Tag Archives: grief healing

Digital Afterlife

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, considers digital afterlife as she emails her dead daughter and photoshops her digital duplicate.Don’t tell me I’m the only one emailing a dead loved one, “still loving you and missing you lots.” Admitting I occasionally email my daughter, who’s been dead six years, is no longer an embarrassment. Because now people are texting their deceased loved ones – and getting text messages back from beyond the grave.

The possibility of digitally interacting with a loved one who died is not science fiction anymore. If your beloved chatted online, texted on a cellphone, posted on social media sites, emailed or blogged, she left behind a digital footprint. Billions of gigabytes of data can be collected from this. With a trillion gigabytes, digital afterlife technology can capture speech patterns, expressions, and personality, and then craft a digital version of an individual. And a computer system modeled on the human brain now allows this digital version of your loved one to process new information and keep up with current events, so her digital being can continue to evolve long after her physical being has passed on. Is this eternal life?

This could change a lot about how we view death, and how we grieve.

OMG, I used to tell my daughter she was spending too much time on her electronic devices. And now, if only she’d spent more time on them, she could be living on in my computer. Or in my phone. And then I’d be the one glued to these things. But would I really want to get texted from the Other Side, “Mom, get a life,” and “Way to go, mom. You just showed everyone on the internet how clueless you are”?

Anyway, most of the healing and comfort come from my own communications to my daughter. Writing to her, talking to her. Unloading my heart calms my grief. I don’t need a digital duplicate of my daughter. Her voice still echoes in my head. Almost daily. And even without digital afterlife technology, our relationship has evolved. After six years, instead of her bellowing “Mom, you’re a wimp,” I now hear Marika whispering, “You can do this, mom. You’ve got this.”

 

If you could get a text message from the great beyond, what would you want it to say? If you kept “hearing” from the one you’re missing, how would this change your grieving?

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An Old Lady’s Song of the Open Road

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cabbage in winter.“The roads are open. Let’s do dinner and the opera,” my neighbor announced.
“Well, MY weather app still says ALERT, Winter Storm Watch, and Weather Advisory in effect,” I said, immovable like an old cabbage in winter, lodged comfortably in its patch.

“The weather advisory is over,” she said, desperate to get out after two snow-days stuck in her apartment.
“We’ll never get out of the driveway. There’s a huge mountain of snow where it meets the road. And I don’t know when the guy’s gonna plow.” She and another neighbor then began shoveling the 2500-foot long driveway we share. I stayed inside wondering if we weren’t all just begging for heart attacks with all this restlessness and shoveling.

“So, will you go?” she asked, all red and steamy from working in the snow.
“But the roads, the travel alert. Nothing’s been plowed yet.” I went on and on.
“I have four-wheel-drive,” she said, smiling smugly.

We threw my snow shovel in the backseat. In case. And we held our breaths as the car clambered through deep snow that hid the driveway’s hills and holes. Inching out onto the road, I checked my seatbelt. And suddenly it was as if the car was flying towards town. We sailed the slushy deserted streets in search of an open restaurant. And in the almost empty theater, we giggled, “See, all the OLD people stayed home.”

For hours, I was transported back to the times in my 20s and 30s, when adventure overpowered any fears, and a storm watch was an invitation to take off and go who-knows-where. Like Walt Whitman’s poem: Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me…. I was back in the good old days before I became a cabbage in winter.

Later, when we returned, the roads and shared driveway had been plowed. My neighbor parked the car and handed me the shovel from out of the back. Laughing like we’d gotten away with stealing something, like we’d conquered something bigger than ourselves, we said goodnight several times.

It was late. Dark. The small mountain of snow by the garage could wait ‘til morning. But the shovel was already in my hands. Digging it in deep, I lifted and tossed chunky piles of snow over my shoulder. High. Like in the good old days.

 

When’s the last time you ventured out in a storm? Or took to the open road? When’s the last time you felt lighthearted, healthy, and free?

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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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Grief and Glory at the Opera

Late, past my bedtime, I am dancing with the dog in the driveway. With arms stretched out to hug the universe, I sing to reach the stars. My head is filled with a melody that clings, wrapping itself around every thought. And my heart bursts with love. For everyone and everything in the world. It’s growing greater than my little frame can contain. All this emotion and energy ricochets too wildly back and forth off the walls in my house, so I take myself outside where I can twirl it off into the still night air. This is what it looks like when I come home on Opera Night.

Opera is meant to move us, give us goosebumps. Some think opera is boring. Irrelevant. Silly even, as every human emotion is expressed in song. Imagine though: people get poisoned or stabbed, they crave power or revenge, they die or drown in despair, in desperate love, sometimes forbidden love. There is war, rage, jealousy, fear, hope, joy, … an explosion of passion, all conveyed through a wide range of the human voice. Howling, whimpering, roaring … trilling to tunes that tell a story that is timeless and universal. Always, there’s grief and glory to be found at the opera.

And opera is not just singing. It is a combination of music, drama, visual design and movement. It’s like the Ironman triathlon of the arts, only all the action is taking place at once. In costume, with stunning stage sets. It captivates and thrills us; it drains us. For performers and audience alike, opera is a workout.

