Can We Communicate with the Dead?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of a small gold moth, perhaps a sign sent to her from her daughter who died, from the other side.Hearing my dead daughter’s words in my head wasn’t enough. So, last weekend I attended a Forever Family Foundation retreat where three mediums conducted spirit communications. I was hoping to get a message from Marika. Instead, I got a golden moth.

We were eating lunch outside, between sessions, when I felt a light tickle on my wrist and turned my right hand over to find a delicate gold charm attached. The moth glistened, iridescent in the sun. Its tiny feet clung to my skin like minuscule Velcro pads. It sat there, close to my beating pulse, its fragile wings occasionally flapping in the breeze while I ate with my left hand, wondering how long it might stay. Half an hour, my friend told me, later. Long enough for another friend to snap its photo on her phone. Long enough to consider that maybe the golden moth was a gift from my daughter, from the other side. It was not the clear coherent message I wanted. I was still hoping to be “read” by a medium.

Lunchtime ended. The moth flew off and I went to the next session and watched in awe as the medium first validated the presence of a family’s loved one, and then relayed messages that were received with tears of joy. Details, bits and pieces of peoples’ lives were exposed; secrets and explanations were revealed. There were apologies, pardons, advice, and affirmations of love. How and where could such information be found, or kept, other than in the consciousness of the deceased loved ones themselves? I waited, my eyes begged the medium, please, connect me to Marika. But the other people’s needs must have been greater than mine. Maybe their loved ones’ spirits were more determined than my daughter’s. Or maybe I wanted it too much.

I did not get a reading that weekend. But I did get to witness the joy and transformation of others hearing from their loved ones. And I came 95 percent closer to believing in after death communications and the survival of consciousness after death. I’m reserving the last little bit of skepticism until the day I get to have a reading myself.

And I wonder: if people can believe in a God who gives and takes life and sometimes answers our prayers, why shouldn’t I put my own faith into the small spark of vibrating energy that remains (somewhere) of Marika? I pray to my daughter. And she answers my pleas by sending me small creatures, mostly at mealtimes.

 

What do you believe in? Can we communicate with the dead?

 

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Relationships with Deceased Loved Ones Continue, Change, and Grow

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a collage of herself and her daughter's images to represent ongoing relationships with deceased loved ones.My daughter used to tell me “Go fall off a mountain, Mom” and “I hope you drown.” After she died, six years ago, I kept hearing her voice.

Rocky relationships lead to complicated grief. Bonds with your deceased loved one, complex or otherwise, continue unless you intentionally detach yourself. Current grief theories no longer demand an ending point or detachment from the deceased in order for an individual to be considered healthy and well adjusted. Counselors acknowledge that we find ways to redefine our relationships with loved ones after they die, often creating ongoing connections that can last our lifetime. These relationships can evolve and mature, especially if they were of an abusive or dysfunctional nature. They can make you into a stronger, more compassionate person. If you want to witness this, listen to Sherman Alexie’s audiobook version of his new memoir You Don’t have to Say You Love Me, produced by Hachette Audio, 2017. Renowned author, poet, and filmmaker, Alexie struggles to come to terms with his chaotic childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation with the mother he simultaneously loved and hated.

There are many ways to maintain long term ties with loved ones after death. Some of the ones Alexie employs in his memoir are: talking to his mother, keeping her photos, remembering the ways she influenced his life, imagining her advice or opinions on current issues, living in a way that would make her proud, saving her quilts and other special belongings, allowing himself to experience her presence, doing things she liked to do, writing letters and poems to her, and researching her life to learn what made her the person she was. In the audiobook version, read with great passion by the author, Alexie sings, cries, reads his mother’s words aloud, and speaks for her. She becomes a part of him. “I have a better relationship with my mother – with the memory of my mother. A better relationship with her ghost,” he writes on the box that contains the CDs.

Long after my daughter died I kept talking to her. With time, her harsh words softened and I heard her begin to support me, cheering me on when I was scared, “Go for it, Mom. You can do this.” Each day I carry her with me to whatever new venture the day brings. I’m a bigger, better person because of her.

