Tag Archives: Healing From Loss

Continuing Bonds Continued

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of herself with her daughter who died of leukemia, to illustrate continuing bonds grief theory.“I’m over that. Done. I’ve moved on,” said a friend, about her child who died years before. Great for her, I thought, not able to imagine ever even wanting to be “done” with my own daughter, gone over 7 ½ years now. Actually, I’ve been carrying my Marika—whatever I could find left of her to hang onto—since she died. Different things work for different people.

A griever’s mental status used to be questioned if one held on to the memory of a loved one too long. Mercifully, someone came up with a modern grief theory called Continuing Bonds. It is now considered acceptable to create an enduring relationship with a deceased loved one as a way of coping and finding comfort while continuing to live one’s life. Even as one’s life changes with the loss. It is okay to stay connected. And it’s normal for these relationships to grow and change over time.

Continuing Bonds came instinctively to me. A matter of my own survival, it began the day after Marika died, when I collapsed, devastated, onto her bed, desperate to breathe in her scent and see the world from where she saw it. At first, I needed to wear what she wore, and hold what she held. That led to doing what she did, and loving what she loved. All the things that were part of her life, that I hadn’t understood or cared for—like writing, photography, blogging and posting on Facebook, making up tunes to play on instruments—I ended up finding myself drawn to. Doing these things daily now, I am living a life my daughter would have loved. It makes me feel forever linked to her.

There are many ways to maintain ties after the loss of someone who was the light of your life. I wanted to know what Continuing Bonds looked like for others. Not much is written about this because each person approaches it differently. It looks like the widow who still talks to her husband of fifty years, or the bereaved parents who keep their child’s room as it was before death—in order to have a special place to feel close to him. Some people start foundations and community events to honor their loved ones. Some look to their deceased loved one for inspiration in trying new things. Some create meaningful personal rituals, or works of art. Others continue their loved one’s work. Many try to live in a way that would make their beloved proud.

“Moving on” can be good. Maybe that’s what living is all about. But we learn from the ones we love and think we lost. Whether or not we choose to ‘carry them with us’ into the next chapters of our lives, I’m pretty sure that simply having loved them turns us into better people.

 

What do you think about keeping connected to a deceased loved one?

 

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Losing a Friend

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographed her friend Annette months before she died.Over the past few years I was called to my friend Annette’s deathbed a couple of different times. The hospital is just a short drive from my house, so I kept her company during many emergency room visits. If she got admitted for an extended stay, I’d merrily come and go twice daily, delighted to have her in my neighborhood. When we spoke about dying, she joked. She twisted her oxygen tube into a noose around her neck. Then she shaped it into an angel’s halo and held it over her head. She got me laughing ‘til I was short of breath myself. My friend for over thirty years. She made me feel adventurous and indestructible, like we could go on forever outwitting the angel of death.

And we did. For a while, she always bounced back. As per her request, I’d fetch steamed lobsters and double-chocolate-chip muffins from Wegmans, to celebrate the victory.

Not this time.

Annette died. And, since I wasn’t with her, since I didn’t get to see her ever-lively self in a lifeless state, I’m left trying to convince myself she’s no longer just across town or only a phone call away. She’s gone, I have to keep reminding myself. No more wild road trips wondering if the oxygen tank would last. No more silly antics during the most solemn moments. No more photo-shoots where she’d literally bend over backwards to give me a great shot. I’m just beginning to realize all the ways I will miss her.

Grief is grief. The pain and suffering when a loved one dies cannot be measured or scored. That’s what I tell people who try to compare one person’s loss to another’s. When a friend dies, you cannot simply assume their pain is less than that of someone losing a spouse of sixty years, or losing three children rather than one, losing a beloved parent, or a long-awaited infant who dies at birth…. Someone’s misery is always perceived to be greater or less than someone else’s. Having experienced losses of a parent, a child, and friends, I believe each is painful in its own way. Each loss is different. Un-comparable. For me, now, in considering my losses without weighing one against another, I would say:

When you lose a child it’s like losing a limb or a vital organ. But when you lose a good friend, you lose some deep-rooted, invisible, remarkable, un-nameable thing that allowed your spirit to soar.

