Healing from Loss: Stalking through Wegmans

Robin Botie scrambling through the sweet potatoes at Wegmans in Ithaca, New YorkWhat am I doing, crazed and frantic, alone at home on a Saturday night? My friends are all out. Unavailable. I’m having a major breakdown and there’s no one to call. I’m miserable.

Why? I ask myself. And when answers don’t surface I move on to my three questions:

What do I need to feel better?

What is it I really need?

Which one of these will I be able to do something about right now?

At this moment, I can only get as far as the first. I’m starving. Food will make me feel better.

That’s how I end up in Wegmans.

Who dares to go to Wegmans hungry? Everyone knows this is dangerous. Unless you bring your camera and head straight for the fresh produce aisles.

Two hours and 98 photographs later it is after 9pm and I’ve stalked through most of the store. By this time Wegmans’ sub shop and Chinese buffet have closed down. The Julie Jordan salad booth is empty. Grabbing a sushi take-out, I finally check out and find my car. On the drive home, I leave the radio and the audio book off. I want to get back in touch with whatever it was that brought me to Wegmans on this Saturday night when I should be out anywhere else having fun with my friends.

But now, except for still being hungry, I feel pretty good. And all I can think about is going to Kyle Thompson’s website to see his photographs gone viral. And how I will photo-shop myself in Wegmans, drowning in the sweet potatoes.

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Healing from Loss: Finding Gifts

Robin Botie, mother of Marika Warden, deceased, still finds gift from her daughter who died of leukemia. Birthday spaghetti. “Mom, you hafta follow the chocolates and read the clues to get your present,” Marika said, over five years ago. And 50 chocolate kisses later I found an elegant dinner of Caesar salad and linguini laced with red sauce, shrimp and scallops. There were flowers on the table. And candles and chocolate cake.

I was not her favorite person. To say the least. But on holidays she was generous. She always had something red for me. A new red sweater, capris, socks. Red velvet cake.

When she died, first I thought all I had left of her was her dog, her clothes, and a few songs. Then came the surprises:

The tiny book she’d made for me when she was eleven, that fell out of my night-table on Christmas Eve after she died. The Welcome Home Mom sign with a rabbit drawn in a heart that I found the day before I left to scatter her ashes in Australia. And her journals with the poems and prose that inspired me to write and then changed my life.

It’s like getting a gift each time I discover something of Marika’s. She died 2 ½ years ago; there can’t possibly be anything more to find of hers, I tell myself.

But last month, putting on her warm fleece jacket, I found a little plastic spoon and a Papa John’s Pizza gift-card for $20 in the pocket. An Old Navy card with $9.56 surfaced in her old closet recently. I found her watch in a box left in the garage. And last week in the mail there was a notice about her inactive investment account.

As the days grow darker and the holidays draw near, I gather all these “gifts.” At this time of the year I used to plan what presents I would give her. And now I consider all the ways she has gifted me.

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Healing from Loss: Finding Myself, My Work

newhat “Mom, I locked my key in the car. Can you do me a favor?” my son calls me on my cell phone.

I am about to dive into a chocolate cake and two bottles of aged port with friends. We are twelve miles north of Ithaca. I will have to go home first to find his spare keys before I drive to the downtown restaurant where he is stuck.

“I’ll be right there,” I say. Then I drive the dark empty country roads and the wet city streets reflecting store lights, singing “I’m being followed by a Moon Shadow.” That’s how much I want to be needed, to be doing something, to have a goal and have work.

I’m addicted to working.

But no one wants to hire a photo-shopper, another writer, an out-loud reader, or someone who will drop everything to rescue a bad situation. It’s time to get creative. To remedy the lack of a job, get out of the house, and keep my self-esteem I have started to write a semimonthly column called Up and Out for a small online newsletter, www.tinytowntimes.com. If you enjoy my writing please check it out. Except for this first introduction, it will be an exploration of the overlooked and under-appreciated gems to be found in a tiny town like Ithaca, New York.

So now I’m wearing a new hat. Actually it’s an old one that belonged to my daughter. But it fits. If it weren’t for her and all her words I found after she died, I would never have discovered my own love for writing.

Sometimes when you lose someone you find someone or something else. I’m finding myself. And all the things I never imagined I could do.

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Healing from Loss: A Mackerel Sky

“It’s a mackerelRobin Botie and her friend Fullis at the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes Walkathon and 5K Run. sky,” says my friend Fullis. “It means the weather’s about to change.” She bops up and down as I shuffle from side to side to keep warm and to keep in the sway of the music.

Today is the annual Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes Walkathon. A week ago I pushed myself to sign up when I learned that Fullis and her husband would be walking. Last year I’d just given money and stayed home. But things are changing now.

