Tag Archives: gratitude

Changed

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops changes in landscape and life.This (losing a loved one, losing a child) changes us. We are not the same as we used to be. If the wilds of grief do not completely destroy you, they may turn you into a better person. More compassionate, more grateful, more aware of how fragile life is, and more conscious of the closeness of death.

 

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Australia Trip: Some Things I Didn’t Anticipate

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a stuffed puppy before it is cremated and its ashes tossed into the waters of Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia in a ritual for healing.As much as you plan, you can never anticipate everything. Good or bad, other things happen.

I’m back home from Australia where, on days off from my O.A.T. tour, I met up with Australian bereaved mothers I’d found and friended on Facebook. On my last full day in Australia I was to cremate my daughter’s stuffed toy Puppy and scatter its ashes. Knowing I’d need help, I’d reached out to The Compassionate Friends NSW Chapter in Sydney.

Things I had not anticipated:

The generosity of my hostess. Jenny from TCF NSW spent the whole day with me, picking me up at my hotel, and then trekking, training, and tramming our way to the University of Technology Sydney (where, if my daughter had survived cancer she would have attended the nursing program), and Spice Alley, and the headquarters of Sydney’s TCF chapter where we attended a support group meeting. After, Jenny took me to her home for the cremation, and drove me out to Manly Beach. I had not realized how much time and energy my mission would take.

How Jenny had prepared for Puppy’s cremation. She’d lined a small fire pit with foil. She’d set out tongs and a box of tissues. And a tin for the ashes.

How she’d thought of everything except matches, to start the fire. Jenny rummaged through the house while her dog, a big mellow shepherd-mix, looked me straight in the eyes. I let him sniff Puppy, and he nuzzled me sympathetically.

The acrid, chemical smell of the burning. It turned out that stuffed Puppy was made of polyester. She went up in flames faster than I’d imagined. She burned longer than I would have guessed. There was dark smoke. In the end there were no ashes, only black molten chunks. Less volume than I’d thought. So instead of using the big tin, Jenny washed out a dogfood can. I peeled Puppy’s remains from the foil, placed it in the can, and smashed up the chunks with the tongs.

How sad I felt during the car ride from Jenny’s house to Manly Beach. Sadder still, wading into the gentle waves and tossing Puppy’s remains. Then I watched in horror.

Puppy’s black molten chunks floated. At the top of the water. Instead of sinking or dissolving.

There was other black chunky stuff floating around so I didn’t feel too terrible about polluting.

The traffic as Jenny drove from the beach back to my hotel. The rain that held off until my mission was all over.

The emptiness that stung me later that night as I said goodbye to the city lights of Sydney, and whispered goodnight to my daughter, and to Puppy.

The warm gratitude I felt, remembering the long full day Jenny had given me.

Lastly, I hadn’t known gratitude, sadness, and relief could sit so peacefully together, all mixed up in my heart.

 

More to come in the next few weeks about my trip to Australia.

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From Grief to Gratitude

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops friendship bracelets around a photo of her daughter who died of leukemia being hugged by friends.Saturday was my daughter’s sixth angelversary. Angelversary is the name bereaved parents often use to gently refer to the date of a child’s death. It marks the day a son or daughter became an angel. Or the day they took up a heavenly abode. I’m still on the fence about heaven and where one ends up after life. And Marika was no angel. But these wretched anniversaries wreak a range of emotions. What bereaved mothers and fathers really want, besides having their children back, is to know their child is loved and won’t be forgotten.

The first few angelversaries I was immobilized with fear and dread, wondering how I could survive the day. Then there were years when I obsessed about exactly how to commemorate such a time: to turn off the phone and stay in bed, or line up back-to-back meet-ups with friends? To curl up and cry? Or celebrate Marika’s life with balloons and butterflies?

“I’m declaring a personal holiday,” I told a bunch of other bereaved parents last week. “I’m going to party and drink and do all the things she liked to do. I’m gonna be really good to myself. Cake. Chocolate. Hiking with my daughter’s dog. I’m going shopping.”

I was going to write about all those things. I was looking forward to barging into the day full force, like my daughter would, feasting on the beautiful free time to do anything I wanted. And then, first thing on the day of Marika’s sixth angelversary, I felt a desperate urge to grab onto my grief again. I needed to drown in sorrow. Feel pain. Cry. Maybe so I could remember how much I loved, and how much that love costs me still.

There was a box of Marika’s photos. The ones from her last years. I knew they would fuel a major breakdown. What I didn’t know was, after the deluge of tears from seeing dozens of photos of Marika being held and hugged in the middle of friends, how grief could melt into gratitude. It warmed me as much as the cocoa, the chili, and the good cheer I found the rest of that day among my own friends.