 

Who was the friend whose death broke your heart? How do you honor the memory of a good friend?

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Bereaved Mother at Wedding

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops an image of her daughter who died onto a screen of flowers to illustrate one of the emotional triggers encountered as a bereaved mother at a wedding.Extra tissues were stuffed into the small purse I’d made to match my dress. The dress sewn with my daughter’s image tucked into the folds so I could ‘take’ her to her friend’s wedding.

I’d set rules for how to conduct myself at this wedding: Be inconspicuous, don’t glom onto any one person, look for others who appear lost or alone. And, to anyone who might ask about the image of Marika on the dress, reply, “It’s too long a story to tell here. What’s YOUR connection to the bride or groom?”

There were some thorny things about weddings I’d failed to think of. Like, how memories would be triggered by rollicking flower girls spinning in shiny shoes and pink twirly dresses. The father-daughter dance. Like having people pop up from my past, from my time with Marika. Plus, I was stunned by how grown up and beautiful her friends had become over the past seven years.

My plan was to leave before the reception. But the ceremony was short and I soon found myself talking to old acquaintances, inching towards the drinks and cheese platters. Besides, it would be rude to go without greeting the mother of the bride who was off being photographed. When I finally caught up with the wedding party, they insisted I stay for dinner, and showed me the seat where my name was written on a handcrafted coaster. The seat next to the mother of the bride.

So, gathering up the skirts of my dress, I sat down for dinner across from the family’s closest friends who all seemed to know about me and my daughter. A woman came over, followed by her husband who told me they’d lost their son, and knew how I was feeling. That’s when I remembered I wasn’t the only one with a story. Weddings are bittersweet events for many. I made silent toasts to Marika and to the son of the kind parents, and then laughed and applauded with the crowd.

Occasionally, my eyes got watery. But I did not have to dig out the tissues.

When dinner was over, just before the cutting of the cake, before anyone could ask me (or not ask me) to dance, I slipped out. Away from the party, dashing down the driveway like Cinderella escaping the ball. But first I grabbed a piece of the bread-pudding cake to-go.

And at home, in the lightest rain, I danced with my dog in the driveway, spinning like a little girl in a twirly new dress.

 

What is it about weddings? That makes you cry? That makes you want to dance?

 

 

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Triggering Grief, Triggering Joy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a scene from a morning hike off a country road that triggered happiness rather than grief.Smelling ripe peaches or hearing certain Christmas carols can trigger emotional meltdowns that leave you sobbing your eyes bloodshot. But what I didn’t realize before is that triggers like these can also bring memories that warm and comfort you. Sometimes, the thing that plays with your passions smacks you plainly in the gut. Other times, you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at how the mind can mash your feelings.

Like last Saturday, when a mysterious euphoria set in after a morning hike through lush woods. What on earth could infuse my brain with shear bliss? Was it the wildflowers? The sun? We had new haircuts, the dog and I, and we climbed down a small hill at the end of the trail, and found a shady spot on the quiet country road. There was a pond nearby. Swallows soared overhead. And a cool breeze stroked my bare shoulders. Maybe it was the perfect temperature of the air. Or perhaps it was the sound of my dog lapping water from the cup I held, her whiskers brushing my hand as she gratefully gulped. Could it have simply been my anticipating Chinese leftovers for lunch? I don’t know what it was, but something felt right and vaguely familiar.

Catching up to the friend I’d hiked with, in giddy bewilderment I announced,” I think I feel – happy.”

 

What triggers your happiness? What triggers your grief?