I have started a last combing through of my manuscript. All week I sat around turning chapter 12 into chapter 1 and scouring the first third of the book for places to improve.
“Your manuscript is never done,” say my writer friends. It is true. I could rewrite the book for the rest of my days. But it’s time to focus on finding an agent.
When I write, I relive my times with my daughter. I feel the tremendous hope we held until the very end. I soar with the small victories. I reach back into the almost three years in and out of hospitals, and Marika is with me once more. Then comes chapter 11. The loss flattens me. Again and again.

The two-mile walk around Cass Park to benefit our local Cancer Resource Center is a good distraction. There are thousands out here on this cold damp day. People wear pinks, reds and turquoise. Some wear photos of their lost ones pinned to their chests. There are children and dogs in costumes. Survivors pose together for pictures, and high school cheerleaders and musicians line the route. A friend of my daughter’s calls out to me. Two people I know only on Facebook say hello.
Fullis, her husband, and I walk our usual fast hikers’ pace and soon we are near the end of the walk. In my head I am already inside of chapter 8. In that chapter, Marika is in remission and we are in a race against time to get her stem cell transplant when she announces that she can’t have the transplant until after her concert. I can hardly wait to get back.

“Do you ever feel like your daughter is with you?” asks Fullis. I look at the dogs in costume, at my feet on the gravel path, at the changing colors of the landscape. I look anywhere but at my friend as I fight back tears.

“Don’t get me started,” I say as my eyes finally find the already fading mackerel sky.

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Healing from Loss: Teatime Ritual

 

teatime

On a small boat in the middle of Cayuga Lake, in the middle of October, I am drinking tea with my friends. In real china teacups. With saucers. We are a motley crew: me and my friends, Barb and Liz, and their fathers and one daughter, not mine. I no longer have a father or a daughter. At this moment it is easy to pine over this. But I’m the only one of the three of us with a living mother. And, I remind myself, my son comes home from Afghanistan in two days. Still, I watch the fathers sitting together and can’t help but think how my own father would have fit in perfectly. How my own daughter would have loved to be out on the lake in October.
The boat gently rocks as Barb pours the hot gourmet-blended tea into fragile cups with floral designs. It is our second annual teatime honoring the memory of her mother.
“These are lemon apricot scones from Collegetown Bagels and chocolate chip scones from Greenstar,” says her daughter, passing two bags around.
“To mom,” we all toast.
For a minute I wonder what I am doing here. I never even met my friend’s mother. I’m the only one without a relative on the boat.
But everyone here knows loss. Along with good and bad times, we build rituals into our individual life patterns to share the memories of the ones we lost. Today it feels like fathers and daughters are being shared too. I joke with the fathers and try to photograph the red fox the daughter points out on the shore.
Clouds rolling over the sky hide the sun. I am having teatime in the middle of the lake in October because of the twists and bends my life path has taken. And because of the good friends I have found along the way.on a boat in October on Cayuga Lake

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Healing from Loss: October’s Colors

Images of Robin Botie's daughter, Marika Warden, photo-shopped with the last flower from Valentina's gardenThis week there were sunny warm days where I could pretend it was still August. There were clear star-riddled skies at night with a half-moon bright enough to throw moon-shadows. But we’d already had a few frosts. The flowers by my door were gone.

I asked a dozen people to tell me something beautiful about October.

“The colors,” several said. “The smell in the air,” said others. Sniffing the crisp air, I went on walks with friends and photographed hillsides of trees blushing red. Camille showed me a big wall of stone hearts just behind us that I missed, distracted by a swollen stream. Dennis pointed out huge root systems buried under the leaves in the woods.

“See the leaves raining down?” asked Virginia. Our feet made loud shooshing sounds as we walked through the light crunchy blanket on the forest floor. It was stunning. It mostly made me sad.

My daughter loved this time of the year. Marika could make Halloween last the whole month.  She saw lights and music, opportunities to dress up, silly pumpkins, and the holidays to come. I always saw mud, short dark days, flooding, imminent storms, and long months ahead lumbering under heavy winter jackets.

At home I turned up the heat. I made chili and started to stuff the freezer with storm food. I put out plastic battery-powered candles that flick fake orange fire. It was not beautiful but the candles’ glow and the aromas of hot hearty soups comforted me.

“Look,” said my friend Valentina, “you didn’t see.” She pointed to the single flower she’d placed on the table next to my manuscript that I have started to rewrite once more. The flower stood there, simple and sweet but cheeky. Still fresh, its long petals were just beginning to tangle. It had a radiance that made me melt.

“This is the last flower from my garden,” Valentina said.

I sat with it and couldn’t help but smile. I watched it like I used to watch my daughter’s hazel eyes.

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