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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6 thoughts on “Lighting the Night with my Dead Daughter

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I talk to Vic who always encourages me to overcome resistance, fear, hesitation, or depression. He always thinks a new adventure will turn out well. Light those candles. Chanukah is past, but Solstice is coming soon. Yes, Marika is teaching you how to play.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Elaine, I can so imagine Vic watching over you and cheering you on, getting you to think positively about new, maybe terrifying adventures. I believe you got it right when you wrote that Marika is teaching me to play. Not only that, she has gotten me to loosen up and laugh. Yes, and look for the light as well. Solstice. How wonderful. What an opportunity!

  2. Lucy Bergström

    This is wonderful, playful, and shows how your relationship with Marika has progressed. “In the past she would have grunted and rolled her eyes. But she smiles, and sighs.” How lovely that you can interact.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, Lucy, if our relationship kept going the way it was, she would have done me in long ago. I grew up. And somehow, Marika’s spirit “grew up” and matured along with me. I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting, forgiving, opening up…. And in return, I’ve sensed a sort-of expansion of her post-adolescent self in the process. Not something I fully understand. But I appreciate and cherish the forward movement of our relationship.

  3. Pam

    Well, as you probably know already, I talk to Ian just as if he is somewhere near, and I also talk to the dog about him. I don’t know why but I don’t think of talking to the cats about him much. It doesn’t usually make me feel much better but it does release the pent-up sadness, pain, feeling of being a tragedy, that builds up short term if I can’t express myself. Makes me wonder how much of the muttering of supposedly mentally unstable people is the same sort of expression. I don’t feel unstable, just in need of expressing myself. Our society often doesn’t ‘permit’ people to say what we need to express.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I never got into talking to cats either, Pam. Maybe because they don’t look at you when you talk to them, look at you like they understand or at least sympathize. I’m so sorry you lost your dog Danni. And I hope Louise becomes a beloved pal and receiver of your stories. I’m still considering your remark about the mutterings of mentally unstable individuals. It really is sad how we could get labeled or looked at in negative ways if we rant or ramble on or express ourselves “inappropriately.” Okay, I might as well add – sometimes I feel like I’m tiptoeing on the edge of insanity myself. If someone were to hide a camera in my home to capture the goings-on here, the conversations between me and my inherited dog, I might very well be labelled and locked away.


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