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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In the Face of Death a Friend Wants to Re-home a Beloved Cat

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of cat that needs a new home because owner has end-stage cancer.A friend of mine has end-stage cancer. And she has a cat. An adored, lovable, beautiful cat that cuddles under her arm, comforting her through afternoon naps and long nights. My friend worries about what will happen to her beloved Cat-Man when she is no longer here. She wants to secure a good home for him. Before she dies.

“I have to find the right person. Someone who will love him to pieces,” she tells me. We both know it will not be me. Totally taken with my dog, I no longer have room left in my heart to love a cat. But I know how she feels. Even without cancer or other known threats to my life, I keep a certain other friend (who loves my dog) informed of where I stash the special sweet-potato-and-fish-formula dog-food, the rabbit-flavored dog candies, and handmade doggie blankets. “Just in case,” I say, with a lump in my throat, whenever I have to leave town.

Years ago my daughter, who also had cancer, willed me her dog. The dog was supposed to be Marika’s lifesaver. “Her life depends on getting this puppy,” family members had said, in the same tones as the doctors who insisted her life depended on getting a bone marrow transplant. The dog couldn’t save Marika in the end. But maybe this inherited dog is my lifesaver. When my world plummeted into darkness, she still had to be fed and walked. She slept with me at night and followed me as I paced the house for days, searching for whatever was left of our girl. She kept me going. And for a while, because of her feistiness, I thought the dog’s soul had been taken over by Marika’s. It was kinda like having my daughter back. Some innate need to love and nurture was fulfilled in taking care of this dog. She soon became a veritable connection to life. And to my daughter. And even though the relationship with my daughter was rocky, I am ever grateful that Marika knew I would love and spoil her dog like I loved and spoiled her.

So I understand my friend’s fierce wish to rehome her cat. Neither of us can bear to think of any creature suffering, especially the ones that fill the part of us our human babies used to fill. Cat-Man is her baby. He will need care and compassion when my friend is no longer here. And in return, he will offer some great comfort and cuddling.

 

Was there an animal in your life that helped you get through a tough time? Have you ever helped an animal in need?

 

 

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Hearing Silent Night Makes Me Cry

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter Marika Warden playing christmas carols.Thanksgiving wasn’t even over yet last week when the stores started playing Christmas songs. This music was foreign to me until many years ago when my young daughter became a girl scout and we went caroling. We’d go home and I’d marvel at how she reproduced the tunes on her flute or pennywhistle. Now, hearing Silent Night and other carols makes me cry uncontrollably.

I remember the first time holiday music pummeled me. It was in early December, eight years ago, when I was stuck alone at the Ronald MacDonald House near the hospital where my daughter was waiting for a stem cell transplant. It was before everything went downhill for Marika, before I had any inkling it would be her last Christmas. There were only a couple of people staying at the RMD House that night, and the staff begged us to gather for the visiting musicians. Seated up close in a rocking chair, I listened, sniffling, confused about how the music was affecting me. By the time they began Silent Night, I was trembling and hugging myself, trying to hold in my howls.

This September, I began learning to play a red plastic cornet. It has nothing to do with my daughter, I told people, even though everything I’ve done since Marika died has been about her. This was just for me, I insisted—I wanted to play bugle calls. Taps in particular. Whenever I hear Taps, my heart stops. Same thing with Amazing Grace and Hallelujah. I want to play music that tugs at people’s heartstrings. So far I’m just a beginner still fumbling my way through scales and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Yet, I find playing comforts me. And last week, in a meltdown as Silent Night emanated from every corner of the mall, I raced home to my cornet. Then, instead of practicing Twinkle Twinkle, I googled ‘silent night sheet music.’

When I first tried to play Silent Night I sobbed between each note. Huffing and puffing my way up to the second-to-last line, “Sleep in heavenly pea-eeece,” I found the notes were suddenly too high for me to reach. I was fighting to conquer each measure—but then something changed. I started over, and played the piece—minus the five impossibly high notes—like it was one of those jaw-dropping awesomely beautiful tunes I’d been yearning to play. Only five high notes away from making beautiful music, I blew that horn like my song could reach to heaven and back.

I don’t know yet if my practicing the heck out of Silent Night will help desensitize the powerful emotional trigger Christmas music has become. But I’m beginning to understand the healing power of music. And now, in playing my cornet, I’m feeling an even stronger connection than ever to my daughter.

  

What are the songs that make you cry? What are the triggers you’re experiencing this holiday season? What connects you to your loved ones who died? Got any recommendations for other simple but powerful tunes I could learn?

 

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