Monthly Archives: May 2018

When It’s Time to Die

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops how she wants to die peacefully, in a garden

Not too long ago, at some unnoticed and now unidentifiable moment, I reached the point beyond which it could be remarked that, “She died before her time.” It got me thinking.

When it’s “my time” I want to be carried outside and laid in the sun, in a bed of day lilies and soft grasses. Wrap me in a blanket of hasta leaves. Amid birdsong and the sweet scents of lilac and honeysuckle, I want to be surrounded by friends sipping wine. We will all say our goodbyes, but I will stubbornly cling to life; there will be no dying peacefully in the garden for me.

The first time I met my friend’s father he proudly showed me his garden. He was already old then, and the vegetables and vines were growing greater than he could handle. He gardened and lived ambitiously. And eight years later, when it was his time to die, this old man kept going on and on, six days without food or water, relatives pouring in from all over the country, multiple moves from hospital to hospice-at-home. During the waiting, from 400 miles west, I sat picking spent buds off the plant my friend had left me. Deadheading, she’d called it. Trying to imagine the flowers and grasses endlessly going on, growing without me, I considered this dying, this idea that someday, now sooner rather than later, I will be dead.

I, like the old man, will take my time leaving. I’ll make pretty plans for my death, create a perfect day to die, and then grab every last moment I can to continue living. Even if I’m stuck in a dreary hospital bed tucked away from the beautiful bustling world.

My friend, sitting vigil, took photos of her father, half in this world and half out, photos of his hands holding her hand. When she finally crept back into town, exhausted, we sat over whiskeys, hardly whispering just a few words. She handed me her iPhone to see the multiple pictures of their entwined hands. They both had gardeners’ hands. Sturdy calloused hands that displayed lifetimes of pulling at thorny weeds and tamping down moist soil around fragile seedlings.

Daily now, I remind myself: We are born. We live. We die. And in that middle part, as I go about the living, all the brutal and beautiful living, I want to consciously consume every second.

How do you want to die? What is dearest to you in your life?

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That Word: Dead

Not DeadNow. When the landscape is greening up and wildflowers are in bloom, and forsythia and redbud trees spray the streets with vibrant color. When everything is bursting alive, blooming, and blossoming. This is the time to discuss the problem many of us face concerning the use of that four-letter word we all avoid: DEAD.

Dead, as in, my daughter is dead. My father is dead. Dead Children.
As opposed to saying, She is no longer with us, or, He is on the other side. Or, They earned their angel wings. She’s transitioned. Deceased. Extinct. Expired. He kicked the bucket, went to his eternal home. She passed away. He is departed. They are gone.

In his poem Away, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) wrote,
     I cannot say and I will not say
     That he is dead. He is just away!

It seems it’s just too painful to use the word ‘dead’ when speaking about a deceased loved one. People cringe. They say it feels too final, too harsh. Cold. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable. All this distress over the little word ‘dead.’ I didn’t even say ‘corpse’ or ‘cadaver.’

My daughter is not “just away!” Don’t try to tell me she is gone; she regularly pops up in my dreams and I talk to her every day. And my father, dead eight years now, still makes me quiver whenever I spend more than fifty dollars.

It is no crime to be dead. It is no affront to polite conversation to mention that word. If I say ‘dead daughter’ or ‘dead father’ I don’t mean to torture anyone. But because of people’s unease, I recently changed the title of my manuscript (still not ready for querying) from Duets With My Dead Daughter to Duetting. With my Daughter. Who Died.

It’s easier on our delicate psyches to say, or hear, my daughter died. That doesn’t feel like I’m defining her. It simply states something she did. She did a lot of things. She drove me crazy, she lived like she had only an hour left, she changed my life. She died. No one in the world loves my daughter more than I do, but the reality is: Marika is dead. So I’m gonna learn to love that word even if it kills me.

What words do you use to say your loved one is dead? What do you think of my new title?

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Things That Carry Love

Things That Carry LoveThere are many different ways to hug and hold the ones you love.
I had a daughter who loved to make books.
I have a mother who shows her love by knitting sweaters and crocheting blankets.
And then there’s my own thing: swaddling images of my beloved ones in ribbons of fluff and flowers, in Photoshop.
These three things all came together on Saturday before Mothers Day, when I was looking for the old baby sweaters my mother knit, to photograph and photo-shop them into softly wrapped layers around an old baby picture.

On Saturday, from way back on the top shelf of a closet, I pulled down a box labeled KIDS. There were no baby clothes inside but the box was filled with my kids’ artwork and school projects. Ones I don’t remember ever seeing. Back in the days when tiny crayoned booklets, Play-Dough creatures, and kids’ paintings turned up daily, I must have stashed away a bundle of kid-stuff without even looking at it. In the middle of the box I found a spring-bound book. On the first page was a colored-pencil picture that said, “to MOM.” Pages later, through tears, I came across this drawing that read, “dear mom I mist you I lof you.”

Marika’s books from her early years, full of bright renderings of cats, rabbits, angels and goddesses, were mostly made for me. For years, after she died, they kept popping up. In her attic loft. In my drawers. In corners of her room. Hidden away all over the house. I thought I’d already found them all. But Marika and I were both great at squirreling things away. Maybe next time I’m searching for some random thing, I’ll find another gift from her.

I still haven’t found the tiny beautiful sweaters my mother knit for my babies. They’re somewhere, carefully stowed away in a safe place. But something tells me this is all related to my need to envelope everyone and everything I love, and tuck them all snugly into cozy secure nests, in Photoshop.

How do you show your love? What do you keep that reminds you, you were loved?

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Finding God

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her friend who has found a strong connection to Source.What did you lose and what did you find? I always pose these questions. But maybe what I should be asking all the people who share their smiles and stories is, What DIDN’T you lose? What is it that survived throughout all your pain and suffering?

I went to see an old friend who grew up in the same neighborhood as I did, in a similar household to mine. Neither of us had been exposed to religion as children. Yet, as young girls, we each prayed on our own. And we watched our other friends get confirmed or bat mitzvah-ed. “As long as I can remember I have been on a path to know God better,” my friend told me. “I always had my own connection to God, to Source, to All There Is.”

When we left home for college, we lost track of each other for almost two decades. During that time she explored the spiritual world and grew a strong commitment to God. I’m so in awe of this. Other than my kids and my inherited dog, my connections hang on fragile threads.

My friend is now a psycho-spiritual counselor and interfaith/inter-spiritual minister. Originally trained as a social worker, she went into a seminary and ended up teaching ministers-in-training. From all spiritual paths and traditions. Even atheists. How did she come to love serving God this way, I wondered?
“You don’t just get struck with a spiritual practice. It’s a discipline,” she said. “Like working out, you have to do it every day, seven days a week, in order to maintain connection.”

I asked, “What changed your world?”
“Having my daughter. Having my grandson. Losing my sister. Being diagnosed with cancer, being a three-time breast cancer survivor,” she replied.
“You lost your health. And your sister. How do you reconcile this with God, with your faith?” I asked.
“I believe that nowhere in any sacred text are we promised by God (or any entity or spiritual master), no death, no suffering, no war or sickness…. What I believe we’re promised is that God is there to comfort us. When I cry out in anger, ‘God, how could you…?’ I will be comforted.”

We walked around her yard and she told me she felt connected to earth through the trees, birds, and rocks. There were rocks everywhere. In the garden, on the path leading to her little rock-studded house, and particular piles of rocks that she proudly pointed out. She said, “God is the energy or conscience that moves through all of us and everything.” In my own current state of still thawing out from years of feeling like frozen mud, I’m considering this.

 

What didn’t you lose? What survived your times of pain?

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