Facing Fears and Getting Gutsy

Facing Fears and Getting Gutsy Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops images of herself and her daughter who died, Marika Warden, on Bells Beach off the Great Ocean Road in southeast Australia.To get gutsy is to do something you never thought you could do, something positive and adventurous, that makes others wince in wonder that you dared to try.

In April 2012, I went alone to Australia to scatter my daughter’s ashes.

During the three years before, trailing Marika through the wilds of cancer, I was not afraid she would die. But I was afraid of almost everything else. Being alone, getting lost, falling, drowning. Losing control. Marika was fearless. To keep up with her I told myself I was too. I pretended we were on a road trip: there would be easy times and hard times but we were together and it wouldn’t last forever.
Then, shortly before she was to turn twenty-one, she died. The ground beneath me broke. I was alone, lost, and drowning.

I brought home the sealed black box of her ashes from the funeral home and built a small altar around it in the living room. I wished her goodnight and good morning each day. Her ashes were not just dust. The ashes were her, humming and dancing inside the box, watching me come and go.
In her final wishes she’d requested that her ashes be scattered in Australia.

It was not the trip I’d imagined. I’d thought to make it a family pilgrimage but my mother couldn’t go. None of Marika’s Australian friends answered my emails. And at the last minute my sister cancelled out. But taking Marika’s ashes to Australia was the last thing I could do for her. So a year after she died I stuffed the sealed box of her ashes in my carry-on bag and flew off.

I hugged the box through plane rides, airport security checks, customs, bus and train rides, and long walks to find lodgings. At dusk, in a small motel just off the Great Ocean Road, along the southeast coast of Australia, I met her ashes for the first time. With held breath and quivering hands, I pried gently at the box. It opened easily, like she was pushing the lid from inside.
She was a trillion tiny shards like pink-white sand on a beach at sunset. In a plastic bag. She was still beautiful.

The photograph on the altars I set up shows a smiling Marika on Bells Beach, holding her arms out like she’s hugging the world. The first morning on the Great Ocean Road, I held the photo as I turned from the winding street to follow the trail to that beach. Under a hot sun I lumbered over rocks and cliffs, along gravelly red footpaths, on deserted beaches and through heathlands, always close to the shore if not hanging right over it. Visions of falling from crumbling cliffs crashed in my head. I whispered nervously to the bag of ashes in my backpack each time the trail split. And hours later I climbed down huge sets of stairs and stared at Bells Beach, the exact spot in the photo. Only it was an empty haunted landscape that was supposed to have Marika centered in front of the jutting point, arms lifted skyward. Glued to that spot, sweating, I waited like I was expecting to be met by her ghost.

Finally I removed the bag of ashes from my pack and inched closer to the water. Fears of the incoming tide and the rogue waves I’d been warned about clashed with the realization that I had to wade into the water to release the ashes. I couldn’t just dump them into the sand. So I took off my sneakers and cautiously slipped into the seething surf. In knee-deep water the waves barreled into me drenching my pants. Bracing myself against the poundings, I tried to ignore the stirring in my head, “Never swim alone.”

I dipped into the bag. The ashes were gritty. They swirled and danced out of my chalky hand, away with the wind, making small smears on the water’s surface. I slogged through the water. Waves crashed at my thighs and washed back out to sea dragging the sand from my grasping toes. I watched Marika’s ashes disintegrate as they rocked and receded with the waves. Then BAM! I was hit with a rogue wave. It sprayed my face and soaked me to my armpits. Catching my breath, I looked around. No one was nearby. If I drowned or was swept away I would never be found. Hugging the diminished bag close to my pounding heart, I retreated to the dry sand.
For four days I spread my daughter’s ashes. Until at last I turned the bag upside down and shook it empty. It made flapping sounds like a bird taking off.

Seagulls squawked and whined. I sat frozen on a wharf. Small brown birds surrounding me stared and waited. And from someplace inside me faint tremors churned. I rocked. Back and forth over the water, hugging myself. The water’s rippled surface caught the sun and exploded in my face. I closed my eyes on tears. Inside it was bright red, like fire.

