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Healing After Loss: Giving Gifts

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York poses with cat and Suki-dog Havanese and toilet in the snow. “Oh, what I did with the money this time, for my mother – ” my friend Valentina reports to me, grinning, almost a month after the holidays.

For over ten years Valentina has been giving me handcrafted boxes from Russia, cookies, candies, … Long ago I started giving her gifts too. But during the years in and out of hospitals with my daughter who had leukemia I couldn’t bring myself to buy or make gifts. That’s when I started to give money. Which I doubled, once I learned that it was going to her family in Siberia.

Sharing always made me feel good, even in times of sorrow. Giving Valentina money and clothes to send to Siberia became something to look forward to. A card with pictures of Russian dogs always came back, with handwritten notes of thanks and printed greetings in Russian letters. English translations under the message would thank me and God-Bless me for the pig or the cow that the money had secured.

“Okay, this time I bought – don’t laugh,” Valentina says, and I’m thinking maybe she bought chickens this year, or rabbits. But the look on her face tells me it’s something big. A horse?

“I bought for my mother – ” she says, and I remember the photos she showed me of her mother, a small but sturdy woman at work in her garden or in her simple house. Of all Valentina’s sisters, brothers, and other family members I’ve heard about over the years, her mother has become my favorite.

“You will laugh, Robin,” she says, “but this is very special.” I can hardly wait to hear how the mother, with two grown sons living in the tiny house with her, will have milk or meat to eat this year.

“I bought my mother a toilet.”

I don’t laugh. But my smile grows as I consider my gift. Then I do laugh when Valentina insists I take a photo of myself and my dog and cat – and my toilet too – to send to her mother who now shows off her new toilet, the first in the neighborhood. I picture red-cheeked neighbors wrapped in scarves, stopping by to see this gift, maybe even test it out. And I see Valentina’s mother, who I may never meet, grateful to no longer have to traipse outside to the outhouse in the Siberian winter.

And later that night, sitting on my own porcelain throne, I send wishes for health and warmth out to all the mothers in Siberia. And all the children in the world, young and old, who keep half their hearts in places far away, with the ones they love.

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