Monthly Archives: June 2018

Totally Immersed in Another Project

“When my son died, I couldn’t work so I stayed home and built this wall,” a fellow bereaved mother said. In awe, I looked up and down two lengths of neatly stacked rocks, some boulder-size. That’s when I knew I could actually do my own project that I’d started and struggled with earlier that day.

It began with an email that sent my heart soaring, crying with joy and gratitude. Friends of my deceased daughter were getting together for a bachelorette party, and one asked if I could “make a little video … to include Marika in the weekend.”

I knew nothing about videos, how to make them or send them, but knew I wanted to do this. Wanted, as in: would stop everything in my life including the dozen other projects I was engaged in, to do whatever I could “to include Marika.” Nothing means more to a bereaved mother than having her child remembered. So immediately, I googled, How To Make A Video On IPhone.

For some people, simply getting up and out each morning is a major project. For some it’s a way to keep their focus on or away from their sorrow. Some live from project to project, defining themselves by what they are involved in. Projects can open up new, life-changing possibilities. Growth. They can keep the brain working, and sharp. They can drive you and everyone around you crazy.

The video, I kept reminding myself, was not to be about me. It was not even about Marika although her presence had been requested. In the middle of panicking about what to record, I discovered that the video could be only 30 seconds long or it would be undeliverable.

You are laughing at me because everyone knows how to do this; any kid makes and sends videos several times a day. For me, it took a village. And lots of grunting. And whining. With lots of help, after many online tutorials and several sessions with friends over the course of two whole days totally engrossed in my mission, I came up with this. This is what I did this week instead of writing and photo-shopping my regular blog. It’s really rough. But I’m still beaming. And ready to begin another new project.

 

What is your pet project these days? What was the project that almost did you in?

 

 

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We Need to Take Care of Each Other

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a dead butterfly into a perfect setting, in considering the life of beloved chef and author Anthony Bourdain of CNN's show Parts Unknown.Leaving the house one morning last week, I noticed a bright Monarch butterfly flying around the spirea bush outside my front door. I stood a moment watching it flutter over the tiny nectar-rich blooms, the most perfect setting a butterfly could want. Then I left in a hurry. Later that day, I noticed the butterfly was still there. It was flapping its wings only occasionally and seemed to be settling in for the night. Strange how it was still there, I thought. Maybe it was laying eggs, or maybe it was a sign from my daughter who died. I went about my long list of things to do before bed and forgot about it. The next day I found the butterfly. Still there. Only now it was lifeless.

When I tried to gently remove the poor thing from its perch, I found one of its antennae was wound around a small branch. The butterfly had gotten itself stuck. And now it was dead. All that time, I never noticed it had been struggling. If only I had reached out my hand when I first saw the butterfly, I could have shooed it away and maybe it would still be alive. If I had spent more time, I might have seen it was in trouble. I could have helped.

That was the same week Anthony Bourdain took his life. CNN, the TV station that keeps me company as I photoshop, was broadcasting information for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. In between they were playing clips from the celebrity chef/author’s popular world-travel documentary, Parts Unknown. It was hard to believe. The man who had everything. A perfect life. Now over. Where did he get stuck?

It made me realize we need to take care of each other better. We need to slow down and pay attention. Love, listen, and reach out more. Sometimes I can be oblivious to the inner workings of my fellow humans and other creatures around me. But these are the ones I share this time on earth with. We are all related. And each one’s well-being matters.

 

How do you help a friend who’s stuck in a bad place? And what can I do with this dead butterfly, too beautiful to throw away?

 

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Fathering Continued Beyond the Grave

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of her father who is still fathering from beyond the grave

Father’s Day when your father is no longer around can be a time of bewilderment. Especially when it seems your father continues fathering from beyond the grave. Although my dad has been dead for eight years, I can still hear his words. Sometimes he is encouraging. Proud of me. Other times his words are filled with doubt and directives.

My father’s ghost shows up every time I spend more than the cost of a meal in a good restaurant. He says, You don’t need this; spend your money on something worthwhile. Dad makes me feel like mopping the floor with my tongue when I’ve spent money on something that doesn’t work out, like the Roto Rooter guy who charged me the $175 minimum service fee and then left without fixing the garage drain problem.

Dad sneers, This is the way you balance your checking account? and I shrink. He tells me, Never lend money to family. Be good to your sisters. Be generous to your friends. Spoil your dog; that’s your best friend. You don’t need a husband.

When I race home from Wegmans, throw bags of groceries in the fridge, wolf down dinner, and drag the dog for a quick potty before dashing off to some event across town and, in the scurry, misplace the car keys… Dad says, This is a hell of a way to live.

When I burn dinner, he suggests, Okay, now we go out to a nice restaurant. He chuckles at me dancing with the dog to John Philip Sousa’s marching band music, and persuades me to play every army bugle call I can find online.

Dad points out the honeysuckle that needs trimming, and the tiny dings in the car’s fender that should be painted before rust sets in. And the raccoon that lives under my deck, named Oscar after the squirrel Dad used to feed on his porch – sometimes I think the ‘coon is my father reincarnated, now overseeing my weed-whacking.

From the other side, from beyond the great divide, from wherever he is or is not on Father’s Day, I can hear my father louder than usual. His words comfort me like old familiar songs even though they mostly remind me I’ve been careless or done something stupid. Most of the time he has a valid point.

What voices do you hear from your father? What does Fathers Day mean to you?

 

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Saying Goodnight

Saying GoodnightLiving alone, I don’t get to say “goodnight” very often, except to ghosts. But for one night every year, just before summer begins, I get to say it over and over again at Ithaca’s Hospicare and Palliative Care Services’ annual Illuminations, an evening of remembrance and community.

Five years ago I asked about volunteering for this event. Having a job to perform makes it easier to attend parties and gatherings, especially as a bereaved mother prone to bursting into tears. No one had filled the spot on the volunteer sign-up list requesting a Goodnighter. “Say goodnight to guests and thank them for coming,” the job description read. I could do that, I thought.

The first year, I was so nervous about approaching people that I forgot how easily I could fall apart upon hearing Christmas carols or smelling cucumber-melon body-spray. But I strolled through the gardens where hundreds of lit candles inside white paper bags lined the walkways, and found the ones labeled with my father’s and daughter’s names. Balancing a glass of wine and a plate of fresh fruit and cheese on my lap, I sat through the program of live music and poetry. Then it was almost dusk, time for floating candles on the pond. And Taps. Taps was my cue to start getting into place between the guests and the parked cars. There, I would chirp out my greetings to all the people as they left for home.

No one had mentioned that a real live, very talented trumpeter would be playing Taps. Suddenly, I was stuck stock-still, standing in a hailstorm with my skin turned inside out. The sun was setting bright red and I felt like a duck shot down out of the sky. Somehow I recovered, remembering, I was the Goodnighter. I quickly took my station. And remembered my lines. “Goodnight.” And “Thank you for coming,” I croaked, in between gasping recovery breaths. My shaking stopped when people started saying goodnight and thank you, back to me. And when it was all over, and the last guests had gone, I fetched the luminarias with my father’s and daughter’s names, and knew I’d found my calling.

So come say hello. Say goodnight to the Goodnighter. Goodnight is not goodbye. It is a sincere wish for your wellbeing. And it is my song of gratefulness. For a beautiful evening with people who understand love and loss. For feeling connected. For having the opportunity to say aloud, from my heart, goodnight and thank you. And to sometimes hear those words echoed back.

Illuminations at Hospicare on June 7, 2018 at 7:30
At 172 East King Road, Ithaca
A free event (but they’ll take donations for a personalized luminaria)

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