Author Archives: Robin Botie

Everything Changes

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her daughter Marika Warden as a mass of changing regenerating cells.I read somewhere that the cells in our human bodies get replaced by brand new cells about every eight years. Blood cells. Stem cells. Brain cells. They keep getting worn out and dying at different rates. We become essentially new people every eight to ten years as almost every single cell in our body replaces itself with a new cell.

So my daughter, who died almost eight years ago, if she had lived would be a wholly regenerated being since the last time I saw her. I am grieving for someone I wouldn’t even know anymore, not the girl who smelled like mustard and lily-of-the-valley, whose feet I rubbed regularly even as the cells of her red-painted toes were shedding and renewing themselves right under my fingertips.

This occurred to me in the middle of the construction going on in my kitchen to replace major parts: the structural framing decayed by two decades of water damage (human bones get replaced once a decade), deteriorated insulation (human fat cells replenish themselves every eight years), and the cracked concrete countertops now being jack-hammered into smithereens (skin cells last two to three weeks before quietly sloughing off at a rate of a million cells a day).

Everything is changing. Sometimes aggressively, sometimes barely noticeably. Life is nothing like it used to be. Regeneration of cells aside, I, myself, am not who I used to be. My daughter would hardly recognize me. The mother she knew has been replaced cell by cell. And maybe I’m not happier these days, but every cell of me has a greater awareness and capacity for happiness than ever before.

 

What doesn’t change? Have you, yourself, changed for the better or—

 

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Mothering my Daughter’s Spirit into the New Year

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops ghosts of her daughter who died, in an effort to carry the spirit of her daughter into the new year.Lying awake, I worried about how I could carry the spirit of my daughter with me into yet another New Year. The phone rang shortly after I finally fell asleep. A voice said something about a young friend, too drunk to drive home. Could I fetch her from the bar and keep her overnight?
“Sure. I’ll get dressed and be right there,” I responded, suddenly wide-awake, my heart bouncing. It had been a long time since I’d been summoned like this.

Years ago, my daughter would phone me from her apartment around two in the morning, “Mom, I feel sick.” I’d throw on clothes, head out to the car in the dark, and drive the empty streets across town to bring her home. Before she got cancer I would have gotten grumpy about being awakened in the middle of the night. But I learned to make peace with matters serious enough lose sleep over. When my daughter phoned, whether it was chemo or something else, it felt good to be needed. I’d keep my mouth shut and not ask questions. I’d just get her home. That was our deal; call when you need me. Back then I never had to wait long.

And now, here was this young friend, about the same age my daughter would be. Collapsing into the back seat of the car, she told me she was embarrassed.
“Don’t be, I’m happy to help,” I said, thinking of how relieved and grateful some mother would be to know her daughter was safe and cared for, hoping someday someone would help my own son if he was ever in need.

Entering the house, she left her high heels in the mudroom. I walked her upstairs, spread an extra comforter on the bed, plugged in a few nightlights, and said goodnight. Halfway down the stairs I looked back to ask if she wanted a glass of water, but her light was out.

In my still-warm bed, I fell asleep quickly, like I used to whenever my kids would find their way back home. When I woke the next morning, I saw the heels parked in the mudroom. That’s when I knew my daughter’s ghost would find a way to follow me into every day of 2019.

 

What brings you peaceful sleep? How do you carry the memory of a loved one into the New Years of your lifetime?

 

 

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I wish You Time

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops time ticking away by collecting a lifetime of photos of her daughter who died.For the New Year I wish you time. Precious, beautiful, amazing time. This is my wish for all my online and offline friends, and family, and especially for my beautiful smart friend who is now running out of time.

Time is not something you can really gift another person, no matter how much you love her. You can spend time with someone and help them, comfort them, and perhaps get them to stop thinking about time for a while. We can wish them time. But I haven’t figured out a way to actually give it away, to extend someone’s time here on earth.

Long ago, my colleagues at work gave me their unused sick-days so I could have time with my daughter who was in a hospital hours away from work or home. That was the best gift ever. If only there could be some sort of global pooling of unused or unneeded time, where people could drop off or sign away a day or even an hour of time from their own lives, to donate to one who is too young to die, or too loved to let go of. Like blood banks, we could have collection centers for people to leave off small portions of their time.

Time is something few people have in excess, and you can’t even buy time. For yourself, anyway. When my house was under construction, I told the woman who cleans, “Don’t come in next week. Here’s the money. Please do something nice for yourself that morning instead.” It was the closest I could come to giving away time.

Weekly, I spend an afternoon with my friend who is dying, listening to her stories and sharing my own. I worry about taking up too much of her remaining time. But she assures me our time together is a gift.

So I’m wishing you all time. Time to spend with the ones you love, and to do the things you’ve been wanting to do but had no time for. Time to see your children grown and settled. Time to see your face age like your parents’ faces aged. Time when you stop counting the ever-increasing years gone by from when loved ones died, and you instead begin to hear their voices calling you closer. I wish you time to know you’ve had enough time.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping you have many more coming.

 

What do you wish for, for 2019?

 

 

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Trying to be Happy for the Holidays

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her son with a pained smile on his face during Christmas vacation.Merry. Heartwarming. Happy. This week I wanted to report something cheerful, to make up for my last post where people responded, “So sad” and “I cried buckets of tears.”

