Tag Archives: Healing From Loss

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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Tips for a Summer Cold

Sick with a cold, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, cuddles up with handknit afghan and dog.How did I get a cold in July, I wonder? A full-blown sneeze-blasting, rainy-nosed, head-filled-with-concrete cold. On the most perfect day of the year, filled with invitations to barbeques and boat-rides, I was walloped.
“Do you think you’re contagious?” friends asked. Sadly, I cancelled all my plans.

When my daughter was sick, I loved taking care of her. I’d bring her meals on trays, read to her, and fly down the hill to Wegmans to pick up whatever I could to coddle her.
“Puffs tissues, mom,” she’d insist, “peach tea, and NyQuil gel-caps, not the yucky syrup.”

After my daughter died I had to transfer my caregiver skills to myself. It was not easy. “Take care of yourself,” I’d always told someone else. But it was my turn to need care. Last week, “be kind to myself” became my mantra as I settled in for a long overdue head cold.

My three tips for pampering yourself through a cold:

  • Share. Tell your friends you’re sick. Post it on Facebook. Call your mother. Sympathy feels great.
  • Go outside. Walk the dog or get a weather report the old-fashioned way. Fresh air feels good.
  • Allow yourself to be a slug. If it’s too hard to hold a book or watch a DVD in midday then take a nap.

The first day of my summer cold, I used my last bit of energy to fetch Puffs, Nyquil, two DVDs, and the fixings for chicken soup from Wegmans. Wearing hand-knit socks given to me by a friend, I cuddled up with my dog in the afghan my mother knit for me. For two days I surrendered to being sick.
On the third day a friend called. Then the friend, her daughter, my dog and I went hiking in the rain.

 

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Healing from Loss: Losing Myself

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, looking at the photo of herself in the hospital.I don’t curse. Probably because of all the hours I spent as a kid in the back of my mother’s car, stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, with my mother ranting at the wheel. There were f—ing idiots driving alongside us, damn a–holes in front of us, and  stinkin’ s—heads in the front. The swearing fascinated me. I couldn’t master her competence or style. So I never tried.

This past week, on the day of my colonoscopy, my friend drove me to and from the hospital and stayed for the brief review after the procedure.
“Do you remember what the doctor said?” she asked the next day when the whole event was a vague memory. I couldn’t even remember what the doctor looked like. “He couldn’t finish the last part of the procedure because you were in pain and were cursing,” she said.
“Me? I don’t curse,” I told her.
“You were cursing. Yes you were,” she insisted.

I was crushed. How rude, I thought. How crude. This couldn’t be true. The worst four-letter words I ever dared to use were “darn” and an occasional “what-the hell?” I got queasy just typing those. The self-image I’d always nursed of a bland, demure, tight-lipped girl-woman was suddenly gone. My self-identity was a fraud. Here I was trying to recover from the loss of my daughter and I somehow had lost myself.
Who am I? Whose words did I use, I wonder? My son’s? I’d heard a sorry earful the time he broke his leg in high school and the doctor set the bone without using anesthesia. Or did I use the long forgotten language of my mother stuck in traffic on the LIE?

Flummoxed, I then had to wonder: what else did I not know about myself?

“Right after the procedure you wanted me to take your photograph,” my friend said. I winced at the photos of me sitting up, wrapped in the hospital gown and blankets, silly and shameless.

No. I definitely don’t know her.

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Photoshop Therapy

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, photoshops a friend flying in clouds over trees..“Can you make a picture of me flying in the clouds?” my friend had asked, looking up from her wheelchair. That was 3 weeks ago. After cancelling and rescheduling several times, we were finally together in her apartment squeezed between the wheelchair, a big armchair and a card-table.
There were questions to consider: Would she fly horizontally or vertically? Did she want wings? What should she wear?
In my collection of cloud photos there were wispy cirrus clouds in a blue sky over trees. There were bright sunlit mackerel skies. But she wanted thunderclouds, lightning, maybe a tornado. “For my dark side,” she said.

It was raining when we shuffled outside to shoot her in a flying pose. She stood against the brick wall just outside the door, flapping her wings.
“You don’t look very happy to be flying,” I said. “Look down at the ground like there’s something special down there.”

Back inside, I inserted the chip from the camera into its slot in the computer. We sat at the card-table and chose a shot from the 21 images of my friend twisting, turning, banking into the wind with arms outstretched. I cut-and-pasted her form from the brick background to the photo of storm clouds.
“I need to be smaller. No bigger. Can you make me higher in the sky? A little more to the right …” she orders.
“You’re too pale,” I say. “I’m adding blush to your cheeks.”
“What about the dark circle under my left eye?”
“I can fix that.”
“Something’s missing: what am I pointing at?” she asks. “Should we put a rat in the picture?”
“I don’t have any photos of rats. What if we add another shot of you?”

