Tag Archives: bereaved mother

My Memory is Broken. But I’m Not

“She’s broken. Falling apart, scarred for life since her daughter died,” various friends and family members have said about me. This week I was going to write about how I didn’t feel “broken,” how I believed I was stronger and better than ever. But then I lost my mind. Briefly. Just memory failure, really. But the mortification still grinds in my head.

I was sitting with a friend at a table outside the gym when a beautiful young woman stopped by. “I’m Shoshana,” she said, smiling at me with familiar warm brown eyes. Immediately I recognized her as one of my daughter’s oldest friends.
“I’m so glad you came over,” I said, my heart laughing and crying as it does whenever I run into one of Marika’s BFFs. I’m always grateful when this happens. It takes courage to approach a bereaved mother; once old friends fled the aisle in Wegmans to avoid me. Shoshana set her coffee and croissant on the table, and sat down.

“I think of Marika a lot,” she said. And I thanked her for that, told her it meant everything to me that Marika was remembered. Shoshana mentioned what she’d been doing lately. That doesn’t sound like you, I said, and then shared a dozen details of what I remembered of her. Only, the images that popped up in my head were memories of a different girl, not the Shoshana sitting before me. I’d completely confused her with another of Marika’s friends.

Suddenly, we were saying goodbye. I mentioned one more thing that was totally not about Shoshana, and she looked at me like I had cracked.

She left. And for a moment I sat there disoriented, blinded by bright sunlight and shards of memories. And then I recalled the serious child who told silly jokes, the quirky kid who couldn’t carry a tune but was so giving, so eager to please. She was one of the few young friends that would look me straight in the eye. Her warm familiar eyes. The real Shoshana. I’d last seen her when she visited Marika in the hospital.

I caught up with her. Still dazed, I tried to explain. But there is no way to account for the brokenness of a mind that can recall every detail of a daughter’s last years, and yearns to have that daughter remembered, but cannot keep the other pieces of the past straight.

If you see me on the street, in the gym or at Wegmans, please say hi. I will not break if you mention my daughter. Chances are she’s already at the foreground of my thoughts. Besides, when it comes to brokenness, we’re all on a spectrum. And a broken memory doesn’t mean you’re a broken person. So forgive me if I don’t remember your name. I know who you are. Mostly. It’s in your eyes and your smile.

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Thank You Letter

Fall flowers and a donation to Ronald McDonald House in memory of her deceased daughter inspired kindness and generosity for bereaved mother Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York.Dear Wag’in Tail Dog Grooming in Auburn, NY,

Thank you so much for your gift to Ronald McDonald House in memory of my daughter Marika Warden. I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m not even sure Marika knew you. But I’m very grateful for your donation. Unless you are another bereaved mother you probably wouldn’t understand how much it means to know that the life of your child mattered, or could make a difference somewhere. It means the world to me that five years after her death, Marika could inspire kindness and generosity.

And I’m so glad you chose to give to Ronald McDonald House. Because in the sad parting from the city where I last “left” my daughter, and in all this time since she died, I never really thanked the warm people at Ronald McDonald House and the Ronald McDonald House-Within-the-Hospital who welcomed the distraught mother standing at their doorsteps dazed and red-eyed, early on in her journey through the wilds of cancer, sobbing, “Is this for real? You mean I can sleep here and you’ll wake me if the hospital calls?”

Imagine you’ve traveled far from your home to seek treatment for your sick child. You know no one in this city. You sleep in the hospital’s uncomfortable reclining chairs, not wanting to leave your precious one alone. You eat from your child’s almost-untouched meal trays. You’re told not to use The Patient’s Bathroom, so you dash down the hall to the ladies room when you have to, and hug the sympathetic nurse who shows you the shower in a nearby slop closet. Your kid reacts to chemo so horrifically you don’t dare leave her bedside until things stabilize, and when they do you suddenly realize how tired and disheveled you’ve become. You don’t know how to begin to resuscitate yourself. And then, one day you’re offered a very affordable room close by.

