Tag Archives: life is a gift

Not Cancer

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, holds newborn Marika Warden like she is holding the moon.I am guarding life. I’ve seen it decay and be devoured by cancer. Twice I watched it disappear. So I guard it like it could melt away in a moment.

Once upon a time, to guard life was to sing to my growing belly for months and then hold the warm wriggling creature I birthed like I was holding the moon. Guarding life, I rose each morning earlier than I wanted to feed and carry and keep my beautiful helpless one from ruin. I caught the sun for her, made every day the best day, and collapsed into bed at night to sleep with one ear always awake.

Later, when cancer hit home, to guard life was to wait at her bedside and rub my daughter’s feet. It was to find favorite foods or a puppy, anything to bring sunshine back. In the end, I looked into her unconscious eyes as the nurses peered in with flashlights. They asked the family to leave but I stayed. I watched her take her last breath and felt my heart seize when her pulse stopped. Still I stood guard. I sat there until it sank in that the life was gone out of her.

Then lifeguarding became gathering up the prom dresses, the photos and journals, the bottles of bath gels and body lotions, the twenty pairs of boots, sneakers and sandals. It became learning about the parts of my daughter’s life I hadn’t known about. I looked for ways to keep her close and wondered what would get me to rise all the next mornings of my life.

After Marika died, I had to become my own lifeguard. I kicked myself up and out of bed. First I lived for her. Then I tried to live more like she did: like life was to be loved. Like my own life was worth something.

I guess I didn’t do a great job. My next three years were riddled with accidents, illness, sleepless nights, falls, and broken bones. And now there were worrisome symptoms.

The test results came back one by one. Each phone call from the doctor resulted in new pills, things to avoid, more to take care of, and mostly, gratitude. Iron deficiency. A dangerously low vitamin-D count. Giardea. Lymes disease. Each diagnosis was a blow.

But it wasn’t cancer.

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Carrying Grief and Talking About Loss

A Banyan tree in Florida with roots wrapped around its trunk photographed by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York. “ … I will remember you forever. In this way, because I got to live, you will too,” my daughter, Marika, wrote to her friend who died. She was going to carry Jake with her forever.

My aunt sits like a small island on her couch and listens as my mother tells her, “He’ll always be with you.” My aunt shakes her head No, considering the husband who was with her for over sixty years, the empty seat next to her in temple now, the lonely apartment.

I watch her, wondering if I dare mention that she brings my uncle back to life for me when she tells us about their time together. After my daughter died I needed to talk about her. Having people listen was better than hearing them tell me Marika was watching over me. Can I tell my aunt my daughter is stamped all over my heart and that as long as I live, a small part of her will be kept alive too? Can I say that I will carry and keep Marika with me until the day I myself am carried out of this world?

“You still have you,” is my standard line for someone who tells me she has lost someone or something. But it takes a while to recognize this as something of value. Over time it has become my mantra, “I still have me.” What I really want to tell my grieving aunt is, “Live.” Live because life is a gift. A time-limited offer, it will not last forever. Non-transferable, it cannot be given away to one of the many who fight for each breath and each hour. Live and discover how you’ve grown in his love.

I say little during our visit. Instead, I listen to my aunt’s stories.

And outside her living room, the trees in Florida hug themselves with outstretched roots that wrap around their trunks and cling. Each tree is a small community that holds itself up in a celebration of life.

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