Tag Archives: healing

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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Standing Out in the Rain

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops rainy day walkathon of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.Months ago, when we were still in the middle of a drought, I had Staples print up two large vinyl banners, photos of my daughter, to be strung together and worn sandwich-board style for the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes’ Annual Walkathon. It seemed like a good idea back then. That was before I’d had time to consider how conspicuous I would be, sandwiched in bright colors, shoulders to knees. It never occurred to me that the dry spell could finally end in a three-day downpour concurrent with the October Walkathon. The banners’ colors would hold up in rain. But could I?

I didn’t stand out as much as the guy in the Tony-the-Tiger costume. I stood with him until the rain picked up and people ducked into the tents. Then I stood alone in the rain, waiting for my friend to show up. People passing by nodded with sympathetic smiles.
“Can I take your photograph?” I was asked several times.
“Yes, please. Take pictures. I’d like that,” I said, smiling into the cameras. Whoa! Was that really me? I hate being photographed. And I hate being conspicuous. It’s bad enough feeling folks’ eyes taking in “the woman who lost her daughter.” Before my loss, I’d tried hard not to stare at the one woman I knew whose child had died, as I wondered what kept her from disintegrating into millions of miserable molecules. Now I was that woman. And I was standing in the rain. Standing out. Alone. In costume.

High school girls’ teams came by. They wore tight wet jeans, soaked sneakers without socks, drenched jackets. My daughter would have fit right in. “That’s what you’re wearing in this torrential downpour?” I’d often said to her. She liked rain. She played soccer in the rain, wrote a song about rain. She even looked good wet. Whereas I was told once, coming in from the damp, I looked like a drowned rat. She’d be mortified to be seen with me now in my knee-high heavy-gauge rubber boots and clear plastic hooded raincoat.

“Oh. Marika!” her former teachers and an old friend pointed at me sandwiched in the photos. It felt good to hear my daughter’s name and have her remembered. And I realized that I wasn’t a drowned rat. I wasn’t simply a bereaved mother. Just then I was Marika. I was wearing her smiling face from shoulders to knees. And she loved being photographed. She wanted to be seen. So I shamelessly approached a small group, a young man in a tutu, and asked if they would take my picture with Tony-the-Tiger.

When my friend finally arrived and offered me space under her rainbow umbrella, I said, “No thanks. I’m completely waterproof.”

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, posing with friendly folks at the 2016 Annual Walkathon for the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.

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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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