Tag Archives: coping with grief

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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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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Learning Computer Graphics – For Healing

Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, uses Adobe Acrobat Illustrator and Photoshop to create a vector portrait of her daughter Marika Warden who died of leukemia.This is a vector portrait of my daughter Marika Joy Warden who was an aspiring young writer before she died of complications from cancer. It looks simple. But it took me forever to draw. Every shadow and highlight was painstakingly plotted out with a computer mouse-operated “pen tool” in the Adobe Acrobat Illustrator program.

Vector art is based on complex computer-generated mathematical equations that keep track of the relationships between every point, line, and shape in a composition. Every detail has to be traced out individually into a new shape. So highly detailed work is too time-consuming or impossible to create. Hence, vector portraits look like cartoon caricatures.

Six years ago, other than emailing, I had little use for computers. Technologically challenged, I would never have attempted anything like this. But when Marika died, one of the ways I found to cope with my grief was to “invite her into my life.” So I explored some of the things she loved that were foreign to me, and tried to adopt them in order to become more like her. She wrote, so I wrote. Writing led to blogging, which led to Facebook and wanting to illustrate what I wrote using photography, which led me to Photoshop. It should have stopped there; I was living the life Marika would have loved, spending hours on social media sites, writing and photographing. But the Marika-In-Me somehow got me to enroll in a Computer Graphics course at Tompkins-Cortland Community College. Since January I’ve been subjecting myself to weekly cranial electroshocking in a small class of talented techie guys and our very patient instructor, Christine Shanks. And the Illustrator program which makes learning Japanese look easy.

It was so difficult, my head hurt. Close to tears and tearing my hair out, I begged for help at every step of the way on this vector portrait project. But I kept going because it was to be for Marika’s birthday. Also, I believe challenging oneself can be healing. And as I worked I saw her eyes. The hazel eyes I love and miss. Even converted into strange shapes, points and vectors, they were still her eyes. They stared back at me, smiling, all the while. Like they were touching me from heaven.

Happy birthday Marika. Wherever you are. Thanks for making me a bigger person.

 

Does anyone else do something they’re proud of or maybe terrified of, to honor a dead loved one? What were you doing when you last wondered, what am I doing here?

 

 

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