Tag Archives: continuing bonds

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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Hearing Silent Night Makes Me Cry

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter Marika Warden playing christmas carols.Thanksgiving wasn’t even over yet last week when the stores started playing Christmas songs. This music was foreign to me until many years ago when my young daughter became a girl scout and we went caroling. We’d go home and I’d marvel at how she reproduced the tunes on her flute or pennywhistle. Now, hearing Silent Night and other carols makes me cry uncontrollably.

I remember the first time holiday music pummeled me. It was in early December, eight years ago, when I was stuck alone at the Ronald MacDonald House near the hospital where my daughter was waiting for a stem cell transplant. It was before everything went downhill for Marika, before I had any inkling it would be her last Christmas. There were only a couple of people staying at the RMD House that night, and the staff begged us to gather for the visiting musicians. Seated up close in a rocking chair, I listened, sniffling, confused about how the music was affecting me. By the time they began Silent Night, I was trembling and hugging myself, trying to hold in my howls.

This September, I began learning to play a red plastic cornet. It has nothing to do with my daughter, I told people, even though everything I’ve done since Marika died has been about her. This was just for me, I insisted—I wanted to play bugle calls. Taps in particular. Whenever I hear Taps, my heart stops. Same thing with Amazing Grace and Hallelujah. I want to play music that tugs at people’s heartstrings. So far I’m just a beginner still fumbling my way through scales and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Yet, I find playing comforts me. And last week, in a meltdown as Silent Night emanated from every corner of the mall, I raced home to my cornet. Then, instead of practicing Twinkle Twinkle, I googled ‘silent night sheet music.’

When I first tried to play Silent Night I sobbed between each note. Huffing and puffing my way up to the second-to-last line, “Sleep in heavenly pea-eeece,” I found the notes were suddenly too high for me to reach. I was fighting to conquer each measure—but then something changed. I started over, and played the piece—minus the five impossibly high notes—like it was one of those jaw-dropping awesomely beautiful tunes I’d been yearning to play. Only five high notes away from making beautiful music, I blew that horn like my song could reach to heaven and back.

I don’t know yet if my practicing the heck out of Silent Night will help desensitize the powerful emotional trigger Christmas music has become. But I’m beginning to understand the healing power of music. And now, in playing my cornet, I’m feeling an even stronger connection than ever to my daughter.

  

What are the songs that make you cry? What are the triggers you’re experiencing this holiday season? What connects you to your loved ones who died? Got any recommendations for other simple but powerful tunes I could learn?

 

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Continuing Bonds Continued

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of herself with her daughter who died of leukemia, to illustrate continuing bonds grief theory.“I’m over that. Done. I’ve moved on,” said a friend, about her child who died years before. Great for her, I thought, not able to imagine ever even wanting to be “done” with my own daughter, gone over 7 ½ years now. Actually, I’ve been carrying my Marika—whatever I could find left of her to hang onto—since she died. Different things work for different people.

A griever’s mental status used to be questioned if one held on to the memory of a loved one too long. Mercifully, someone came up with a modern grief theory called Continuing Bonds. It is now considered acceptable to create an enduring relationship with a deceased loved one as a way of coping and finding comfort while continuing to live one’s life. Even as one’s life changes with the loss. It is okay to stay connected. And it’s normal for these relationships to grow and change over time.

Continuing Bonds came instinctively to me. A matter of my own survival, it began the day after Marika died, when I collapsed, devastated, onto her bed, desperate to breathe in her scent and see the world from where she saw it. At first, I needed to wear what she wore, and hold what she held. That led to doing what she did, and loving what she loved. All the things that were part of her life, that I hadn’t understood or cared for—like writing, photography, blogging and posting on Facebook, making up tunes to play on instruments—I ended up finding myself drawn to. Doing these things daily now, I am living a life my daughter would have loved. It makes me feel forever linked to her.

There are many ways to maintain ties after the loss of someone who was the light of your life. I wanted to know what Continuing Bonds looked like for others. Not much is written about this because each person approaches it differently. It looks like the widow who still talks to her husband of fifty years, or the bereaved parents who keep their child’s room as it was before death—in order to have a special place to feel close to him. Some people start foundations and community events to honor their loved ones. Some look to their deceased loved one for inspiration in trying new things. Some create meaningful personal rituals, or works of art. Others continue their loved one’s work. Many try to live in a way that would make their beloved proud.

“Moving on” can be good. Maybe that’s what living is all about. But we learn from the ones we love and think we lost. Whether or not we choose to ‘carry them with us’ into the next chapters of our lives, I’m pretty sure that simply having loved them turns us into better people.

 

What do you think about keeping connected to a deceased loved one?

 

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Continuing Bonds

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her self-portrait over that of her daughter who died in an illustration of continuing bonds.I was ashamed to admit I still talk to my daughter who died. And I was afraid that if I let go of her, or allowed my grief to dissipate even an ounce, we would both be lost. Other than that, seven years out from Marika’s death, I thought I’d figured out this thing called grieving, and was finally, kinda pretty-much (most days) at peace with the way things had turned out. I was okay, except for hanging onto her and feeling like maybe I was defective because I wouldn’t let myself detach.

Then, last week, I learned about continuing bonds, a modern view of grief where therapists encourage preserving but redefining the relationship one has with a loved one who died. Even altered by the absence of the physical presence, connections with the deceased can still grow and continue for the lifetime of the one left behind. The continuing bonds theory contends that staying connected, rather than ending the relationship, helps the bereaved cope with loss and the ensuing changes in one’s life.

For years, to feel closer to Marika, I’ve been talking to her, letting her inspire and guide me, taking up some of the things she did, learning to love what she loved, wearing her scarves and tight jeans, and eating sushi every chance I get. She was a writer and blogger so I became a writer and blogger. She loved Facebook and photography. So…. This was the only way I could survive.

This week’s assignment in photography class was to turn the camera on our-selves to make conceptual self-portraits, ones that express some facet of personal identity. I answered the same questions I pose to my other subjects: What is it like to do what you do? What did you lose? What did you find?

What it’s like to keep on loving Marika’s ghost – It’s comforting. It’s like I’m carrying her, like I did before she was born. Like I always have her close by my side. It makes me stronger. Braver.

I lost the feeling that I had to hide my ongoing attachment to my daughter. I found that our once rocky relationship has matured and mellowed over the past seven years. Marika used to say, “Mom, you’re a wimp.” And now I hear, “Mom, you can do this.”

 

How do you cope with loss and the accompanying changes in your life? In what other ways can one stay connected to a loved one who died?

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