“Let’s name this one ‘Ascension,’” she says, two hours and four pictures later. “Besides making me prints, what are you going to do with all these?”
“Well….”

A friend flies over stormclouds in Ithaca, New York.

Glennon Doyle Melton's book, CARRY ON WARRIOR has just been released in paperback.

I’m still fixing. I’m still a part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released last week in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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The Middle Ground of Grief

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshopped faces of missing passengers from malaysian Airlines Flight 370 onto a Malaysian batik design.After I finished my son’s chocolates I started on the microwave popcorn in the pantry. When all six bags of the popcorn were gone I found cookies in the freezer. Riveted in front of the television, I ate recklessly. For the whole week.

“How can you lose an airplane?” I asked the TV screen that glowed maps of islands and oceans with red arrows.

On the third day of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, CNN News aired a gathering of the passengers’ family members. That’s when it hit me: 239 people were lost. Not just a plane. In the crowd, a man cried out for his son. Even in Chinese, I knew the anguish. It transported me back to the days just before my daughter’s death, when I waited and wished for a miracle.

“Middle ground,” my sister had explained in those first days of March 2011, “is a place somewhere in between knowing that you’re winning the war and when you get those first inklings that you’re gonna lose. It doesn’t mean anyone’s giving up. But it’s a first step toward that end, an end that no one is ready to acknowledge.” The miracle didn’t come. I hovered over the hospital bed to memorize my daughter’s face.

By the sixth day, I was tuning into the TV first thing upon waking and every other hour until bedtime. Between Lost and Found is the sweet time when people hold onto threads of hope that stretch thinner with each passing minute. The eighth day I prayed it was a terrorist hijacking. Maybe the passengers were hostages somewhere in Kazakhstan?

Lost is not knowing one’s whereabouts, unable to find one’s way. Lost means something has vanished. One can be lost forever. But there is a certain finality to being found. Once found, what you thought you lost turns into a welcome event. Or it is truly lost, cannot be recovered. And hope is yanked away completely.

It is Monday, the eleventh day. I mindlessly eat a bowl of leftover tiramisu in front of the TV as the mystery of Flight 370 continues. I crave sweetness and still wait, along with the family members of the lost passengers, wishing for a miracle.

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The End of the Anonymous Care Package

Robin Botie's friend's daughter packs her stuff into a plastic shipping envelope in Ithaca, New York.We’re not at our sharpest in the throes of grief. Even 3 years into healing from the loss of my daughter, I have to be wary of my emotional responses to situations. Like recently when an anonymous package was mailed to me containing a 2-piece bathing suit, an expensive cellphone, 2 hundred-dollar bills, a postcard addressed “Lover” and assorted items related to staying healthy (see previous post). 2 days after I published the article about receiving this “care package,”

* after inspecting and inventorying the contents with the State Police
* after visits to Verizon to recycle or switch over to the new phone
* after spending $20 at the Computer Room to try to reset the phone
* after posting thank yous to my unknown benefactor on Facebook and Twitter
* after giving away half the money and using half the remainder to make a care package for a friend who just lost her husband
* after several sleepless nights wondering if some crazed guy from West Virginia who’d found my address was going to show up at my house
* and after 10 days on a wild ride trying to figure out who sent the package and why, and how I should be feeling about this gift –

I got an email from my friend’s daughter:

Robin, it’s my package!! It’s all my stuff!!!
I’m so sorry! It is extra things that I didn’t want to continue carrying and Mom suggested I mail it to you so we could pick it up … I thought she would have told you. I’m so sorry I didn’t include a letter – it was a last minute scramble to pack and get to the airport.
I feel so silly and sad. I hope this doesn’t disappoint you, but clarifies a huge mystery. I couldn’t believe as I read your blog post…. Wow.

Suddenly my emotions were exploding in every direction once more:

* This meant I did not get a Valentine’s Day care package after all.
* There was no more kind but kinky secret admirer.
* The prayer for happiness was not for me.
* Good thing I didn’t trade in the cellphone or throw out the sim card.
* I have to replace the money I spent.
* How will I tell my readers? It’s so embarrassing.
* Why the heck didn’t she put her name somewhere in the damn package so I could have been spared all this?

But mostly I’m laughing because this was something my own daughter would have done. And the whole thing was pretty silly.

 

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