Tag Archives: bereaved mothers

Australia Trip: Some Things I Didn’t Anticipate

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a stuffed puppy before it is cremated and its ashes tossed into the waters of Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia in a ritual for healing.As much as you plan, you can never anticipate everything. Good or bad, other things happen.

I’m back home from Australia where, on days off from my O.A.T. tour, I met up with Australian bereaved mothers I’d found and friended on Facebook. On my last full day in Australia I was to cremate my daughter’s stuffed toy Puppy and scatter its ashes. Knowing I’d need help, I’d reached out to The Compassionate Friends NSW Chapter in Sydney.

Things I had not anticipated:

The generosity of my hostess. Jenny from TCF NSW spent the whole day with me, picking me up at my hotel, and then trekking, training, and tramming our way to the University of Technology Sydney (where, if my daughter had survived cancer she would have attended the nursing program), and Spice Alley, and the headquarters of Sydney’s TCF chapter where we attended a support group meeting. After, Jenny took me to her home for the cremation, and drove me out to Manly Beach. I had not realized how much time and energy my mission would take.

How Jenny had prepared for Puppy’s cremation. She’d lined a small fire pit with foil. She’d set out tongs and a box of tissues. And a tin for the ashes.

How she’d thought of everything except matches, to start the fire. Jenny rummaged through the house while her dog, a big mellow shepherd-mix, looked me straight in the eyes. I let him sniff Puppy, and he nuzzled me sympathetically.

The acrid, chemical smell of the burning. It turned out that stuffed Puppy was made of polyester. She went up in flames faster than I’d imagined. She burned longer than I would have guessed. There was dark smoke. In the end there were no ashes, only black molten chunks. Less volume than I’d thought. So instead of using the big tin, Jenny washed out a dogfood can. I peeled Puppy’s remains from the foil, placed it in the can, and smashed up the chunks with the tongs.

How sad I felt during the car ride from Jenny’s house to Manly Beach. Sadder still, wading into the gentle waves and tossing Puppy’s remains. Then I watched in horror.

Puppy’s black molten chunks floated. At the top of the water. Instead of sinking or dissolving.

There was other black chunky stuff floating around so I didn’t feel too terrible about polluting.

The traffic as Jenny drove from the beach back to my hotel. The rain that held off until my mission was all over.

The emptiness that stung me later that night as I said goodbye to the city lights of Sydney, and whispered goodnight to my daughter, and to Puppy.

The warm gratitude I felt, remembering the long full day Jenny had given me.

Lastly, I hadn’t known gratitude, sadness, and relief could sit so peacefully together, all mixed up in my heart.

 

More to come in the next few weeks about my trip to Australia.

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From Strangers to Friends

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops hands reaching out over a scene of brick wall and staircase.“I’m at the bricks. Just keep walking toward the pavilion. I want to show you my son’s brick,” a new friend said when I phoned, confused about exactly where we were meeting up in the park. My daughter’s favorite spot in Ithaca, the Stewart Park Pavilion was a place I thought I knew well.
“What bricks?” I wailed into my cell phone, “Where?”

“Right there,” my friend pointed proudly, when we finally caught up. A cozy corner I hadn’t noticed before was paved with donated bricks, a fundraiser for the park. We stood together admiring the brick engraved with her son’s name. Zacariah. She was telling me the story of how they’d misspelled his name, when suddenly my eye was drawn to another brick. One brick away. Right there, it said, Marika Warden. My daughter. I stopped breathing. For a second I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Someone, probably her father, had dedicated a brick to Marika. And one more brick away from that was a brick for my son who is still alive and thriving on the other side of the country.

You wouldn’t think a few little bricks could deliver such joy. But for a mom, the most wonderful thing is to know her children are loved and remembered. My friend and I stood there marveling at this new connection. “It’s like we’re neighbors,” I said, “like family.”

That was just days ago. And here I am getting ready for my trip to the other side of the earth, to Australia. Responding to my posts, several bereaved mothers from Australia have been popping up on my Facebook pages and online support groups. We’re making plans to meet up during my travels. Warmhearted women. They’ve reached out across cyberspace sharing the stories of our children. Some of us watched the life wane out of our kids’ eyes from addictions or cancers. Others got the dreaded phone call that ended their worlds. We were strangers. Until we shared our stories.

And while I’m counting the days until we meet up in person and discover things we have in common, I realize that bricks can hit you hard on the head or lead you to places you might never have found on your own. And maybe the coincidence of the brick at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York, is a forerunner to what lies ahead in Australia. I have to wonder, how many bricks away from each other are we all?

 

 

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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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