Tag Archives: grief

The Compassionate Friends: A New Chapter in Ithaca, New York

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, uses Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to show a stand of trees representing the new Ithaca chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a worldwide child loss grief support group helping bereaved families grow and heal.“Pretend you’re trees. Open your arms wide like branches reaching out,” I said to the tiny group of people posing before my camera. They stood there, smiling at me, with outstretched arms. We were gathered for the first meeting of The Compassionate Friends of Ithaca, New York, a child loss support group. “Look up at the sky,” I directed, thinking they looked like children waving in the wind.

I was designing artwork for our brochure, for a Facebook page, and our new website. Since my daughter Marika died, it has not been easy to ask for assistance. It had taken me four years to even want to be part of a grief support group. So last week, when I needed people to pose, I had hesitated sending out the email, “I need help.” But now, here were these new friends of mine, swaying with arms held high like they could catch the sun. Or catch a child falling from heaven. They were eager to be helping me. I was so touched.

The Compassionate Friends is a worldwide support group for people who have lost a child or grandchild or sibling. All the people running Compassionate Friends groups are people who have lost children of all ages, from many different causes. Bereaved parents are a diverse group from all walks of life and all races. They understand what parents go through, and hold regular monthly meetings where they reach out to each other, sharing their pain and the love they have for their children. Together they grieve and heal and grow.

In Ithaca, our new TCF chapter meets the first Thursday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 at Hospicare on 172 E King Road. If you are a bereaved parent nearby, or you know of someone who is and would benefit from opportunities to connect and learn together, I invite you to contact us at [email protected] or (607) 387-5711.

The morning after that first TCF Ithaca meeting I came across this illustration of a stand of pine trees I’d made for a friend. Immediately I connected the picture to what I was trying to portray by lining the parents up with outstretched arms. A stand of trees is a community of trees having a definite distinguishing characteristic, a particular uniformity, which makes it stand out from other nearby trees. The Compassionate Friends is my stand. These folks “get” who I am now. In a society that puts limits on grieving, and is uncomfortable discussing death or deceased loved ones, I have found a place to go where I can still be Marika’s Mom. In this journey called life, we all just want our children’s lives to matter, to be remembered. Hence, our Credo: We need not walk alone.  We are The Compassionate Friends.

 

Do you know someone who is grieving? Are you grieving?

 

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Walking a Labyrinth

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops multiple images of her sister walking a labyrinth in Tucson, Arizona.You put one foot in front of the other. And you keep going. That’s how you Walk a Labyrinth. That’s kind of what I told my sister as we approached the labyrinth off a desert nature trail in Tucson.

A labyrinth is not a maze. It is an organized design, a circuitous winding path that leads to a center and back. Some say it’s like a map of your life’s journey. They say the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out to the world, to know who you are. Or maybe it’s a path to meet with God. Whatever, labyrinths are supposed to help you find your way.

People walk labyrinths for growth and for healing, to meditate, to clear and expand their focus, to reduce stress, to seek answers, find guidance, or to simply walk in wonder. You can walk a labyrinth in a group ritual or as a private meditation. It can bring rest, order, comfort, and harmony. Like meditating, it’s a process of letting go. You let go of trying to see what’s ahead and simply follow the path.

In a labyrinth you can only go forward. There’s only one path, into the center and out again. Where you are is where you are meant to be. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth. The path is meandering but purposeful. You will arrive. And you will return. Eventually.

There is only one choice to make: to enter the labyrinth or not.

Many lives are more like mazes. A maze is designed to trick you, make you lose your way. There are choices, several paths to choose from. They branch off, twist, and turn. Blind alleys, dead-ends, potholes, unmarked trails that split unexpectedly, stream-crossings over thin ice, snakes suddenly slithering out of nowhere, rough rocky paths….

It was only one simple little choice: to enter or not. But I’m always complicating things. The labyrinth in the Tucson desert became a symbol for all the things that skirt the edges of my life in possibility: the desert beckoning me to venture into its mysterious harsh beauty, religion and spirituality, belief in an afterlife, belief in my own self and my potential.

I did not walk the labyrinth. Instead, I stood outside the sacred space, taking pictures of my sister as she stepped serenely through the meandering trail, losing track of direction and the outside world, quieting her mind. One foot in front of the other. Smiling, mostly.

 

Is your walk through life a labyrinth or a maze?

 

 

 

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How Does God Give Life to the Dead?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an illuminated cactus plant to illustrate how god, with great mercy, gives life to the dead.“I hear you have some questions about resurrection,” the rabbi I’d been referred to said over the phone.
“No, I’m not asking about bodies rising from the grave, I don’t think – It’s just one question,” I tried to explain, not wanting to take up too much time from this renowned scholar of Jewish law, philosophy, and mysticism.

Days earlier I’d been sitting in a synagogue in Tucson, at a young cousin’s bat mitzvah. A prayer book had been shoved at me and I was skimming through the translations, wondering when the service would end. I was a trespasser. The last time I’d tried talking to god was six years earlier, when my daughter lay dying. After that, I prayed to her instead. Marika’s ghost was less of a stranger to me than god. She should have been there in Tucson, sitting with me, celebrating her cousin’s coming of age. Blinking back tears, I buried my face in the prayer book.
“Turn to page 292,” announced the cantor officiating at the service.

