Health Care Proxy Karma

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a duck stuck in an icey pond to illustrate losing the ability to make life and death decisions without a trusted health care proxy.I do not want to be kept alive or kept on mechanical support if I have a permanent and severe condition where I am not able to take care of myself, and I am not expected to recover.

Whoa. This is ME I’m talking about. Not my elderly friend, not my mother, not my daughter who died. It’s also about some of you who have no devoted partner or family member who you feel absolutely certain will step in and make all the exact right choices if you lose your ability to make your own health care decisions. Who will take care of us, and how?

I’m watching a lone duck swimming in my pond where the ice is closing in on her, and imagining that one day I, myself, may be cornered into an ever-shrinking world with limited options. A world where I am no longer in control. Facing pain. Dementia. Death. My gut suddenly feels like I’ve swallowed an iceberg.

Years ago my daughter, in the throes of cancer, appointed me to be her health care proxy. Not understanding what that meant, I was thrilled to be chosen over other family members, and I carried that document with me like it was a certificate of merit. But I was clueless. We never talked about quality of life, pain, comfort, dying. What she might want or not want. I flubbed the job. When her health eventually crashed, and the doctors wanted to shove scaffolding through her ribs to bolster her collapsing lungs and—well, who could have predicted the myriad of sudden frantic decisions and all the things that could go wrong in a short time? I’m screwed if there’s such a thing as bad proxy karma that catches up with you when your own turn comes.

Having witnessed enough human deaths, and played god for too many pets’ endings, I do not take this health care proxy thing lightly. As the New Year tumbled in, I lost sleep worrying about how another person could possibly make life-or-death decisions for me, ever. When a friend finally looked me straight in the face and said, “That’s going to require a very long conversation,” I practically wept with relief.

 

If you were close to death with no hope of recovering, and you could not make decisions or communicate your wishes, what would you hope for from those who are caring for you?

 

 

 

 

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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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