Tag Archives: bereaved mothers

Grief is a Grinch

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, helps bake cookies for the holidays.“And I’m invited too?” I demanded of my friend when I learned that she and my other best friend were going to bake cookies together on Saturday. Not usually this bold, I was following three of the Holiday Tips for Grievers I’d found online: “Take breaks from your grief,” and “Don’t isolate yourself,” and “Tell people what YOU want to do for the holidays….” So I invited myself.

All over the Internet, bereaved and depressed people can find advice on how to deal with the holiday season. “Take care of yourself.” “Be honest. Listen to your heart and be mindful of your own needs.” “Do what feels right for YOU.” “Protect your physical and psychological energies.” During this time, online publications from Huffington Post to whatsyourgrief.com essentially grant sufferers permission to turn into self-centered, entitled grinches.

I don’t even like cookies. But I do like being in the kitchen when my friends are cooking. I will wash a million dishes in order to watch friends make extraordinary food. Also, my daughter who died liked to bake. So on Saturday, I helped stir and pour batter, and cleaned dishes. All afternoon we sampled fresh warm cookies as they came out of the oven. And we talked, sipping on scotch and wine.

I listened to various complaints about daughters doing things or not doing things, and thought, My Marika used to mess the kitchen up miserably when she baked cookies. There was also proud praising of the same daughters. Marika made the best cream cheese-frosted carrot cake. If Marika were still alive … I thought to myself. I tried not to mention my own daughter out loud. Because these were my old beloved, “regular” friends, not the newer friends who are other bereaved mothers who understand the need to talk about my daughter, to hear her name. A holiday tip for grievers suggests you find ways to include your loved ones. I ate another cookie, silently toasting Marika.

Then the discussion turned to someone else’s daughter who was recovering from physical problems and wouldn’t be able to play sports for a whole year. That’s when, no longer able to contain my physical and psychological energies, being honest with myself and mindful of my own needs, and doing what felt right for ME – I said, “Well at least she’s still alive,” – and effectively ended all conversation.

 

How have you grinched-out during the holiday season? Did you decorate? Or did you decide it was time to let dirty dishes hang out on the counter-tops?

 

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Mothers Together

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops mothers walking a labyrinth in the woods at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George.We are mothers healing together, returning from our retreat at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George, renewed and fortified. We are a mighty bunch.

Do not tell us to move on or get over our loss. Listen to our stories rather than try to give us advice. In different ways, we carry our children who died. They go with us into our future and inspire us to keep dreaming and tend to new endeavors in their honor.

If you see us singing to the moon, hooting with the steamboat Minnie-Ha-Ha, doing yoga in the woods, wearing our children’s clothes, sniffing summer blooms, relinquishing our private storms to reiki, laughing and crying simultaneously, singing our daughters’ songs, throwing pebbles into the lake, holding hands with thumbs facing left, looking for signs from angels, walking labyrinths while ringing bells … do not think we are mad. We are simply living our lives – for two, maybe more.

 

What do you do to keep alive the memory of a lost loved one? How has your loved one inspired you to change your life?

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“Over the Rainbow” Video

“Is that to go priority or certified mail?” the clerk asked, eyeing the carefully wrapped package I clutched to my chest.
I would have been sending my daughter off to nursing school in Australia. Instead, I am sending the DVD of her singing “Over the Rainbow” made 8 ½ months before she died, to my web-master, at Ameriweb Hosting. For weeks I’d put this off, afraid to lose my only copy of Marika’s DVD. Then, sitting over dinner with friends who all had daughters coming and going, achieving and shining, I just wanted to talk about my daughter too.
“Way to kill the party, mom,” a small voice hummed from the back of my head.

Okay. She’s been dead over 3 ½ years so there’s nothing new to share.
“But I’m so proud of you,” I tell her life-sized portrait later. And inside me, she is still alive and singing. From not-so-deep within she tells me, “Go for it, mom,” when I pause to consider a red dress in a mail-order catalog. She says, “Sushi for dinner?” Now she’s saying, “Way to go, mom. You just showed all your readers how insane you are” and “Mom, TMI.” (Too Much Information)

Wait. I do not play the video over and over again. In fact, it took a long time before I could even watch this performance from the EAC Montessori School of Ithaca 30th Anniversary Musical/Reunion though I knew she always loved being seen and heard (please watch it). I am already filled with Marika. Her voice and starry eyes are the film through which I see the world.

