Tag Archives: coping with loss

Dancing Wildly with Grief and Joy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops hostas from her garden as a background for the words of joy she created in Adobe Illustrator.“Do you ever go out dancing?” someone asked an old woman. The old woman looked away, smiling, not sure how to answer. Because she’d been out just the night before, listening to the music of frogs, the joyful trilling of tree frogs and low gunk-gunks of the bulls. And she’d danced in the driveway with her dog.

Quiet and subdued when people were around, most days the woman kept herself in check. But sometimes she just had to run. Or dance. Or roughhouse with the dog. Often, from someplace deep within and unreachable, there was a stirring, a wildness that couldn’t be tamed and wouldn’t let her sleep. Her heart howled with the coyotes, and restless leg syndrome beat through her whole being. Ghosts danced in her head. “It’s the- Marika-in-me,” she told herself, attributing the hungry black hole in her heart to the daughter who died. In the middle of many nights she’d find peace outside singing Sweet Baby James to the moon.

Wild woman. Maybe. But you haven’t seen anything yet. In May she grows more and more alive. As daylight sticks around until almost bedtime, as hostas uncurl in the garden, as the flooded pond goes down and the hills green up, and the forest floor fills with trillium and then trout lilies, the woman yips, “Yee-hah!” into the wind. In a flurry of spring-cleaning, she prunes and rakes and weeds, all the time mimicking the songs of birds. She calls to the frogs and floats candles on the pond. Lights up the deck with battery-powered lanterns. Throws crackers to the ducks. Barks, with the dog, dodging the geese. Crazy lady. Good thing she lives in the countryside, out in the hills where no one is bothered by her rantings.

An invitation arrives in the mail. The RSVP card begs, “Please list a song that will get you dancing.” For days the woman considers this. Finally she responds, yes. But cannot say what might drive her to dance.

It’s mostly on clear nights after many days of rain, when the wind sleeps and stars wink, and the frog-song is at its most frenzied, that the crazy lady does her little dance with the dog. They jump. Twirl. They run and chase each other in the dark. And when she and the dog are both panting for breath, they sit together on a rock at the edge of the pond, and the woman whispers a promise into the dog’s soft fur, “We’re gonna make this summer our best yet.”

 

What does your wild side look like? What song will get you dancing?

 

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Taking a Day Off From Grief

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the sky through trees when she takes time off from grief.“What magnificent thing will we do today?” I ask my daughter. She’s been dead for six years now, but this is how I begin my days. Walking the dog in the driveway, looking through trees to see what color the sky is wearing, I say, “What magnificent thing, Marika?”

Almost anything I do after dragging myself out of bed qualifies as magnificent. Other than burrowing back under the covers. The ‘magnificent thing’ is something that has the potential to propel me forward. For a while. Something to look forward to, that might even make me feel good. Because, if I don’t plan or push myself, I could easily spend my time immobilized by grief, moping and miserable. The work of facing the world and putting a life back together is exhausting. Grief invades your sleep, your physical and mental wellbeing, your creativity, all parts of your life. Counselors and support sites agree that taking time off from grieving helps us heal. Not that we can simply switch it on or off, but we can nudge it over from center stage to the background, or take baby-steps back from it to focus on something else for a while. To recharge. Regain strength, courage and hope.

Last weekend a friend asked me to go with her on a winery tour. It would be a whole day away from home, away from the computer, online support groups, and my quiet space to nurse my emptiness. All I had to do was sit in the car as she drove from one winery to another and we’d be served wines paired with beautiful foods. It was something Marika would have loved, and it would be magnificent, so I went. And I pretty much forgot about my grief. (I think maybe I even had fun).

I only “cheated” once. Looking over Cayuga Lake, holding a glass of Thirsty Owl dry Riesling, I was missing my daughter, so I made a silent toast to her. And blew a kiss to the clouds.

After the tour I was cranky. Taking a daylong break from grief turned out to be more exhausting than staying home grieving. Could barely eat dinner. Too tired to talk. Drove home, desperate to get to bed. Walked the dog without even reflecting on the day’s magnificent things.

And I felt guilty for spending so much time not thinking about Marika. But I know that she knows, and you know, it doesn’t mean I love her any less.

 

What can you do to take a break from your troubles?

 

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Reaching Out

The best relief from my own grief comes when I reach out to help someone else in their troubles. But one thing I still find impossibly hard is to reach out for help when I’m the one suffering.

Last week, driving back from the airport after saying goodbye to the one I love most in this world, I had to pull off the road and stop the car several times, unable to see through my tears. Finally arriving home, I howled in the driveway, begging, pleading, praying, …sobbing into my dog’s fur. I tried to summon my courage, strength, the spirits of my dead father and daughter. I even called on god. But the aching grew worse.

“Love the grief. Learn to live with the pain,” and “You are not alone, you can do this,” I went through all my mantras aloud. I desperately wanted to go back in time, to the night before, when we’d clinked our glasses of whiskey. “To you and your adventure,” I’d said cheerfully, looking more at the ice swimming in the whiskey than at the eyes of the one I love. Now there would be no eyes to watch, no celebrating, no more late nights toasting to the future.

Empty-nest-syndrome. A hole in my heart almost as big as when my daughter died. No need to bother anyone else about this, I told myself. Don’t be a burden, don’t be a wimp. It was late enough I could simply take a pill and go to sleep. And I thought how sad it was, having no one to announce to, “I’m going to bed.” And that started the tears and howling all over again until I thought of someone who might understand. Gasping for breath, I phoned her.

