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From a Bag Lady on Earth Day

In Photoshop, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, restores a picture of three-year-old Marika Warden as a garbage monster, wearing a dress made of plastic bags.“I don’t think I can do this.” I stood over my bin of plastic bags. “Earth Day’s coming, and I should be able to do this one simple thing for our planet,” I told myself. After decades of hoarding plastic shopping bags, I was considering eradicating them from my routine. But I kept coming back to all the things I do with these bags. Like carry gym-clothes and potluck dishes. Like use them for trashcan liners and dog-poo bags. They make great stuffing for stuffed-animal art projects. And long ago, inspired by Tom Knight’s song, The Garbage Monster, I even taped a bunch of plastic bags together into a dress for my then three-year-old daughter to wear in a costume contest where she won 3rd place.

Call me a Closet Bag Lady. I’m very attached to plastic bags. Even though they release toxic chemicals into the soil and oceans when discarded. Even though they’re produced from crude oil (a non-renewable resource), and their manufacturing process results in chemical pollution. And, while they are now made with a percentage of recycled material, they are not biodegradable so it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. So animals find them and mistake the bags for food, and die choking and strangling on them. Nasty bags. For a long time I wondered if all the old plastic bags and bottles I found in my daughter’s room had something to do with her getting cancer. I kept saving bags anyway.

We’re destroying the planet,” friends wail. “Pollution, ozone depletion, carbon emissions, strip mining, fracking, … ocean acidification.” They write letters to congressmen and go to marches, keening like they’re grieving, “Habitat loss, deforestation, climate change…” laments that sound eerily similar to my bemoaning all the complications of my daughter’s disease. Seeing my planet in trouble reminds me of the helplessness I felt trying to hang onto Marika through the wilds of cancer. In the end, nothing could save her. But there ARE things we can do for Earth.

On Earth Day, all over the world people will be planting trees and picking up trash. Earthlings will take to the hills, to their gardens, to community Earth Day events. On any day, not just this holiday, we can recycle plastic bags and other recyclables, set up bird feeders, learn about the environment, investigate community composting, … to help make the planet a better place to live.

I don’t know for sure if I can really give up these darn bags. But the Earth is my home. Our home. So I hereby pledge: for the love of our beautiful planet, starting now, I will shop with reusable cloth bags. What one simple thing will you do?

 

 

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Easter Bunny Blues

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a pear bunny salad using all fresh fruits and vegetables.

“You can make pear-bunny salads,” my friend told me as the foodie group divvied up the dishes to be prepared for this year’s extravagant Easter dinner. My culinary skills being mostly on the unpredictable side, I usually provide the salad.
“Pear-bunny?” I asked, contorting my mouth and nose.
“Yeah, with puffs of cottage cheese for their tails,” she replied.

When I googled “bunny rabbit pear salad,” I found pictures and recipes from all over the US and Canada. People reminisced about their grandmas sticking raisin-eyes and red-hot candy noses into canned pears plopped onto beds of iceberg.

It brought me back to more than half a century ago, when my father’s secretary sent home Easter baskets for his poor little deprived Jewish girls. I was captivated by the jellybeans and chocolate bunnies wrapped in pink and yellow ribbons. And then there was another gift, a box of carved lamb-soaps nestled in green shredded-paper grass that I carried from bed to breakfast to backyard, lovingly adding bits of dandelion so the sheep shouldn’t go hungry.

I remembered Richard Scarry storybooks with sweet rabbits of every rabbit-color sprawled out in strawberry patches. Some were spotted, and that brought me to thinking about Fuzzy, my first stuffed dog, and then Salty the schnauzer puppy my sister and I used to dress in doll clothes. Then I thought of how decades later, I made big beautiful Easter baskets for my own kids, filled with books and tiny toys as well as candy; and how we’d curl up with our own real rabbits, feeding them the packets of carrots and kale we’d prepared. Life was so pretty. Simple. Innocent. Oh, so deliciously cuddly and cute.

This was where my head was today when I found among my emails, a Facebook message from a stranger, “My offer still stands. When you’re ready.” The cover photo showed an unknown bearded man on a motorcycle. Upon checking his Facebook page to see if he might possibly be one of my old hiking buddies, I discovered multiple pictures of furry naked men, and was reminded that all that’s fuzzy is not necessarily an adorable Easter bunny.

 

So, what pretty sweet things are you thinking of as we approach the Easter and Passover holidays? Can you guess what I used on the pear-bunny to make the eyes, ears, and nose?

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Digital Afterlife

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, considers digital afterlife as she emails her dead daughter and photoshops her digital duplicate.Don’t tell me I’m the only one emailing a dead loved one, “still loving you and missing you lots.” Admitting I occasionally email my daughter, who’s been dead six years, is no longer an embarrassment. Because now people are texting their deceased loved ones – and getting text messages back from beyond the grave.

The possibility of digitally interacting with a loved one who died is not science fiction anymore. If your beloved chatted online, texted on a cellphone, posted on social media sites, emailed or blogged, she left behind a digital footprint. Billions of gigabytes of data can be collected from this. With a trillion gigabytes, digital afterlife technology can capture speech patterns, expressions, and personality, and then craft a digital version of an individual. And a computer system modeled on the human brain now allows this digital version of your loved one to process new information and keep up with current events, so her digital being can continue to evolve long after her physical being has passed on. Is this eternal life?

This could change a lot about how we view death, and how we grieve.

OMG, I used to tell my daughter she was spending too much time on her electronic devices. And now, if only she’d spent more time on them, she could be living on in my computer. Or in my phone. And then I’d be the one glued to these things. But would I really want to get texted from the Other Side, “Mom, get a life,” and “Way to go, mom. You just showed everyone on the internet how clueless you are”?

Anyway, most of the healing and comfort come from my own communications to my daughter. Writing to her, talking to her. Unloading my heart calms my grief. I don’t need a digital duplicate of my daughter. Her voice still echoes in my head. Almost daily. And even without digital afterlife technology, our relationship has evolved. After six years, instead of her bellowing “Mom, you’re a wimp,” I now hear Marika whispering, “You can do this, mom. You’ve got this.”

 

If you could get a text message from the great beyond, what would you want it to say? If you kept “hearing” from the one you’re missing, how would this change your grieving?

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