Throughout my daughter’s cancer, come Opera Night, wherever we were, I took a break to attend the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts offered several Saturday afternoons and Wednesday evenings at local movie theaters worldwide. I could sit through every tragedy known to man, and witness on the large screen all the churning I felt inside myself. Sometimes the story ended badly. I’d be in tears. But there was comfort in watching the sadness of the larger-than-life characters. Their grief was amplified by the intensity of the music. Magnificence. Even in the midst of catastrophe. Every pain I felt was validated, and became more bearable.

So meet me at the opera. We’ll hike the highest peaks and deepest pits of our emotions. We’ll witness the truth of what it is to be human in this world. And when we laugh or cry at the opera, we’ll know we’re not alone.

 

What does opera mean to you? What makes you feel like singing and dancing your heart out?

 

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Why Blog?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a green fern in the forest at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland, NY.“Why do you do this blogging thing?” a friend once asked me. After tearing up a half dozen different dirges I wrote this week, I came back to this question. Why blog? Why would anyone want to blog?

In June of 2012, a year after my daughter died, I was writing a memoir. I created a website in order to show potential literary agents I could gather and grow an audience. Each week I wrote my heart out. Soon the benefits of writing became clear and my reasons for blogging changed. Now, four years later, I have not missed a single Monday morning blog.

Blogging adds structure to my life. I pretend it is work. I force myself to get out and do stuff so I can have things to write about, and I block out time at the end of every week to type up my report. Then, on Monday mornings, when everyone else goes off to their jobs, I sit at the computer and publish “my work.”

I blog because I love to work. And I love the pride that comes from producing something.

I blog because my daughter blogged. It is a connection to her, one of the ways she continues to shape my life.

Blogging is a weekly evaluation, a review of my current emotional state. It’s an opportunity to remember what made me smile that week, what hardship or fears I overcame.

I blog to know I’m not alone. To reach out. To hopefully offer comfort to someone else. To hear from people and make new connections in a world where I was once, simply and happily, my children’s mom. Like so many others, I’ve had to reinvent myself. “I’m a blogger and photographer,” I say now, when asked what I do.

Mostly, I blog to remind myself, and others, that even when we’ve lost what we thought we could not live without, there is yet more joy and beauty and love to sustain us. “I’m looking for joy,” I tell my friends, as I search for the highlight of my week. Something fresh, and green. Something that stands out and slaps my heart awake. Blogging keeps me on the lookout for people, events, and moments that make me feel alive. If all I find is sadness, I write another lament. But when I discover something joyful, however small, I celebrate it. I love the heck out of it. And then I share it with you in a blog.

Thank you for being out there and listening. What do you do to keep moving forward?

 

 

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Birthdays and Death Dates

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a snapshot of her daughter who died of leukemia as a newborn baby with butterflies and rubber ducks.“Mom. I want chocolate cake. For breakfast,” my daughter, who died five years ago, announced as I awoke on the anniversary of her death. A large leftover piece of the cake I’d brought to friends the night before, to acknowledge the March deaths of our loved ones, sat in the fridge.

My daughter’s will, always stronger than my resolve, lives on within me. Birthdays and death dates are times I’m most likely to give in to her way. “Chocolate cake, mom. With ice cream. And whipped cream. For breakfast. By candlelight,” the details grew more specific the closer we got to the kitchen. That’s how the day began.

For weeks leading up to her angelversary, I’d whined and cranked in dread of that day.
“How would you commemorate your child’s angelversary? What do you do on the deathday of the one you love?” I’d put out desperate pleas on Facebook pages.

“Listen to your daughter. What would she want?” People had posted back long lists. “Sing, play her music, light candles, eat her favorite foods, share stories about her with those who loved her, release balloons or butterflies, give gifts to others, make a donation in her honor, do random acts of kindness, …look at her old photographs.”

So I did. And I had a picnic by the lake, and attended an exercise class at our gym.
“Mom, you’ve got your bathing suit on under your workout clothes so let’s go swimming,” she said in the gym. We swam. Then we went shopping and bought a red sweatshirt, and I wore it hiking with my inherited dog. I did almost everything from the lists of things to do.

In the evening, I took her best friend out for sushi dinner since my daughter had loved sushi. The friend brought along another friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and this other friend had her newborn baby with her. The baby’s eyes were so like my daughter’s at that age. He seemed to be searching my face. I almost cried. But instead, when the friends went to collect their buffet dinners, leaving me alone in the booth holding the baby, I sang my daughter’s song to him, and drifted back into old times cuddling in sweet warmth.

The time leading up to birthdays and deathdays is often harder than the days themselves. The terrifying thing is that each anniversary takes you farther away from the times you were with your beloved. Another year gone by. Then another. And one day, the number of years without will outnumber the years with them. And the thought of them being forgotten is unbearable. It brings up the inevitability of one’s own death, the brevity of our time on this earth. The need to make each day, not just the special dates, count.

“So what was the best part of the day?” I asked my dead daughter later, as I walked her dog and watched the night sky.
“Holding the newborn,” she told me. And back in the house, I couldn’t go to bed until I found the snapshot I’d taken of her shortly after she was born.

 

What small magnificent thing will you do today?

 

 

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