Tag Archives: death and dying

Continuing a Relationship After Death

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops photos of her daughter to illustrate continuing bonds grief theory.“Become all the things you love about the one you lost.” This was a post that appeared on Facebook recently. Shortly after finding it, I discovered that one of my favorite authors, Alexandra Fuller, wrote a new memoir, Travel Light, Move Fast, that suggests the same idea. Due out in August, its description begins:

After her father’s sudden death, Alexandra Fuller realizes that if she is going to weather this loss, she will need to become the parts of him she misses most.

You may be wondering, how does one ‘become the parts of’ someone else? This is something I’ve been practicing ever since my daughter Marika died eight years ago. Broken and miserable, first I wanted to die too. But I got distracted from that as I searched through all Marika’s belongings to learn everything I could about her. Then I made desperate efforts to honor, imitate, follow, dress like and eat like my daughter. She sang, so I sang. She wrote, so I began writing. She was courageous so I tried to be less fearful. She loved photography, so … Allowing my daughter to inspire me, I simply did what she did and learned to love what she loved, until I could barely remember my life as it was before.

Holding on to Marika and continuing a relationship after death was the only way I could survive. It has turned me into a better person. A happier person. Having incorporated different parts of her life into my own life, I carry her with me as I continue to participate in the world. This is one approach to the Continuing Bonds grief theory that is based on redefining or creating a new relationship with a deceased loved one rather than detaching oneself and moving on from the loss.

Sometimes I think of myself as the mother who swallowed her daughter , and then really became alive herself. I am here now because of Marika. When I found who she had been, I discovered who I could be.

 

Who would you die for? Who would you live for? Who would you change your entire self for, to keep alive and present in your life?

Talking About Death

Talking About Death Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a drawing found in her daughter Marika Warden's room. She pictures death with the face of her daughter so it isn't so scary and unapproachable.During our almost-three-year journey through the Wilds of Cancer, my daughter Marika and I never spoke about death or dying. To do so would have been to abandon all hope of ever being free of cancer. It’s like we made some sort of pact to pretend that everything would turn out all right. Our discussions focused only on coordinating the here-and-now. This way, we could stride always forward from setbacks and disappointing news.

So towards the end, as the palliative care team took over, hinting about unplugging the life support system, I made them whisper and would not mention aloud that Marika was not going to live. At that point, I was too crushed by the thought of losing her. I couldn’t utter the D-words. Death. Dying. Dead. They pulsed in my head as I tried to convince myself of the terrible new reality. Marika, mostly unconscious by then, only heard encouragement from me as she lay there, “You’re doing fine, keep it up.” I’m pretty sure she already knew she would not survive. Holding back the truth has haunted me ever since.

Eight years later, a good friend of mine is in the end stages of her cancer. In the strange circumstances of life, I have been granted an opportunity, a second chance, to do a better job of supporting a loved one through the process of dying. I’m still wondering why it is so difficult to talk about the tough stuff with the ones we care about. All the very difficult, very human things one needs to address at the end of a loved one’s life — like apologizing, forgiving, thanking, acknowledging love and appreciation, and saying goodbye — are easy to ignore.

Then came the day my friend announced she was stopping treatment and starting hospice care. It was time to step up beyond my comfort zone, to acknowledge her dying.

Now Death is turning into a third friend in our company. In my mind I picture Death as having the face of my daughter, so it isn’t as scary and unapproachable as it used to be. Most days she (Death) sits peacefully between me and my friend. Sometimes she hugs us close. Other times, like when I’m being less than thoughtful, she (Death) blatantly slams our heads together. I’m getting used to Death’s gaze waxing and waning with my friend’s energy.
“What will happen when you die?” I ask my friend, “I’m going to miss you. You know?”

 

How can we make death and dying easier to talk about with our loved ones?

 

 

Afraid of Dying

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a beach to illustrate the life and death cycle.You’re afraid of dying, you say, afraid of dying alone mostly. I wish I could tell you how this thing called death works and what dying means. Or where we end up in the end. I wish I could alleviate your fears, and tell you the best comes after life, that there will be music and bright lights and long-lost loved ones welcoming you. But I’m still trying to convince myself there’s more than nothingness, that after we die we reach some eternal heavenly state of consciousness, if not an actual heavenly place.

All I know is that for eons of time, trillions and gazillions of other beings before us have made this journey of conception, life, and then death. That this is part of a great cycle. And that maybe, possibly, death is not the last stage.

What if we think of this life-death cycle as a beach? Over the course of your lifetime you crept along the sandy shore, and then toddled, walked, and eventually waded into the water where you swam and dove through the waves, never noticing the tide gently dragging you out ever farther. And now every breath takes so much energy and struggling. Yet you keep swimming until there is nothing but ocean and sky, and soon you become part of them both. It’s like when you were born. You had no choice in being born, no control. You yielded to the forces pulling you into the then unknown world. Now it is time once more to be carried along into another great unknown.

