Author Archives: Robin Botie

Australia Trip: Some Things I Didn’t Anticipate

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a stuffed puppy before it is cremated and its ashes tossed into the waters of Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia in a ritual for healing.As much as you plan, you can never anticipate everything. Good or bad, other things happen.

I’m back home from Australia where, on days off from my O.A.T. tour, I met up with Australian bereaved mothers I’d found and friended on Facebook. On my last full day in Australia I was to cremate my daughter’s stuffed toy Puppy and scatter its ashes. Knowing I’d need help, I’d reached out to The Compassionate Friends NSW Chapter in Sydney.

Things I had not anticipated:

The generosity of my hostess. Jenny from TCF NSW spent the whole day with me, picking me up at my hotel, and then trekking, training, and tramming our way to the University of Technology Sydney (where, if my daughter had survived cancer she would have attended the nursing program), and Spice Alley, and the headquarters of Sydney’s TCF chapter where we attended a support group meeting. After, Jenny took me to her home for the cremation, and drove me out to Manly Beach. I had not realized how much time and energy my mission would take.

How Jenny had prepared for Puppy’s cremation. She’d lined a small fire pit with foil. She’d set out tongs and a box of tissues. And a tin for the ashes.

How she’d thought of everything except matches, to start the fire. Jenny rummaged through the house while her dog, a big mellow shepherd-mix, looked me straight in the eyes. I let him sniff Puppy, and he nuzzled me sympathetically.

The acrid, chemical smell of the burning. It turned out that stuffed Puppy was made of polyester. She went up in flames faster than I’d imagined. She burned longer than I would have guessed. There was dark smoke. In the end there were no ashes, only black molten chunks. Less volume than I’d thought. So instead of using the big tin, Jenny washed out a dogfood can. I peeled Puppy’s remains from the foil, placed it in the can, and smashed up the chunks with the tongs.

How sad I felt during the car ride from Jenny’s house to Manly Beach. Sadder still, wading into the gentle waves and tossing Puppy’s remains. Then I watched in horror.

Puppy’s black molten chunks floated. At the top of the water. Instead of sinking or dissolving.

There was other black chunky stuff floating around so I didn’t feel too terrible about polluting.

The traffic as Jenny drove from the beach back to my hotel. The rain that held off until my mission was all over.

The emptiness that stung me later that night as I said goodbye to the city lights of Sydney, and whispered goodnight to my daughter, and to Puppy.

The warm gratitude I felt, remembering the long full day Jenny had given me.

Lastly, I hadn’t known gratitude, sadness, and relief could sit so peacefully together, all mixed up in my heart.

 

More to come in the next few weeks about my trip to Australia.

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Ninety Years Young

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops the symbol for Anonymous Female from Facebook instead of a photo of her 90 year old friend who is online dating.“I may be 90 but I’m not dead,” my friend Juliette said. It was her birthday. To celebrate, I’d brought over the requested tuna-on-rye with onion and lettuce, a tiny cheesecake, and my camera.

“Oh good,” she said, eyeing the camera. “I’m considering going back to online dating and I need some photos.” I looked at her in awe, never having gathered enough courage to go through with online dating myself. She had over five years of experience.

“But you already have a boyfriend,” I said, trying to hide my jealousy. “Are there really guys online, looking for women in their 80s and 90s?”
“Oh, yes,” she assured me. But there were problems about dating in one’s Sunset Years. “Mostly related to geography,” she said. She mentioned health issues and scammers as well, but decided the biggest obstacle was the physical distance between herself and her admirers. If you no longer drive and your sweetheart lives hours away, there is never enough time together and each meet-up requires the aid of family or friends to transport one to be with the other. “That’s why I’m going back to shopping online to find a congenial companion who lives within 10 to 20 miles.”

“So, what’s your ideal man like?” I asked. She responded with her list: Gentle. Affectionate. Good command of the English language. Someone to go to ethnic restaurants with, who likes to play word games and cards, enjoys listening to classical music, … happy to share coffee in the morning. I wondered, how early in the morning? And if that implied they would spend the night together? Not wanting to pry, I didn’t say anything at first. But finally, because these days I’m trying to be more forthright in my communications, I asked, “Is there sex at 90?”