And maybe the gutsiest thing, the thing I never thought I could do that makes people wince, is what I began sometime after I returned home from Australia. It was a way to make all the colorless days, sleepless nights, and long years ahead into something positively adventurous. I decided to treat the rest of my life like I’m on another road trip: easy times, hard times, it won’t last forever. My daughter’s spirit, that I hold close, coaxes me to live boldly. And I tell others whose loved ones died, they don’t have to let go. That they can hold on forever to the memories, the love, the voices of the ones they thought they lost.

Now, when someone tells me, “It’s time to get over it,” with my gutsiest grin I say, “Never.”

Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.

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27 thoughts on “Facing Fears and Getting Gutsy

  1. Pingback: Signs From Dead Loved Ones

  2. Simon Oh

    This is the most difficult story I’ve ever read. Although I’m hardly the emotional type, it was powerful enough that I couldn’t finish reading your story in one sitting. I could only read the first half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. I had to pace myself when reading as I nearly teared up like I’m sure many others in this space have as well.

    I have yet to experience a loss of anyone in my life where I felt any real impact. I can only imagine just by stories like yours how difficult losing someone can be, especially if it’s your child. Your story truly puts things into perspective in the most profound and heartfelt way possible.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Robin. You’re a brave woman for doing so.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you, Simon. I really appreciate your reading my story and commenting here. I wish I could say I hope you never feel significant loss. But we all lose someone sooner or later, just part of living. But I hope when it happens to you, you find ways to make it count for something, ways to honor the one you love and think you’ve lost. Because carrying on the memory of that person, and all the things you learned from the ones you love who die, is a way to celebrate that person and grow. Cheers to you.

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  3. Pingback: Get Inspired With Get Gutsy Week 2015- Jessica Lawlor

  4. Pingback: Start Your Week Right Sunday: Links & Goals - Jessica Lawlor

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thanks, Jessica. It was great to get inspired and excited about writing for your contest. And I got some heartwarming responses from my post. And I wish I could have responded on your blogsite but I’m having trouble with it accepting my replies for some reason. So I hope you’re “listening.” Thanks so much for the opportunity. Cheers!

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  5. Kimberly Ryan

    Robin, your words flow so easily and with strength, with knowing and so much heart; a genuine testimony to the truth and love that you live. This is an amazing piece of truth, of love and courage. Courage to share your most precious moments publicly. Thank you. As Carole mentioned, I too will share with the bereaved moms at Bereaved Families of Ontario where I can help companion them on their journey through grief. And yes, my mantra as well — NEVER, because there is no “getting over it”, there is only a living with our losses, because our children will and do live on in our hearts, every day that we are alive. You inspire me to dig deeper and discover adventures yet unlived within me. Namaste.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you so much, Kimberly. I wish I could frame what you wrote and use it as a referral letter for getting employment as it says such wonderful things. YOU are inspiring me – getting out there in person to work with other grieving moms. It makes me feel so good to know you might be able to share my words in helping someone. Many cheers to YOU.

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  6. Elaine Mansfield

    Never! At least not because someone says we should. We seek our path and walk it. What a deep initiation you received on your own. I knew you took this trip with Marika’s ashes but the power is in the details.

    This piece should be, certainly will be, a contender, Robin. I know it was a gutsy act to submit it, too. When you open your heart as you have here, you help me find the courage to face my fears and do what scares me–and do what I think I cannot do.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Cheers, Elaine. Don’t you find it’s amazing, all the things we think we cannot do? And here I am, getting my courage boosted by all you are doing. You are the gutsiest woman I know. Every time I think of the slim possibility that one day I could maybe give a TED Talk like you did, I start to sweat. So thanks for being out there scouting out the path.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Hi Susan. I think our blogs this first week in January are related. In the past I was able to hear Marika’s voice, like you heard Nicholas’. But now, more often I’ll just feel her presence or “see” her in the eyes of some animal that “visits.” It helps get us up out of bed to face the world and be bolder. Cheers!