You will not be alone at the end. There are those who will be honored to sit vigil with you and make you comfortable at this sacred time. Let’s call Hospice. Allow people in. I will come myself when I can, wearing my red-beaded necklace, the one like yours, because greeting death with red beads seems both gutsy and appropriate. I’ll hold your hands and listen to your memories, or to your breathing. Maybe I’ll rub your feet.

And finally, when you are gone to the great wherever, I will always love you and remember you. Whenever I wear those beads I’ll think of you laughing boldly in a bevy of friends, immaculately bedecked with makeup and perfectly matched jewels.

 

What can you do to assuage a loved one’s fear of dying?

My Trees are Dying

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a negative image of her ash trees that are dying of emerald ash borer beetles.“Your trees are dying,” the guys working around my home pointed out. Something about emerald ash borer beetles and fungal infection. “They should be chopped down before they fall on your house.” One more thing in my world was falling apart, along with the clothes drier quitting, the dog getting sick, and the driveway flooding mudslides into the garage. The earth beneath my feet was crumbling. The safe haven, always solidly set in my heart’s GPS to ‘Go Home,’ was going kerflooey.

I don’t believe you really own land or trees. The land you live on, pay taxes on, and love. I believe the few gravely acres I’ve parked myself at for four decades own me. So I’m having a hard time understanding how it falls to me to make huge life-or-death decisions about these skeletal trees. Do trees have ghosts, I wonder? Because I’m already haunted by the ghosts of countless fellow creatures I’ve ‘put down’ over the years. Cats. Dogs. My daughter.

For months, I tried to ignore the bare branches that never leafed out. But eventually I brought in tree specialists to get a second opinion. By then, even I could spot a sick tree. Twenty-four of them. Or more.

“Do trees have spirits? Do they have some sort of consciousness?” I asked a healer friend, “What can I do for them?” There were several things. Nothing that could save them though. Over the next few weeks, as guided by the healer, I went about touching them, communicating to them what was to happen, saying sorry. I sang Day is Done to the tune of Taps. Even the dog sensed something was up, lying on the grass under the trees rather than peeing or poo-ing there.

If trees can read my thoughts, if they leave lingering ghosts, I am surely in trouble. Weeks before their chopping-down day, as I hugged my doomed trees, and explained and begged forgiveness of them, I was already eyeing the not-yet-vacated space, considering all the possibilities of how I could fill it.

 

Have you ever loved a tree or land? Have you ever had to destroy something you thought was beautiful? Have you ever felt guilty for being the one still standing? If I don’t watch the trees coming down, can I pretend I didn’t kill them? How could I not watch the trees coming down?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free to Fly

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops daylilies and hosta plants, and birds flying free in a garden of grief.“You should write some final wishes. Just in case,” I’d told my daughter, like I was asking her to make a shopping list. It was back in November 2010, before her stem cell transplant. She was going to kick cancer. So, except for handing me her healthcare proxy, “Here. You can have this,” we weren’t discussing death or dying. In fact, I’d often scolded her for living her life like it was an endless party, like it could never end.

Marika’s final wishes were found the day after they pulled the plug on her life support. I was the one who’d had to sign the papers. That night, alone in her room, hugging her belongings, I found her poems. And now I have to wonder: did she have any idea what a gift this poem would be?

FREE ME by Marika Joy Warden

Free me.
Let me be.
Spread my wings for me, for all to see.
You hold me, you’re holding me
Back too tight, I can’t break free.
The cells, the cells of red and white,
They’ve given flight to my family,
But not to me, because I’m free.
Free, up above the world I know,
Away I’ll go, don’t hold me so,
Don’t hold me back. I’m stuck in black
And darkness here. The light’s so near!
Just do not fear. I can go now.
Some way, somehow, I’ll learn to fly
I’ll reach the sky, float over you,
Look up, it’s true. You’ll see me there
With regrown hair and regrown hope,
Surpassed the slope that I slid down,
Down to the ground, but now, no more.
For now I soar above the sea,
No catching me ‘cause now I’m free.
You have freed me.

Leaves of daylilies grow skyward like wings lifting in the wind. Hostas raise hundreds of leaf-hands in search of the sun. It’s June, five years later, and I’m whirling in a sea of fragrant honeysuckle. Singing as I pull weeds and water new plantings, I watch every bird and butterfly, each duck and goose that flies over the pond. Fireflies. Damselflies. Moths. Which one will linger, circling over me? Which one will land and look my way?