From her shiny red motorized wheel chair, Juliette looked up at me through knitted brows, and lowered her voice, “Well, you’re not supposed to advertise that fact.” That’s when she said, “I may be 90 but I’m not dead.” Right then, I knew I’d found my story of the week.

 

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Searching in My Dreams

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops woman prisoner searching a haunted house in her dreams.In my dream I had lost everything. My house, my money, my family. And I was incarcerated. For a crime? Or for being crazy? It wasn’t clear in the dream. What was clear was that I was searching for something. In the middle of a group of women prisoners, I was always on the lookout for something as we were taken to various parts of town to work, supervised by some nice man. Who loved me. And maybe I loved him back. A little. Because when the dream ended and I woke up, I lay very still, trying to get back into the dream.

“Don’t move when you wake from your dream,” I’d been told in real life, at a conference for bereaved parents months ago, “or you’ll forget it.” They’d given me a blank journal to record dreams of my daughter who died. But ever since I got the journal, Marika stopped showing up in my dreams. Completely. This latest dream, about being an inmate, had not included her. So I let it go. The journal still sits on my night table. Still blank.

How are you supposed to dream if you hardly ever sleep? Most of each night I lay awake with my mind racing, and tell myself it’s enough to just be resting my body.

Somewhere, I’ve read that we dream what we think about. Hah! Also, that our brain is simply remixing and replaying our waking times, and searching for connections between unrelated experiences.

Maybe dreaming is really just our minds continuing to search, endlessly, even as our bodies rest. And maybe the important things in life are not who we are or what we have, but rather what we’re searching for. I’m just putting that out there, being one who searches day and night, awake or asleep. All that seeking; you’d think it would tire me out.

New plan for before bedtime: watch less of Orange is the New Black, the Netflix series about women prison inmates, and read more of Anne Lamott’s inspiring books about finding hope, and mercy, and faith. Spend more time looking at photos of my daughter. And maybe even consider taking a peek, now and then, of the offerings on Match.com.

 

Dreams don’t matter, you say?

 

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Rituals for Leaving Home

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs her Havanese dog standing on top of her suitcase painted in a pre-travel leaving home ritual.When I leave home to go to Australia I will kiss the dog on her nose eighteen times. I will build a tiny campfire by the pond and ponder where I’m going. I’ll buy a new book. And pay all my bills.

Before setting off on a trip I always clean the house, and eat every last thing in the fridge, stashing away a frozen pizza so I shouldn’t return home hungry to a completely barren house. Other pre-travel practices involve weeks of packing and repacking my luggage, and painting or repainting the red and yellow dots on my bags to make My Bags look different from all the other black rolling suitcases.

These are simply rituals, small acts I do to make myself feel comfortable. Grounded. To give me strength, maybe. These are not things one HAS to take care of, like arranging for houseplants to be watered and the mail to be brought in. No, these practices are to reduce stress. And express my gratitude for having this home that hugs, and holds, and sometimes hides me.

As part of my farewell ritual, I try to have everything all packed and ready at least a day or two before my actual departure date so I can have the last day, or the last evening, to sit still and listen to the sounds of the house from my favorite spots inside and out. So that I have time to remind myself that this is where I belong, and this is the place I will return to.

The very last things I do before leaving: I stand before the life-size portrait of my daughter who died, and invite her to come with me (or at least to lend me her strength while I am gone). Then I look around the house like it might be the last time I ever see it.

My pre-travel leaving-home ritual enables me to face the world. Whatever happens next, whatever chaos or misfortunes I may encounter in my travels, I know I will find peace, order, balance, … my roots, right where I left them, when I return home.

 

What do you do as you get ready to travel away from home?