First it was a room right in the hospital, a few floors down from the oncology unit. Later it was in a house a couple of blocks away. A room with a real bed and my own bathroom. Washers and driers nearby. Flowers. Meals lovingly prepared and left for whatever hour of the night I would tear myself away from my daughter. There were other mothers to talk to. Families. People like me, living in a strange city with invisible thick rubber bands tethering them to their critically ill children in the hospital, gratefully pulling themselves back and forth from their home-away-from-home, to regroup. Ronald McDonald Charities. You picked a good place to help out.

So thank you, Wag’in Tail. For your gift, for reviving my memories, for letting Marika’s story move you, and for allowing her life to still count for something. Cheers!

 

PS: Wag’in, The note Ronald McDonald House sent to inform me of your donation was what gave me the most joy this week. I don’t know your real name. But I know you are no longer a stranger.

 

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Standing Out in the Rain

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops rainy day walkathon of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.Months ago, when we were still in the middle of a drought, I had Staples print up two large vinyl banners, photos of my daughter, to be strung together and worn sandwich-board style for the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes’ Annual Walkathon. It seemed like a good idea back then. That was before I’d had time to consider how conspicuous I would be, sandwiched in bright colors, shoulders to knees. It never occurred to me that the dry spell could finally end in a three-day downpour concurrent with the October Walkathon. The banners’ colors would hold up in rain. But could I?

I didn’t stand out as much as the guy in the Tony-the-Tiger costume. I stood with him until the rain picked up and people ducked into the tents. Then I stood alone in the rain, waiting for my friend to show up. People passing by nodded with sympathetic smiles.
“Can I take your photograph?” I was asked several times.
“Yes, please. Take pictures. I’d like that,” I said, smiling into the cameras. Whoa! Was that really me? I hate being photographed. And I hate being conspicuous. It’s bad enough feeling folks’ eyes taking in “the woman who lost her daughter.” Before my loss, I’d tried hard not to stare at the one woman I knew whose child had died, as I wondered what kept her from disintegrating into millions of miserable molecules. Now I was that woman. And I was standing in the rain. Standing out. Alone. In costume.

High school girls’ teams came by. They wore tight wet jeans, soaked sneakers without socks, drenched jackets. My daughter would have fit right in. “That’s what you’re wearing in this torrential downpour?” I’d often said to her. She liked rain. She played soccer in the rain, wrote a song about rain. She even looked good wet. Whereas I was told once, coming in from the damp, I looked like a drowned rat. She’d be mortified to be seen with me now in my knee-high heavy-gauge rubber boots and clear plastic hooded raincoat.

“Oh. Marika!” her former teachers and an old friend pointed at me sandwiched in the photos. It felt good to hear my daughter’s name and have her remembered. And I realized that I wasn’t a drowned rat. I wasn’t simply a bereaved mother. Just then I was Marika. I was wearing her smiling face from shoulders to knees. And she loved being photographed. She wanted to be seen. So I shamelessly approached a small group, a young man in a tutu, and asked if they would take my picture with Tony-the-Tiger.

When my friend finally arrived and offered me space under her rainbow umbrella, I said, “No thanks. I’m completely waterproof.”

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, posing with friendly folks at the 2016 Annual Walkathon for the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.

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I Will Never Forget

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops multiple frames around a portrait of her daughter Marika Warden who died.My dead daughter’s pictures pop up on Facebook, and each time I see one, my eyes pop out of my head. I’ve been planting her image all over online. And every time someone shares or comments on what I’ve posted, the response and the article with its photo come back to my email box. You wouldn’t think something like this could bring so much joy. But it does, to me.

The joy doesn’t come just because I know Marika loved collecting friends and putting her pictures on Facebook. It’s not because I’ve learned to like doing what she did. And it’s not to show her off or to grab your sympathies.

“One of the most scary things for us as bereaved parents is that our dead child will be forgotten.” These are not my words. One of my Facebook friends wrote this in response to my article, How I Swallowed my Daughter. This is my truth. I need to feel Marika won’t be lost and forgotten. I’m framing her face and pasting her all over the Internet so she’ll be remembered. “There’s that girl again,” you will say. Even for the short time it takes to look at her, or share her image, she will have been seen. And maybe when you remember she no longer walks the earth, perhaps you will cherish your own time here and your own loved ones, more.