After sputtering out my story I said, “I’m okay, I just needed someone to say goodnight to.” That was pretty much true. So every day since, I’ve been phoning family and friends. Good morning. Goodnight. And sometimes I don’t know anymore if I’m reaching out to help or be helped. But maybe it’s all the same in the end.

 

What does reaching out mean to you?

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Caregiving

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a mandala of the supermoon and trees in a kaleidoscope of tears.It was late when we got the discharge papers and I drove my friend Annette home from Cayuga Medical Center. Even my son was fast asleep by the time I pulled into my own driveway. But I was wide awake, my head pulsing with something like pride. With memories: home from the hospital. It transported me back to the times in and out of hospitals with my daughter during her almost-three years of cancer. Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester is the place I last “left” Marika. The hospital is where I first learned I was a caregiver.

When one you love becomes sick, you become a caregiver. No references or prior experience necessary. You learn on the job. Patience. Attentiveness. Compassion. You learn to let go of what you cannot control. You learn how much there is to lose: breath, balance, mobility, independence, …hope. The certainty of being able to go home.

“When can I go home?” is what everyone asks in the hospital, sitting around waiting, watching the world pass you by while you’re stuck there. The goal is to get out. But for me, for almost three years, my whole world was right there in the hospital. Whenever I left without Marika, my heart was tethered to that place. Maybe it still is.

In the end, I did not bring my daughter home. Instead, I dragged home the heartbroken remains of who I was, and the beginnings of the person I would grow into over the next years: one who loves life and doesn’t discount it by who or how much she’s lost, but rather gauges good living by what she can put right and save.

“It feels good to be needed again, to be able to help,” I’d said, when I delivered Annette to her apartment and she thanked me like I’d given her gold. Then the waning supermoon followed me home across two hills and a valley, peeking through clouds and bare branches. It made a giant mesh of moon-shadows in my driveway. Almost midnight, everything was silent and still. Except for me. I felt like skipping. Dancing in the moonlight. And I don’t know if I was speaking to the moon, my daughter’s spirit, or God when I whispered, “Hey. I brought someone home tonight.” The moon, the branches, my pride, longing, love, and gratitude were all kaleidoscoped by my tears.

 

What makes you want to sing and dance in the moonlight at midnight?

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What is Grief?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops borders around a banyan tree with hugging, intertwining branches.After life, as I knew it, got shot to the stars, grief charred me from the inside out. There were good days and bad days. I sometimes forgot my sadness. Briefly. Other times, for days, I’d be cranky and complain, “I can’t do this. I hate this. This is too hard.”

“Can we talk in terms of solutions rather than problems?” a wise friend asked, when she saw me struggling on a bad day. Then she said, “Keep coming back to what you love,” and I almost cried. Because to me, that meant coming back to my daughter who died. Everyone else was telling me, “It’s time to move on.” If grief was something to “get over” or “get through,” I was failing miserably. So to hear that I could come back, was to understand that there is no time limit on mourning the loss of a loved one. It allowed me to slowly get used to my shaken world. It allowed that my grieving might never be completely done.

Can we think of grief as something more than pain and suffering? It’s been more gently defined as love’s unwillingness to let go, the price of love, or love with nowhere to go. Holding tight to our loved one’s memory and spirit, when we grieve we are expressing our love.

Grief is also the slow redefining of our relationship with the one we love who died. It is the effort to rebuild around the giant hole they leave in our lives. We can choose to weave the emotional bond, the memory, their values and voice into a new way of carrying them with us.

And maybe grief is, now and forever, a part of your story. A part of who you are. One more layer in the trillions of layers that shape you. Maybe it’s a small spark of transformation and growth. For all that has happened, for all the heartache of my loss, I am a better person now.

 

How has grieving changed you? Or is recent grief still scorching you from the inside out?

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Grief Changes Us

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, wearing cactus and thanking her lucky stars she's not roadkill.“What kind of progress do you feel you’ve made?” This was the question posed after each member of the small group checked in with a brief personal status report. For various reasons, people were uncomfortable with the question. “Have you experienced any movement?” it was rephrased. They went around the table twice before it became obvious I had not contributed.

Progress implies a destination or goal. Progress is what I am making with my manuscript. But I do not have a direction for my grieving. I don’t believe grief is something to get over or through.
Movement, yes; grief changes. I have changed.
Last week marks four years since my daughter died and I am not the same person I was before. I am no longer stuck like a bled-dry carcass getting pummeled on the highway.

Realizing I would have to say something to the group, I quickly came up with an idea: “People,” I said, as in, “people became more important to me since my daughter’s death.” The first thing that flies out of my mouth is often the closest I can get to the truth:

When my daughter died, I thought I was alone. I couldn’t see beyond my wretched self. Marika had left behind a heartbroken brother and father, aunts and grandparents. Friends. But I was too deep into my own misery. It took time to discover other parents in pain and people struggling with all kinds of loss. Later still, I began to hope I could offer comfort to others who grieve:

I want to tell those who are new to grief that it does change; it gets lighter, especially when you share with other people.

I want to thank all the people who hugged, wrote, called, emailed, responded to me on my site and on Facebook. If it weren’t for you I might still be roadkill.

 

How have you been changed by loss?

 

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