Tag Archives: loss

Parallel Lives

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a rorschach inkblot to illustrate parallel lives and shared journeys of bereaved parents.As a child, I used to imagine that a double of myself was walking around somewhere else on the planet, far away. Later, when my world expanded to college, instructors and fellow students insisted I had a twin on campus. And when I was busy birthing and raising children, I saw myself replicated in mothers everywhere. But after my daughter died, for a long time, I felt like the only one on earth to ever lose a kid. Nobody was like me.

Last week, before writing my post, I googled “grief and gratitude.” That’s been my focus for a while; somewhere around the fifth anniversary of my daughter’s death, gratitude started sopping up some of my grief. And there in Google was someone else named Robin whose life was like a Rorschach inkblot of my own life. If you folded a map of the US in half, her home on the west coast would be juxtaposed with mine in the east. On the opposite side of the country, a stranger’s life was running parallel to my own.

Four months before my daughter died, this other Robin lost a son who was the same age as my Marika. This second Robin, also an avid hiker and writer, started blogging about her grief journey seventeen months after her son’s death; I started sixteen months after my loss. She wrote, “I am not the same person I was and this loss is an integral part of who I am now.” In over 97,000 words posted since 2012, I have tried to express the same truth. West Coast Robin currently facilitates grief support groups while I organize a bereaved parents group and make bereavement calls for Hospicare.

There may be millions more of us lighting candles for loved ones, posting their photos on Facebook, watching the Afterlife TV series on Youtube, and reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Maybe tens of thousands of us are hoping to publish our own memoirs. And if there are hundreds of Robins howling to the moon, how many of us are now out there somewhere, contemplating the chances there’s a double of our child who died? A twin who’s still singing.

 

Did you ever wonder if there is someone just like you somewhere in the world? Did you ever find a soul mate? Or a look-alike?

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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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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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Changes at Home

Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs home with her inherited Havanese dog.In my home, where I sing and dance, and talk out loud to the life-size portrait of my dead daughter when I’m not talking to my inherited dog, I nervously picked crumbs off the floors. My friend Hussein was on his way over to see the guest room. I’d never rented it to a guy before. And I was afraid Hussein didn’t like dogs. So when he pulled up in his car, I scooped Suki into my arms before she could erupt into her ferocious greeting.

“Come in,” I said, squeezing Suki. She squirmed and emitted small choking sounds through the hand I’d clamped over her snout. Hussein’s eyes ricocheted off every surface of the house, and I wondered if he spotted spider webs in the corners or the mezuzah with the tiny Hebrew prayer scroll that my uncle Max had given me as a housewarming gift fifteen years ago.

“This is home,” I said, surveying the walls covered with photos of my daughter, the cracked concrete countertops, the stacks of papers, the view of the pond. Suki growled in my arms. “This is the bathroom,” I said, grateful the kitty litter from my old cat no longer monopolized the space. “Here’s the laundry room.” I remembered bottomless piles of clothes from a long gone husband and young children. “The dog chews holes in your underwear if you leave it on the floor,” I said. Hussein looked at Suki. She grunted.

“She doesn’t like men,” I stated, bouncing her. “This is the work table.” Visions of children doing homework flashed in my head. Suki writhed. “Is it okay to let her down?” Hussein assured me he had no problems with dogs. I put Suki on the floor.

“That’s the upstairs where my son lives when he’s in town. He comes and goes at weird hours. You get used to it.” I thought of the mess upstairs, except for the quiet room that was my daughter’s. “We’re not going there,” I said. “Here’s your room (if you take it). Oh, we get an occasional mouse in the house,” I added, needing to divulge all the shortcomings. In my mind, I saw the last girl who lived in the guest room. She didn’t mind mice. She would sit, reading on the bed amid perfumed pillows. Suki used to invite herself up on the bed to sit by her. Suki loved that last girl.
“Your dog loves me,” Hussein said. His head was bent at a strange angle. “What is she doing?” he asked. I looked down and saw Suki was wrapped firmly around his leg. Horrified, I stood speechless.
“She’s humping you,” I finally spit out the only words I could come up with.

A couple of weeks later Hussein called to say he would not need the room. By then, I had told myself there’d be no more prancing around in pajamas with a guy in the house. So it was a relief to know home would not have to change in that regard. I felt sorry though, for Suki.

 

What are the differences between your house and your home?

 

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