Clinging to Life

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York restores a 75 year-old photo by Lorstan Photography Studios of her aunt, Bertha Spector of Brooklyn.Some people cling to life like a scab clings, by mere threads, to an old wound. And some hold fast to every moment grabbing celebrations, laughter, moonlit nights, magnificent meals, the here of the sun, the now of friends. I used to shake my head, grumbling that my daughter was living like she had only an hour left. Then she died. “How will I live the rest of my life?” I wondered. It’s a good question to ask periodically.

Four years later I’m still aware of my season of hailstorms, the two-month period from my daughter’s deathday on March 4 to Mothers’ Day. In between those dates fall my birthday and Marika’s, the first day of spring, Easter and Passover. All are opportunities to wallow in misery and close off the world. Brain nausea sets in every year as I try to sort out what this deathday really means and how I should commemorate it. What keeps coming up is my Aunt Bertha. The aunt I adored as a child lost her husband on her birthday over fifty years ago. She kept to herself for over half a century, feeding on little other than her immense sorrow. So I have a familial model for how to live in grief. Only, that is not living; it is dying a very slow death.
I used to wonder, no, to be honest it used to bug me: how come she got to live? As much as I loved my aunt, her heart was dead and buried with her husband long ago. Why was she still schlepping around in her mid-nineties while Marika didn’t even get to see twenty-one?

Last week, in a rainstorm, we buried my Aunt Bertha in a cemetery in New Jersey, next to her husband. Nine of us huddled under umbrellas, taking turns shoveling rich red soil onto the lowered coffin. The ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes. And then we climbed into our seven cars and went home.
For me it was a five-hour ride. I thought of how, when I was a kid, I was afraid to use telephones except to call my Aunt Bertha. I remembered the jewelry she used to give me, visiting her in Brooklyn, and the candy-salesman husband who made her smile. She bought me my first camera.

The rainstorm followed me back to Ithaca. When I got home, clumps of soil still clung to my black boots, rich and red.

 

What does a life well lived mean to you?

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8 thoughts on “Clinging to Life

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    You are doing this a different way, Robin. It’s such a hard time for you with so many reminders and sorrows. And now Aunt Bertha added to the soup. I always create rituals in times like these–a place to light a candle, remember, say a prayer or read a poem, put a photo or a reminder, and weep. It always makes me feel better, even though I sometimes resist because I don’t want to be sad. I do better when I stop fighting sorrow and let the grief and love pour in and take me down. I know you know this. I’m reminding you. Please remind me on June 3, the anniversary of Vic’ death.
    Sending love to you.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I actually seem to have developed my rituals, four years out from Marika’s death. The whole cycle from March 4 through Mother’s Day each year, I find myself comforted by walking around in Marika’s Wellington boots to assess the damage from the flooding, raking the algae from the pond, listening for the peepers, replanting the torches in the driveway, and gathering daffodils. The candles. Reading the poems aloud to my inherited dog. And having sushi. I broke down in tears over my sushi in the restaurant on her birthday yesterday. Easier not to fight sorrow when I’m at home. Cheers, Elaine.

      Reply
  2. Gladys Botie

    A life well lived is not an easy achievement when one struggles not to allow oneself to be defeated by sorrowful circumstances that occur to us in our lifetimes. We grieve endlessly while we retain the memory of a lost one. The effort to resist the inclination to wallow in misery — to treasure the gift of life and all its possibilities is a personal endeavor — to achieve a life well lived. I’m happy to observe the way you have chosen to rise above your sadness and I love you all the more.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      A life well lived is something I want to think about more. Maybe we can talk about this. Because at the end of our time, wouldn’t it be great to be able to say, “I lived my life well.” Thanks for responding, Mom. I love you too.

      Reply
  3. Gladys Botie

    A life well lived is not an easy achievement when one struggles not to allow oneself to be defeated by sorrowful circumstances that occur to us in our lifetimes. We grieve endlessly while we retain the memory of a lost one. The effort to resist the inclination to wallow in misery — to treasure the gift of life and all its possibilities — is a personal endeavor — to achieve a life well lived. I’m happy to observe the manner in which you have chosen to rise above the sadness of your loss.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Hi Mom. She sure had a tough life. All along. It’s amazing Bertha found the energy to make tunafish salad when I visited her last. Saddest tuna salad I ever saw. But even this was a gift, to me. She chose to tread in an ocean of grieving. And I got to witness how miserable that was. What I’m doing isn’t rising above sadness so much as it is grabbing at every possibility for joy. If I keep gathering all the bright kindnesses and possibilities and beauty of what’s around me, it will all keep me afloat on top of the sadness.

      Reply

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