That’s why, when I’m not looking for joy and finding life after loss, you can find me posting photos of my daughter on Facebook. Before friends and strangers, I am promising Marika and myself, that she will not be forgotten.

Thank you for sharing and celebrating her with me.

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The Mother who Swallowed her Daughter

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops selfie, grieving and being grateful under a mackerel sky.A very gutsy and wise friend gently suggested I write an article about living gratefully. She asked me, a bereaved mother straining to understand why I was still alive myself. How could I possibly know anything about living gratefully? For months I struggled. Maybe my gratitude died four years ago with my daughter, I thought. I mean, what was there to be grateful about when my heart was bleeding? So I started a list. Leaving pen and paper on my kitchen counter, several times a day I read from the list or added to it.

What my daughter and I loved and were grateful for:
walking in rain with Wellington boots and rainbow umbrellas
our dog dreaming, yipping with feet running in air
popping bubble wrap
pink and charcoal mackerel skies at sunset

My daughter was braver than I. Marika lived on the edge of adventure and disaster, like she had only an hour left. Looking for all the beautiful things, she made trouble dance. She made it sing, made it beautiful. Even cancer.

honking v-lines of geese flying south before winter
the songs of a thousand frogs on a June night
dandelions dotting the lawn
the deluxe sushi platter for two, extra ginger

Marika blogged and collected friends on Facebook. There were hundreds of photos on her page. I thought blogging was a cult activity. I hated cameras, didn’t type, and feared technology. Some things I didn’t learn to love until after she was gone.

getting 90 “likes” on a Facebook post
sharing yearnings and embarrassing moments in blogs
“friending” strangers online
collecting photographs, making selfies, posting them all over the Internet

When she died, I dragged myself around, wishing I were dead. Then I found her words. Marika left songs, stories, poetry. She’d written a single poem in a blank journal, like she was daring me to continue. So I wrote. And I decided to become more like she was, to do what she did. I’d become more adventurous, and learn to love the computer. I would find all the beautiful things. I would carry on.

lemon wedges dipped in sugar
squeaky-clean, just-shampooed hair
burrowing in quilts while the wind howls outside
hearing our voices magnified and echoed

When I expanded my world to include Marika’s, my life grew richer. No longer simply a mother who lost her child, I became the woman who discovered her daughter and swallowed her. And now I realize that everything, every-last-little-thing, is precious, that nothing in this world is promised or guaranteed.

the silver reflection of an almost-full moon in the pond
a steamy cup of latte warming frozen hands in December
snow falling silently at twilight
oceans, Australia, running on beaches, roses, stars

Longevity, love, health, happiness, … even my grief is a gift. I celebrate it all. Photographing and blogging about finding joy after loss, I now believe anything is possible, even grieving and being grateful at the same time. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing all along.

 

This blog was first published on www.gratefulness.org. To see the blog there, click on this link: http://www.gratefulness.org/grateful_living/mother-swallowed-daughter/

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Dealing with Mother’s Day

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops Marika Warden, the girl in Ithaca who kicked leukemia but died of complications.Just so you know: I’m not even going to try to write coherently today. It’s my daughter’s birthday. In a week it will be Mother’s Day. And all I can think, every minute of the day and night now, is how I wish I could get back the joy of those days when Marika was alive.

She loved singing, being near water, Australia, sushi, and carrot cake. And the dog I inherited. So I’m singing to the full moon, hiking with the dog, raking algae from the pond, and eating sushi and cake. All the things I gifted her, the pedicures, the shopping sprees, dinners out with friends … I am now gifting myself.

A card she gave me on May 9, 2010 says, “Mom happy mother’s day! IOU one lunch out @ your choice of restaurant! Always, Marika.”

It’s because she wrote, “Always.” She drew a heart around the middle of the word. That’s why, four years after her death and for as long as I can chew, I will eat lunch out on Mother’s Day.

Maybe I’ll even buy flowers.

 

Taking bets: Will my son call me for Mother’s Day or not? Will I remember to phone my own mother before midnight on Sunday? How will you deal with Mother’s Day?

 

 

 

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