Call me the crazy-lady. Maybe I deserve that title because for years, that’s how I labeled too many others. The ones who lost children and seemed to lose their own souls. The ones that looked liked they’d fallen to Earth from the edge of space, broken the sound barrier, their hearts, and every moving part of themselves in the fall. Is that what I look like now?

“Does it get better? Do you ever not think of your child?” I asked for months of everyone I found who’d lost a kid. And it turns out I’m doing nothing that eons of bereaved mothers haven’t done before. Only I’m coming out about it.

 

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What Mothers Do

What Mothers Do ; Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a stuffed puppy on a Long Point, Ontario beach on Lake Erie with trumpeter swans in the distance.Mothers love to talk about their children. But if I talk about my daughter who died, someone might flinch or tell me to get over it. And next time she spots me in Wegmans maybe she’ll duck away into a different aisle. We will no longer exchange information about what our daughters are doing. Still sometimes I long to feel like Marika’s mom again. So I go to retreats for bereaved mothers.

To me Canada was always the cold wilderness way up north, a foreign country with foreign currency and crazy speeds on the QEW. A terrorist attack in Canada was all over the news two days before the retreat. I was nervous. But I’d already survived The Worst Thing. I propped my daughter’s stuffed puppy in the passenger seat and drove five hours to Long Point, Ontario, on the northern shore of lake Erie.

The Canadian mothers were a hardy bunch. Some traveled longer than I did to get there. Bighearted, bitter, tough, tender, broken and mending. Some clung to their faith. Some questioned it. Some had given their family members the finger when told to get over their grief. Nighttime pacers with tissues in pockets, acutely aware of time passing, looking for signs from the children who died, … immediately we were a group.

Together at one long table we ate hearty homemade soups. Our hostess gave us gift-bags and brought in practitioners for sessions in yoga, Integrated Energy Therapy, paraffin wax massages, and aromatherapy. We wore our children’s clothes. Some of us searched for trumpeter swans. We exchanged information about psychic mediums. We held sacred stones and envisioned angels with blessings. We held hands, encircling a table where candlelight brushed our faces and the faces in our children’s photos. We took turns talking about our precious sons and daughters and shared our personal nightmares.

When we thought we were all talked out, we sat around a windblown campfire listening to the sounds of waves.
“Do you believe this? Do you recognize yourself?” one mother laughed in the glow of the fire. Then we all doubled over in our chairs, holding our bellies, whooping with laughter, “Just look at all the things we do to feel better.”
My Canadian sisters. They are my heroes. I was not so far from home. And I was right at home, in the middle of these strong mothers who have learned from their beloved children that life is short, that we need to love it more. We need to love ourselves and each other more.

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Mothers Healing Together

Yoga on the dock of Wiawaka Holiday House on Lake George led by Kathleen Fisk. Attended by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, and other bereaved mothers from all over New York.In my dream I am in a van with several other people riding through the Ithaca Commons. Outside on the left, we pass my daughter, Marika, who is smiling brilliantly, blindly, walking with a friend guiding her.
“Hi Marika,” everyone in the van calls out to my daughter who died over three years ago. I’m happy she hears their greetings. I call out to her myself, “Marika, we love you.” Through the back window of the van I see her turn and hold her arms out. Her smile fades and she cries.

The alarm clock woke me then. It was time to get up and go off to the weekend retreat for bereaved mothers, Mothers Healing Together.

Hours later, at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George, there were women in all stages of grief. They were healing the holes in their lives as they held close the memories of their beloved children. They looked for ways to honor them and link them to the future. I talked with them like they were sisters. We shared our stories and cried together. We laughed together. We bathed in the vibrations of gongs and walked the winding path of the garden labyrinth following one another’s footsteps.

My own memories stirred from sounds echoed over the lake. I remembered  cookouts, camps, attending soccer games, … being so proud of my daughter at school musicals. For the first time in over three years I found myself at a time and place where I was Marika’s Mom again.

I cried when I came home. And I marked my calendar for next year’s retreat.

As for my dream: I tell myself Marika walks happily, peacefully, among new friends as I do. It cheers me to imagine her jamming with the other talented children of the mothers I spent time with who, like me, sing their daughter’s songs and live their children’s dreams.Retreat for bereaved mothers at Wiawaka Holiday House at Lake George, New York with gong bathing, gardens, and sculptures by Pam Golden.

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