 

Do you talk to any ghosts? How do you feel about listening to audiobooks versus reading? Have you listened to or read any great memoirs lately?

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A Last Time for Everything

Why isn’t there some sort of class or required reading that warns you, early on, about the nature of life? About loving. And losing. Longing. Living anyway. Something should teach us to pay attention because there’s going to be an end one day: A last kiss. Last words spoken. A last time you’re all together. A smile that disappears off the planet. A last night before the life you believed was yours gets devoured by the first morning of a completely different existence. All the precious bits and pieces of who you are, and what you thought you owned and controlled, are subject to change at any moment. Nobody warns you about this. Then one day you get clobbered. There ought to be something that gently whacks you over the head, an alert that everything, all of it, is only temporary.

My sister’s birthday brought my Mom and me, both of my sisters, a long-lost-then-found-again childhood friend, and another dear friend-of-the-birthday-girl together this weekend. We drank lots of wine and ditched our diets in celebration. And I kept wondering how many birthdays, how many summers, how much more of the good stuff could we possibly have coming to us?

This summer I’ve been showing up at my mother’s house almost every weekend. There, I can be a daughter again, a daughter helping out and being doted on by her mom. That was a role I needed to escape decades ago. But now I’m drawn back to it. Someday, I know, I will no longer be able to slip into my daughterliness any time I want.

For the birthday weekend, I was once again part of a set of three daughters living under one roof. We whispered and plotted out of earshot of our Mom, pretending we were kids once more like before colleges, husbands, and babies scattered us off into our different lives. I can’t count on always having sisters getting together for birthdays.

It’s great to be alive; it sucks that we’re alive for such a brief while. I go back and forth between being grateful and miserable about this, and continue to party like there’ll always be a next time. So cheers to the birthday girl, to Mom, to sisters and friends. Let’s toast to life! It’s beautiful. Sad. And gone before you get to know it.

Does anyone else go around marking in your mind all the sweet moments, thinking, this may be the last time?

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Time Out

“Mom.” From the hospital bed, Marika shamelessly waved a foot at me and flashed a pathetic frown. Foot-rub time.
“It has to be a short one. I have to write a paper for my class,” I said.
“Why don’t you pull the cancer card?” she yawned.
“Cancer card? What’s a cancer card?” I asked. She smiled with closed eyes, and wiggled her toes in anticipation of the foot-rub.
“Just tell your teacher your daughter has cancer, Mom. Then you won’t have to work so hard.”

There were times I did “pull the cancer card,” and later, the my-daughter-died-of-cancer card. Like once when a cop stopped me for speeding. Like several Decembers, when I wanted to get out of shopping for gifts, knowing gift-giving and holiday music could trigger major emotional meltdowns.

It has never been easy to simply give myself a pass, even if it’s a long overdue or desperately needed break. Like the Energizer Bunny, I keep busy, kick myself outta the house to keep going, going, going…. But sometimes one just needs to call a time-out. Especially when your head gets whacked.

On Thursday I got whacked. I allowed a stupid disappointment to immobilize me for two days. I blew the whole rest of the week off because someone blew me off. No warning. No message, no returning my calls. There was no way to sit still and write. The only thing I could do with any volition at all, was eat.

Still reeling from the experience, I need time to recharge. My cancer cards have expired; too many of my friends are dealing with cancer now for me to be excusing myself like that. So I’m pulling a new mini-crisis permission slip, to get myself out of trying to produce a masterpiece this week. Hopefully it will also cover me for why this photo, an oldie but goodie, doesn’t match what I’ve written.

 

Got any tricks to offer for how to relax and cut loose once in a while?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Memory is Broken. But I’m Not

“She’s broken. Falling apart, scarred for life since her daughter died,” various friends and family members have said about me. This week I was going to write about how I didn’t feel “broken,” how I believed I was stronger and better than ever. But then I lost my mind. Briefly. Just memory failure, really. But the mortification still grinds in my head.