That’s when I came across the line about how god, “with great mercy, gives life to the dead.” It was written in three different places on that page. Whoa. What did that mean? I wondered, as I read it over and scoured the page for clues. The same line appeared several times more as the congregation turned to page 48 and then 10.

Later I asked the cantor, how does god bring life to the dead? And I asked my cousins. Then there was a conversation I was not part of, and afterwards they directed me to the Chabad rabbi back in my hometown. They told him I would call.

“Listen to the voice of your soul,” the rabbi said. I’d never thought in terms of “the soul.” Mostly I write about messages of the heart. Or sometimes of ‘one’s spirit,’ which offers an intriguing other-worldly dimension. But the rabbi spoke exclusively of “the soul.” My soul. My daughter’s. “The soul that continues to live long past the body.” My “soulful need and yearning to connect with something more, with the world beyond.”

“Souls departing the world gain freedom …take on a more vibrant life after leaving the body,” he said. “Your daughter is aware of you.” And then, “The soul gets immeasurable joy from every good deed we do on earth.” What? My daughter’s soul? Or my own?

“Don’t ignore that voice, the voice of the soul… Do things on behalf of that soul. Do good things in her honor.”

The rabbi would be pleased if I learned more about Judaism, to feed my daughter’s soul as well as my own. And I may. But a small voice (mine? or Marika’s?) keeps nudging me, “What about seeing a medium? What about organizing a grievers walking group? and helping elderly gardeners? and telling someone about the cruel treatment of the horses at the stable in Tucson?” Maybe it’s through us, the survivors: We bring life to the dead.

 

What do you make of the idea that god “with great mercy, gives life to the dead”? Really, I’d like to hear. It’s still haunting me.

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Expectations

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an incomplete healing mandala of herself and her daughter who died of leukemia.Something has been bothering me. A couple of weeks ago when I blogged about how to handle holiday stress, I posted all over Facebook, “Stay in bed with a hot water bottle…. You don’t have to do the holidays this year.”

“No way. Expectations,” a couple of Facebook friends replied. And it took a while until I remembered my many years of being The One Who Made Joy Happen in our house. Back then I couldn’t have simply turned my back on what was expected of me. I would not have wanted to. There are times in your life when people look up to you, depend on you, trust you. And when you are in that position you do what you can to keep their world intact, and you do it with grace. I apologize to the ones I offended or disappointed. I’m sorry for forgetting how important it is for us to hold our tribe together.

Sometimes you lose track of what others expect of you, or what you expect of yourself. With the loss of my daughter, I lost a lot of my expectations. The biggest one was that children would outlive their parents. There were others:

The expectation that life will return to normal. That there ever was a normal in life.
That grief has an ending point, that at some time we should reach the end of our grief.
That one day you will be the same person you used to be. That one could ever be the same person she was before losing her heart.
That the first year of grieving is the worst. That time heals all wounds.
That if I followed all the rules and did what was right, everything would turn out okay.

That I would always complete my photo-illustration before putting it out on the Internet for all to see.

So much for what we believed.

You were expecting something joyful here? You’ve been so patient, putting up with my moping through the last weeks. There is some good news: We don’t have to worry or fret over any of this. Expectations – I’m pretty sure that’s one of those things our president-elect is working hard to rescind.

 

What expectations have you come to let go of?

 

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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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How to Handle Holiday Stress

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cumulonimbus cloud of holiday stress, grief, sadness, and fear to illustrate how to handle holiday depression.
This is supposed to be a time of joy. Miracles. Magic. But for some of us the holidays are like dark cumulonimbus clouds gusting with severe turbulence, powerful updrafts and downdrafts, lightning, thunder, and large flying lumps of hail. It’s a season of stress. Sadness. And maybe even fear. It feels like something big is going to happen.

It’s not like anything has to happen at all. If you don’t want to face the festivities you can treat yourself like you have a cold: acknowledge your pain and pamper it. Curl up in a cozy blanket with a good book or a movie. Take a long nap. Have tea and cinnamon toast. If you tell people you have a cold they gratefully accept your regrets for not showing up and sharing. And those who love you might understand if you tell them the truth: holidays hurt and you just don’t want to do them this year.

No one needs to do the regular holiday routine, the shopping, decorating, baking, gifting, … partying. On these shortest, darkest, coldest days and longest nights of the year, go easy on yourself. Give yourself permission to opt out of the whirlwind of activity. Find what brings you comfort. What will give you peace, or some small private joy?

Have a Blue Christmas. Buy a box of chocolates just for you. Light all the Chanukah candles at once and plant them in the snow. Write a letter to someone you miss. Get out to see the stars, a sunrise or sunset. Sit with a ninety-five-year old. Watch a sleeping newborn. Give a dog a belly-rub. Take a walk in the dark with a friend and flashlights. Clean out the household catch-all drawer. Help serve food at a local soup kitchen. Or stay in bed with a hot water bottle. Celebrate whatever and whenever you get inspired.

So let the holidays begin. And when they get to be too much, do them Your Way.

 

What would you do on your ideal holiday?

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