Birthdays and Death Dates

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a snapshot of her daughter who died of leukemia as a newborn baby with butterflies and rubber ducks.“Mom. I want chocolate cake. For breakfast,” my daughter, who died five years ago, announced as I awoke on the anniversary of her death. A large leftover piece of the cake I’d brought to friends the night before, to acknowledge the March deaths of our loved ones, sat in the fridge.

My daughter’s will, always stronger than my resolve, lives on within me. Birthdays and death dates are times I’m most likely to give in to her way. “Chocolate cake, mom. With ice cream. And whipped cream. For breakfast. By candlelight,” the details grew more specific the closer we got to the kitchen. That’s how the day began.

For weeks leading up to her angelversary, I’d whined and cranked in dread of that day.
“How would you commemorate your child’s angelversary? What do you do on the deathday of the one you love?” I’d put out desperate pleas on Facebook pages.

“Listen to your daughter. What would she want?” People had posted back long lists. “Sing, play her music, light candles, eat her favorite foods, share stories about her with those who loved her, release balloons or butterflies, give gifts to others, make a donation in her honor, do random acts of kindness, …look at her old photographs.”

So I did. And I had a picnic by the lake, and attended an exercise class at our gym.
“Mom, you’ve got your bathing suit on under your workout clothes so let’s go swimming,” she said in the gym. We swam. Then we went shopping and bought a red sweatshirt, and I wore it hiking with my inherited dog. I did almost everything from the lists of things to do.

In the evening, I took her best friend out for sushi dinner since my daughter had loved sushi. The friend brought along another friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and this other friend had her newborn baby with her. The baby’s eyes were so like my daughter’s at that age. He seemed to be searching my face. I almost cried. But instead, when the friends went to collect their buffet dinners, leaving me alone in the booth holding the baby, I sang my daughter’s song to him, and drifted back into old times cuddling in sweet warmth.

The time leading up to birthdays and deathdays is often harder than the days themselves. The terrifying thing is that each anniversary takes you farther away from the times you were with your beloved. Another year gone by. Then another. And one day, the number of years without will outnumber the years with them. And the thought of them being forgotten is unbearable. It brings up the inevitability of one’s own death, the brevity of our time on this earth. The need to make each day, not just the special dates, count.

“So what was the best part of the day?” I asked my dead daughter later, as I walked her dog and watched the night sky.
“Holding the newborn,” she told me. And back in the house, I couldn’t go to bed until I found the snapshot I’d taken of her shortly after she was born.

 

What small magnificent thing will you do today?

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Birthdays and Death Dates

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    This piece knocked my socks off, Robin. The newborn, the picnic, the swim, the sushi, all of it. You’re doing a great job learning from Marika and keeping your new life alive. I had a dream last night (just after returning from an 8 day trip) that I have to move. I wonder what that’s about. Seems like we have to keep holding to something essential from the past past while we move at the same time. I find it moving to read how you do both.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I was just thinking of your beautiful home, Elaine, as my hiking group ended up out in your area. Would like to walk with you again out there. It is so amazing there. But moving is what we do. Especially as we get older and our needs change. Holding and letting go. Moving. We all do it, carefully weighing out what to keep, what can be left. What’s left of who we are and where we’ve been. Thank you, Elaine. Yes, you’ll have to explore that dream. Is it really time to move?

      Reply
  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, thank you for sharing this beautiful, touching account of grieving and living near anniversaries of our loved one’s deaths. My sister’s husband’s death anniversary is tomorrow and I want to acknowledge that and share it with her in whatever way works for her.

    Reply
  3. Annette Corth

    Robin,

    I am not a member of your “club” but would like to help you celebrate Marika’s passing date. When we get together, let’s do sushi and chocolate cake and a great big hug.

    Call me.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Sounds really perfect. And then we could celebrate her birthday, and my birthday, and maybe Easter and Mother’s Day too. Do you think I could add some sake to that as well?

      Reply
  4. Nadine

    Hi Robin- this is Nadine your retreat friend. This posting was amazing. My son Stephen’s angelversary was 3/2. This is such a good way to think about it. Usually I leave Ithaca for that day- for what reason, I don’t know other than I am so sad in Ithaca. This has given me some pleasant thoughts. Will I see you in July even thought I think we live about 10 miles away from each other.

    Nadine

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yes, Nadine, you will see me at the retreat in July. And who knows – maybe even before. Sorry I missed Stephen’s angelversary. I kinda like the idea of leaving town for an angelversary. Never tried it. Marika loved field trips and road trips so it would be a possibility. What isn’t a possibility is ignoring it. The night before, I brought chocolate cake to that group of friends who were also commemorating angelversaries. And ten days later, I’m still “celebrating,” raking Marika’s pond and eating a second chocolate cake that I cut into 15 pieces and froze. Marika could make a holiday last for weeks so I’ve adopted that. Hugs!

      Reply
  5. robinbotie.com

    What’s really amazing to me, Monica, is that whenever I meet up with another bereaved mother, I feel a bond. On Sunday, a new person was walking with me in my hiking group and we started talking, discovered “lost daughters” in common, and she emailed me that evening. And now I have a new friend. At retreats for bereaved moms, even though I’m shy around strangers, I feel comfortable and connected. Maybe that’s why people call it “a club.” It’s a sad club, but having company that understands where we’ve been really helps. So I, too, “honor that connection.” Cheers!

    Reply
  6. Monica

    This is just perfect Robin. The thought of them being forgotten is unbearable, this is a driving force for me. I thought of you and Marika several times on her angelversary even though I don’t know you two. But in a way I do and can honor that connection.
    All the best to you.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thanks for including all of us, Mary. Or almost. I like that “joy to your love.” Because there’s as much joy to it as there is sorrow. Cheers to you and yours.

      Reply

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