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  7. Myra M Kovary

    It has taken me 42 years to “get over” the death of my lover/fiancee whom I found hanging from the rafters of our home in the Berkshires when I was 19 years old. But it is possible! Who I became in the process of grieving that trauma is the story of my life. A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing? I don’t think so. That’s the male perspective on life and death. Women (mothers in particular) have a different perspective. To you, my friend Robin, thank you for your support and kindness and for being willing to connect with me and my pain over the years. We connected through music and through martial arts, through art, writing, and design, through being divorcees and now through the loss of a child/children. My hope and prayer is that the next thirty years of our lives are more peaceful than the last several, less painful, more productive, and more peaceful.

    Sending much love and my best wishes also for a happier new year. L’shana ha’ba’a b’Yerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem.

    Looking forward to the Merry Widow at the Met — with you, in HD — or maybe in the city?

    With much love,
    Miriam

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Many thanks. Hugs. Lots of hugs and struck-dumb awe. There are no words left after your beautiful message. I am grateful for our connections and your friendship. Looking forward to being Merry in this next year.
      So much love,
      Robin

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  8. Jill Swenson

    “Never!”
    Powerful and gutsy essay, Robin.
    We never “get over” grief. We find a way to get through it. Thanks for sharing the path you’ve walked.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      THANK YOU SO MUCH, STEPHEN. AND WELCOME TO THE RESPONDER PART OF MY SITE. I KNOW YOU’VE BEEN QUIETLY KEEPING UP WITH MY POSTS AND I REALLY APPRECIATE THAT. BUT I AM TOTALLY THOROUGHLY AND TERRIFICALLY THRILLED THAT YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO “SPEAK” UP THIS TIME. AND I NEED TO THANK YOU FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY TO FIND AND TEST OUT THE “BOLD” BUTTON ON MY SITE. CHEERS TO YOU AND TIGER!

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      O my gosh, Annah. I can’t say it better than how you put it. Thank YOU. YOU have inspired me. YOU are the one with courage, getting out in front of the public and sharing your message. And it makes me so happy to receive your words here on my site. I’m wishing you all the best. Hope to catch you again soon in person. Cheers!

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yow, Hilarie. Thank you so much. It was so great to spend time with you at the Roach sisters’ gathering. And I love finding you and your beautiful family all over Facebook. Happy New Year to you and yours. Cheers!

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  9. Jessica Lawlor

    Robin, I simply have no words. I had no idea what to expect when I clicked this post open and wow…I sit here with tears in my eyes completely stunned and in awe of your story. Thank you so much for sharing it with the world- and especially thank you for allowing it to be part of my contest. This is something people need to read. Thank you again! xox

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well. I’m grinning. Which is such a nice thing to be doing this time of the year when I usually cling to the box of Puffs tissues and pour eyedrops to get rid of the red. You are welcome to use my submission in your ebook if you think it will work. If I do manage to interest a publisher I plan to use much of it but this is just a small part of my story. Fairly new to writing, I’m trying hard to get “noticed” and heard. Thanks so much for responding. Cheers!

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  10. Carole LaTour

    Once I’d dried my tears, I printed off copies of this posting . I will give this post to my bereaved clients as it speaks to all of us. I know that Marika was with you on that beach in Australia when you scattered her ashes. I know that she is with you now. All of our children are. How proud she is of you, her mom. I love the last sentence of your post. NEVER. Time to get over it. NEVER. My mantra.
    Thank you dear Robin for sharing your adventures with us. You lift me on my heaviest days and affirm on the better days. Peace to you in 2015.

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    1. Robin Botie Post author

      These are the nicest words I’ve ever received about my writing. I want to frame them, Carole. Thank you so much for this gift. I love that you will share this with some of your clients. Oh to be able to help someone, to be able to offer some hope. And thank you for affirming my connection to my daughter. I know she is proud of me but it feels so great to see it in print. Cheers!

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