All the beautiful, wonderful friends. Hugs to those who keep me going. And brimful thanks to everyone who filled Marika’s life with love. She was no angel. But she was loved.

 

How do friends keep you going? How do friends keep you grateful?

 

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The Mother who Swallowed her Daughter

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops selfie, grieving and being grateful under a mackerel sky.A very gutsy and wise friend gently suggested I write an article about living gratefully. She asked me, a bereaved mother straining to understand why I was still alive myself. How could I possibly know anything about living gratefully? For months I struggled. Maybe my gratitude died four years ago with my daughter, I thought. I mean, what was there to be grateful about when my heart was bleeding? So I started a list. Leaving pen and paper on my kitchen counter, several times a day I read from the list or added to it.

What my daughter and I loved and were grateful for:
walking in rain with Wellington boots and rainbow umbrellas
our dog dreaming, yipping with feet running in air
popping bubble wrap
pink and charcoal mackerel skies at sunset

My daughter was braver than I. Marika lived on the edge of adventure and disaster, like she had only an hour left. Looking for all the beautiful things, she made trouble dance. She made it sing, made it beautiful. Even cancer.

honking v-lines of geese flying south before winter
the songs of a thousand frogs on a June night
dandelions dotting the lawn
the deluxe sushi platter for two, extra ginger

Marika blogged and collected friends on Facebook. There were hundreds of photos on her page. I thought blogging was a cult activity. I hated cameras, didn’t type, and feared technology. Some things I didn’t learn to love until after she was gone.

getting 90 “likes” on a Facebook post
sharing yearnings and embarrassing moments in blogs
“friending” strangers online
collecting photographs, making selfies, posting them all over the Internet

When she died, I dragged myself around, wishing I were dead. Then I found her words. Marika left songs, stories, poetry. She’d written a single poem in a blank journal, like she was daring me to continue. So I wrote. And I decided to become more like she was, to do what she did. I’d become more adventurous, and learn to love the computer. I would find all the beautiful things. I would carry on.

lemon wedges dipped in sugar
squeaky-clean, just-shampooed hair
burrowing in quilts while the wind howls outside
hearing our voices magnified and echoed

When I expanded my world to include Marika’s, my life grew richer. No longer simply a mother who lost her child, I became the woman who discovered her daughter and swallowed her. And now I realize that everything, every-last-little-thing, is precious, that nothing in this world is promised or guaranteed.

the silver reflection of an almost-full moon in the pond
a steamy cup of latte warming frozen hands in December
snow falling silently at twilight
oceans, Australia, running on beaches, roses, stars

Longevity, love, health, happiness, … even my grief is a gift. I celebrate it all. Photographing and blogging about finding joy after loss, I now believe anything is possible, even grieving and being grateful at the same time. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing all along.

 

This blog was first published on www.gratefulness.org. To see the blog there, click on this link: http://www.gratefulness.org/grateful_living/mother-swallowed-daughter/

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Dancing with Turkeys

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, dances with a turkey.I WILL make a turkey for my son for Thanksgiving. Even if I’m wailing during the whole process. Even though my son and and I will be feasting elsewhere for the holiday. I will roast a turkey. I want to have a huge platter of bird in the fridge. A plate full of turkey in our own home means we are okay, that our tiny family is surviving, that life goes on.

This will be my fifth Thanksgiving without my daughter. I’m learning how to handle it.
Remembering Marika in the kitchen tearing breadcrumbs for the stuffing and baking carrot cake, I’ve learned that one can simultaneously grieve and be grateful. Last year I called it Thanksgrieving. This year it is Dancing with Turkeys, as I dash all over town to dine in three different households before coming home to the turkey in my fridge.

Here are my holiday tips for grievers:

  1. Treat yourself like you’re the guest of honor. Our beloveds won’t be seated at the table but they are seated in our hearts. So carry on the way they would want and be good to your self.
  2. Allow yourself to cry. Let the pain gush out in tears. Pull out old photos, phone your sister in Florida to reminisce, chop onions, and cry like a lemon being juiced.
  3. Allow yourself to smile, maybe even laugh, at the memories of sweet times. Remembering and making memories are the real gifts of holidays.
  4. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. What are the lessons you learned from your loved one? What was gifted? What has changed your life?
  5. If you can’t find something to be thankful for, do something nice for another. The most joy can come from giving someone else something to be grateful about.

So go do this holiday, my friends. Whether you gather with others, or chow down your dinner standing alone over the kitchen sink, I am sending you my warmest wishes. We are going to be okay. We are surviving. Life goes on. You are not alone.

 

How do you grieve and be grateful at the same time?

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