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From Strangers to Friends

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops hands reaching out over a scene of brick wall and staircase.“I’m at the bricks. Just keep walking toward the pavilion. I want to show you my son’s brick,” a new friend said when I phoned, confused about exactly where we were meeting up in the park. My daughter’s favorite spot in Ithaca, the Stewart Park Pavilion was a place I thought I knew well.
“What bricks?” I wailed into my cell phone, “Where?”

“Right there,” my friend pointed proudly, when we finally caught up. A cozy corner I hadn’t noticed before was paved with donated bricks, a fundraiser for the park. We stood together admiring the brick engraved with her son’s name. Zacariah. She was telling me the story of how they’d misspelled his name, when suddenly my eye was drawn to another brick. One brick away. Right there, it said, Marika Warden. My daughter. I stopped breathing. For a second I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Someone, probably her father, had dedicated a brick to Marika. And one more brick away from that was a brick for my son who is still alive and thriving on the other side of the country.

You wouldn’t think a few little bricks could deliver such joy. But for a mom, the most wonderful thing is to know her children are loved and remembered. My friend and I stood there marveling at this new connection. “It’s like we’re neighbors,” I said, “like family.”

That was just days ago. And here I am getting ready for my trip to the other side of the earth, to Australia. Responding to my posts, several bereaved mothers from Australia have been popping up on my Facebook pages and online support groups. We’re making plans to meet up during my travels. Warmhearted women. They’ve reached out across cyberspace sharing the stories of our children. Some of us watched the life wane out of our kids’ eyes from addictions or cancers. Others got the dreaded phone call that ended their worlds. We were strangers. Until we shared our stories.

And while I’m counting the days until we meet up in person and discover things we have in common, I realize that bricks can hit you hard on the head or lead you to places you might never have found on your own. And maybe the coincidence of the brick at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York, is a forerunner to what lies ahead in Australia. I have to wonder, how many bricks away from each other are we all?

 

 

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Stuffed Puppy’s Final Trip: Australia

Robin botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops her daughter Marika Warden's stuffed animal before taking it to Australia to be cremated in a ritual to celebrate love and life.This is Puppy. She is going to Australia. Her third trip there. This time she will not be coming back.

Stuffed Puppy. A gift to my daughter shortly after she was born, Puppy spent almost every night of Marika’s twenty years tucked in the crook of her arm. Every time Marika left home for more than a day she took Puppy. Camp, vacations, weekends with friends, hospitals, and a year of college. In 2010, with cancer in remission, Marika probably brought Puppy to Australia. Puppy traveled there with me in 2012, as I scattered Marika’s ashes.

Puppy was always key to my communications with Marika. My words came out differently when they channeled through Puppy. Puppy didn’t say, “Don’t you have homework to do?” She said, “Can I do homewawk wiv you?” Years later, I would regularly fish Puppy out of hospital beds and pose her so Marika, returning from radiation, would find Puppy on top of the bed, hunched over a tea mug with napkin and cookie, like Puppy had a secret life of her own. Like I was leaving my daughter a kiss when we were no longer on touching terms.

Ragged love-worn Puppy. With her brownish matted fur and long floppy ears, she often got mistaken for a rabbit. She looks kinda haggard now, threadbare in places. From her little alter in the middle of the house, she watches me, with a look in her shiny plastic eyes like she doesn’t quite trust me. Like, she’s wondering if I’ll make good on my promise to “return” her to her girl.

“Okay, what a dope, what the heck,” you’re saying, “It’s just a piece of stuffed polyester.” But no, Puppy is a part of myself I wasn’t able to let go of the first time I went to Australia. And now, five years later, I am going back, ready to cremate Puppy and toss her ashes into the sea. Hopefully, there will be other mothers to celebrate with me. Maybe they, too, will have read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit to their children, sniveling with tears spilling down their faces when they got to the part where the little boy’s stuffed bunny gets tossed out to a rubbish pile. And maybe they’ll understand that I need to wrap up Puppy’s time here on earth because I can’t bear to think of my daughter’s beloved stuffed animal being heartlessly dumped into the trash after I die.

 

What did you hang onto for its sentimental value? What brings you comfort?

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