I was sitting with a friend at a table outside the gym when a beautiful young woman stopped by. “I’m Shoshana,” she said, smiling at me with familiar warm brown eyes. Immediately I recognized her as one of my daughter’s oldest friends.
“I’m so glad you came over,” I said, my heart laughing and crying as it does whenever I run into one of Marika’s BFFs. I’m always grateful when this happens. It takes courage to approach a bereaved mother; once old friends fled the aisle in Wegmans to avoid me. Shoshana set her coffee and croissant on the table, and sat down.

“I think of Marika a lot,” she said. And I thanked her for that, told her it meant everything to me that Marika was remembered. Shoshana mentioned what she’d been doing lately. That doesn’t sound like you, I said, and then shared a dozen details of what I remembered of her. Only, the images that popped up in my head were memories of a different girl, not the Shoshana sitting before me. I’d completely confused her with another of Marika’s friends.

Suddenly, we were saying goodbye. I mentioned one more thing that was totally not about Shoshana, and she looked at me like I had cracked.

She left. And for a moment I sat there disoriented, blinded by bright sunlight and shards of memories. And then I recalled the serious child who told silly jokes, the quirky kid who couldn’t carry a tune but was so giving, so eager to please. She was one of the few young friends that would look me straight in the eye. Her warm familiar eyes. The real Shoshana. I’d last seen her when she visited Marika in the hospital.

I caught up with her. Still dazed, I tried to explain. But there is no way to account for the brokenness of a mind that can recall every detail of a daughter’s last years, and yearns to have that daughter remembered, but cannot keep the other pieces of the past straight.

If you see me on the street, in the gym or at Wegmans, please say hi. I will not break if you mention my daughter. Chances are she’s already at the foreground of my thoughts. Besides, when it comes to brokenness, we’re all on a spectrum. And a broken memory doesn’t mean you’re a broken person. So forgive me if I don’t remember your name. I know who you are. Mostly. It’s in your eyes and your smile.

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Another Precious Summer, Training for Life

Sixteen summers ago, in June, when peonies bowed their heavy heads, wispy clouds wafted over the still lake at Camp Scatico in Elizaville, New York. It was early morning a few weeks before camp would open, and that year’s new group of lifeguards was in training. Polar bear swim. To get a head start I ran into the lake first, breaking the calm surface into ripples. Two great blue herons suddenly soared up out of the mist. They flew over me, and before I could shout, “Look,” the other lifeguards, decades younger than I, splashed noisily by with great speed and strength. They swam all the way to some far marker and back again, twice leaving me in their wake. But that didn’t matter. Even then, I knew it was the beginning of a new journey. For me.

Two months before, I had turned fifty. Always afraid of drowning, I’d never dreamed of becoming a lifeguard. In order to afford to send my kids to camp though, I’d taken a job as a hiking counselor, and then the camp had me trained and certified. I spent the next four summers hiking and lifeguarding. And training. Every time the peonies bloomed I set off for camp for more lifeguarding instruction. It was good training for what was to come later, when my daughter got cancer.

Years after those lifeguarding summers, peonies were just starting to bloom when Marika was first diagnosed and I became her caregiver. Caregiving and lifeguarding were similar. Except with caregiving there was only one life to keep from drowning. And after the first summer with cancer Marika got her own lifeguard certification. Being a cancer survivor and a lifeguard, she knew something about the nature of life. A local camp hired her, but for the next two years, just when peonies perfumed the air, cancer came back. Marika and I were stuck in hospitals. Three whole precious summers lost. And after, there were summers when the peonies were lost; everything beautiful was lost on me. I was living in a downward wafting cloud.

The memoir I’ve been writing for the last six years was, at one point, to be titled Lifeguarding. A friend suggested that Guarding Life would be better. That got me thinking. Because guarding life is what I do now. Life and lives. And time. All bright, fresh, bursting with promise. Mysterious. Fragile. Elusive.

Whenever peonies bloom I get excited about summer, and I remember Camp Scatico where each June they train more lifeguards and leaders. I wish them a brilliant season, and hope these new leaders get to see the herons. My best wishes to all of us for a most magnificent summer.

 

Where will summer take you this year? Where will you allow yourself to go?

 

 

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