 

 

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Tracking Grief on the Seventh Sad Anniversary

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her deceased daughter Marika Warden with a new dress composed of photos of trees in snow, on the angelversary of her death.“I’m so sorry. Losing your daughter is a lot harder than what I’m going through,” a new acquaintance apologized, for voicing pain over the recent loss of her partner, as if her loss should yield some lesser quantity of heartache than mine.
“Grief is grief,” I said, shaking my head. Regarding her at that moment, I was sure if we were to rate our pains on a scale of one to ten, she’d win first prize.

I hate when I find myself comparing or scoring, or trying to measure grief. It really bugs me when people calculate that it hurts infinitely more to lose a child than a mother, or to lose two children over only one. And when someone tells me that it’s time to be done grieving, as if I’m out-of-whack or behind schedule, it makes me growl. Grief adheres to no predictable benchmarks as it rips you apart. Yet we feel compelled to compare; to measure the intensity, the duration, or the effects of our mourning; to mark our progress to recovery. Why can’t we simply accept grief as our individual journeys, our unique adaptations to loss that may eventually lead to growth and change, but could alternatively wipe us out?

Approaching the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s death, I fell into tracking my grief’s path over time. Looking back at my blog posts from Marika’s past angelversaries (now my most sacred holiday of the year), I wondered if I’d see healing. But there was no clear forward movement. Over the six years, I meandered. I celebrated. I wallowed in self-pity. There were anniversary posts filled with fear and dread about how I could possibly survive the day. There were years I obsessed about how to commemorate it. One year I was too busy worrying about Alzheimer’s disease and forgot to write about the anniversary. And last year I started the day immersed in sorrow, and ended up discovering how grief could melt into gratitude as friends surrounded me in support. Progress?

On Sunday, the day my daughter had been dead for seven years, I had sushi for breakfast, hiked with my inherited dog, and followed a friend to a hot tub. After, I gave myself a foot massage and made hot chocolate from scratch with Kahlua. I photographed trees in snow, and posted photos on Facebook. Things my daughter loved. And then I spent the evening lost in Photoshop, wandering in endless layers with her, “How about a new dress, Marika? A snow dress this time. Okay?”

 

Grief is grief. How do you make it beautiful?

 

 

 

 

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A Book for Healing

A Book for Healing Elaine Mansfield's new book Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey ThroughGriefIt was a twenty-mile drive to the book launch celebration for Elaine Mansfield’s memoir, Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief. A week before, I’d bought the book for a friend who recently lost her husband. I’d started reading it and could not give it away until I finished the whole book myself.

The gathering at Damiani Wine Cellars was impressive. It was almost like stepping back into the book as all the people I’d just read about (and seen pictures of on Elaine’s blogs) now walked among the crowd, smiling with filled wineglasses. Reading the memoir, I’d witnessed how family and friends make a difference in dying a good death and living a good life. I’d come to love the sons who participated in rituals in the woods and the friends who brought soup and read poems. But there was one person in particular I was looking for.

I recognized Elaine’s mother-in-law from the photos I’d seen of her son who died. They had the same eyes and face-shape. She was sitting alone at a table so I took my plate of hors d’oeuvres and joined her. Introducing myself, I explained how I bumped into Elaine six years ago in the tiny kitchen of the oncology unit at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. My daughter and I were first entering the wilds of cancer as the Mansfields were exiting.
“Did your daughter die?” she asked right off, leaning towards me. Ninety-eight years old, she didn’t waste time getting to what was on her mind.

We talked about our children. We talked about life in general, the unfairness and the heartbreak. My twenty-year-old daughter was with me the last third of my life before she died; this woman’s son had lived for two thirds of her life. We both knew you can’t measure or score grief.
“I’m going to be okay. Will you be okay?” I wanted to ask but didn’t. Then suddenly she was gleaming proudly.

“I want you to meet my grandsons,” she said as she introduced me to David and Anthony and the granddaughter-in-law from the book. “And this is our new fiancée,” she said, hugging another young woman’s arm. Illuminated before me were the messages I took from the book: life ends but love lasts long after,  embrace the grief. And new life follows loss.

 

 

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