Having a good cry every now and then is healthy for us. Crying supposedly reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and removes toxins from the body. Personally, I love a good cry-fest, especially if it stems from someone else’s sorrow. Seeing sad movies and reading books that make me blubber uncontrollably are perfect for giving my compassion a workout. But it’s Christmas. And I’m trying to be happy today.

I promised friends I’d serve up something uplifting this time even though spouting out joy and raucous laughter is still beyond my capabilities. Instead, I decided to aim for serenity. And peacefulness.

So, on this quiet early morning I’m remembering the times, decades ago, when my father used to take me and my kids to a warm sunny place during the holiday week. I’m thinking of my little boy who sat smiling gratefully in the warmth of the tropical paradise we knew as Christmas back then. Actually, that smile is appearing more and more pained (as opposed to grateful), the more I look at this photo. But anyway, the boy has since grown to be a man merrily making his own way through holidays, and through life. This, to me, is Merry. Heartwarming. Happy. And even so, it still brings a tear or two. Of joy. Mostly.

 

What are you remembering during this holiday week?

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Adding Stress to the Holidays

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her new construction project, her way of dealing with depression and grief during the holiday season.“Are you sure you won’t mind if your kitchen is a construction zone over Christmas and New Years?” the carpenter asked me, as he ripped at a rotting water-damaged wall in my house. The job had grown to include the demolition and replacement of my cracked concrete countertops. A huge project. My preferred method for dealing with holidays, grief, depression, and major problems seems to be to get totally distracted with something else.

“Oh, it’ll be fine. It’s just me and the dog,” I replied, grateful the carpenter was available, and not yet considering holidays without a kitchen.
“But you won’t have a sink or stove. Your kitchen’s gonna be wrapped in plastic to contain the dust and mess,” he said.
“Well, I’ll still have the fridge and microwave. And a toaster-oven. I can use paper plates. It’ll be a good excuse not to cook. I might even lose a couple of pounds,” I merrily told him.

“What about all your holiday parties?” he asked, and I shrugged, shaking my head pathetically. No parties. However, with people working in the house, I would certainly not be lonely.
“Oh, next week, my Un-Holiday meal for the bereaved parents group,” I said, remembering the event I’d scheduled months ago. Having no kitchen that evening would present a challenge.
“Think about it,” he said. But I didn’t want to think. I just wanted to obliterate the holidays.

In seconds, the Un-Holiday meal idea morphed into plans for a picnic dinner in my living room. And suddenly, I could visualize my Christmas and New Years. I’d have feasts of Chinese take-outs. By candlelight. In front of the TV.

The carpenter drill-blasted the concrete all day Friday. When he left for the weekend, I gulped as I surveyed all the plastic surrounding the heart of my house where I write, cook, eat, play my horn, and watch the digital frame flash photos that light up the memories of my father and daughter.

Sometime, on the other side of Christmas and the New Year, my kitchen will be recovered, fresh and beautiful. But for now, I’m stuck with this big ugly plastic tent in the middle of my house, dust and debris flying around inside. I’m wondering how I can possibly create a happy situation around this. All I can think now is, Oh My Gosh. What have I done!?!

The only bowl that wasn’t packed away for during construction was the dog’s dish. So this morning I ate my granola out of a wineglass. I am going to survive this. It just may entail a constant mustering of creativity.

 

What was the worst holiday you ever had? If you had to abandon your kitchen for the holidays and could only keep a few items, what would be the most important?

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Lighting the Night with my Dead Daughter

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter Marika Warden who loved Chanukah candles and roasting marshmallows.

Stuck in the house. Alone, on a cold night. Just me and the life-size photo of my daughter on the wall. And I’m imagining, if she were here she’d trot downstairs in her tank-top and flannel pajama pants, saying, “Mom, what’s here to eat?” She would stand in front of the wide-open fridge, surveying its bare depths in doleful disbelief. Then she’d search the pantry and every cabinet, eventually getting to the breadbox where she’d find an almost full bag of marshmallows. The giant-sized ones. I’d carried them all last summer, from one friend’s house to another’s, in hopes of convincing someone to build a campfire and make s’mores.

“Mom, remember when it rained and we roasted marshmallows over the stove?” I hear Marika say now, beaming mischievously like she’s inviting me to play. “Where are those stick-things we used to stick in the ‘mallows?” She gets me tearing through the kitchen drawers until I find the shish-kabob skewers.

“OMG, Mom! You still have Hershey’s chocolate bars here.” She’s giving me her irresistible pout-face that begs, “Can we make s’mores, Mom?”
I don’t have any graham crackers, I tell her photo. But the next thing I know, I’m holding a skewered marshmallow over the blue flame of the stove-burner anyway. It suddenly catches on fire and I frantically blow at the small blaze. When my heart stops pounding, I devour the gooey mass, black ash and all.
“Mom, you’re such a wimp,” I hear her say. It’s like hearing an old sweet familiar tune.

I toast and eat enough marshmallows for us both.

“So Mom, if we can do this, why can’t we light Chanukah candles?”
It isn’t Chanukah, I tell her.
“That’s the best time to light Chanukah candles,” she assures me, “We can light them all then.”
Yikes, I’m thinking. More fire. Hot. Hurts. All those memories. I don’t want to remember that song you sang as you lit the candles. More pain. I don’t think I can do this, Marika.

Now she’s smiling at me. In the past she would have grunted, and rolled her eyes. But she smiles, and sighs,
“Let’s just light the effin’ candles, Mom.”

Who do you talk to when there’s no one to talk to? How do you keep alive the best parts of yourself and the one you are missing?

 

 

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