Tag Archives: my daughter died

Life Saving Dog

Marika Warden of Ithaca, New York, with Suki the Havanese life-saving dog, photographed by Ray Possen“Robin, Marika needs a dog. Her life depends on getting this puppy,” my sister said, speaking of my daughter in the same tone as the doctors who insisted Marika’s life depended on getting a bone marrow transplant. So in the fall of 2009, in the middle of our struggles with cancer, we got a jolly new Havanese puppy. She became the lifesaver we all needed. We couldn’t help but laugh as Suki climbed to the tops of couches, to the shoulders of anyone sitting on the couches, and atop Marika’s bed where she slept happily among the stuffed animals or under Marika’s chin.

In the end, Suki could not save the life of my daughter. But after, nudging me up from bed and out of the house each day, and snuggling with me at night, Suki saved mine.

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops loving hands all around Suki, her inherited Havanese dog.I would go so far as to recommend that anyone who has lost a loved one should get a dog. I would say Suki is my best friend. I would do anything for my beloved, inherited, life-saving dog. So why did I tell people all week, as we waited for the dog oncologist appointment, I would not let Suki get chemo or radiation?
“If she has cancer, I won’t put her through all that pain and discomfort,” I told them. But I told myself I couldn’t afford it. In fact, as soon as I learned there was a chance of cancer, I had set a limit on what I would invest on my precious friend. Knowing people who’d spent thousands of dollars on their dogs with cancer, I didn’t know of a single cancer-surviving dog. I wasn’t going to take a chance on losing my dog and my money.

The oncologist appointment was followed by long hours of waiting and not being able to focus on work. Finally the doctor called with the results of the fine-needle aspiration biopsy. On the floor with Suki in my lap, I hugged the phone. I hugged Suki, closed my eyes, and buried my face into the soft fur on her head. Hanging up, I cried. Then I stood, lifting Suki, and danced with her in my arms. No cancer.

Happy Birthday to my joyful Suki who turned six on Saturday.

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Love Your Sister

Love Your Sister, Robin Botie, photoshopper in Ithaca, New York, photographs her sisters' reflections.“I’m your sister too.” Those were the last words my sister Wendy said to me. Months ago.

Then, this past Saturday evening, driving back from the Memoir Workshop given by Margaret and Marion Roach Smith, I thought of my own sister. Not the one who’s The Doctor in Massachusetts, who I always write about and photograph. No. The other one. Wendy, The Beautiful sister who lives in Florida. The one I, The Artist sister, got mad at and stopped talking to.

At Saturday’s workshop, I had sat between the two Roach sisters for hours with my head turning right and left like at a tennis match. Each sister easily bounced off and supported what the other said and together they fed the participants great information as well as a hearty lunch. How did they do that? I asked myself afterwards. And then I remembered Wendy.

We only see each other once or twice a year during family reunions. So I was mad she cancelled out for this year. She’s the sister who, when we get together, gets up early to walk with me before breakfast. And whenever we go shopping, whatever she tries on looks so good on her that I buy it for myself.

She reads my blogs, follows me on Facebook, and has always “been there” for me. She dropped everything and flew to New York when my daughter died. But I have not “been there” for her.

Ten years younger, she is the baby but I’m the one who was never big enough to forgive her for drawing on my books with a red crayon when she was five years old. Maybe I still haven’t forgiven her for all the attention she got when she was born.

The thing is sisters should stick together. The stories I hear of families going for years without talking terrify me. I don’t want to be like that. Life is too short.
So I’m sorry, Wendy. I will try to be a better sister. This one’s for you.

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What to Say When Someone Dies

What to Say When Someone Dies - Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, hovers over computer screen showing her daughter, Marika Warden, who died of leukemia at the age of 20.The email said, “I lost my daughter Emily two years ago when she was 22.”
It came from a stranger, through Twitter. The public nature of social media sites makes responding with condolences so awkward. For a long while I sat with fingers poised over the keyboard, watching the blank space where my message would be printed.

“My husband died” and “My dog Bones was my best friend” and “My brother passed last week” are messages I get that make me want to dive into my computer, zoom through cyberspace to grab hold of these fellow grievers, and hug. If I could be there I would sit next to them in silence, ready to listen or to simply share the sad space around us.

After “I’m sorry,” I don’t have a stock set of lines for communicating to others who grieve. So much depends on the circumstances and on my relationship to the heartbroken person. But any response is better than no response. And even replying to a stranger, there are basic things to consider: like how to acknowledge the pain and let this person know I care. It has to be honest and heartfelt. It’s all about being supportive. It’s about the one who is left, not the one who died. And it’s not about my own experience, no matter how similar that may be.

It only takes a line or two: I am sorry. I am thinking of you. I will keep Emily in my thoughts today. I am here for you if you need me. I am wishing you peace. These are some of the things I might say or write. If I have a connection or memory to the one this person loves I will share it. And I will use the name of the loved one who died. When my own daughter died, hearing others’ stories about her and the sound of her name gave me comfort.

And maybe there’s a gentle way to let the person who is grieving know I’m available to listen. This is tricky through Twitter although Compassionate Friends does it all the time on Facebook. Reading the email I wondered, how did her daughter die? I wanted to ask but knew it was not appropriate.
But I decided I could ask, “How did Emily live?”

How did the one you are missing live?
Please visit my Garden of Loved Lives on HOME page. It’s starting to grow.

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Where’s the Joy in Life?

Where's the Joy in Life? Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, gets kissed by Suki the life-saving dog Botie inherited from her daughter who died of leukemia,Marika Warden.“Where’s your toy, Suki?” I ask every night as my dog and I make our bedtime tour of the house to collect Green Ball, her favorite toy. The dog I inherited from my daughter who died is my lifesaver now. When I think I’m drowning, Suki shows me the playground our world is. Our nightly routine is to find her toy and settle into bed, and then she rolls over so I can give her a belly-rub as I recount the best parts of the day. Before turning out the light, I tell her what we can look forward to when we wake.

The first ten days of August had been full. I performed my book reading, went to a hikers’ picnic and the theater, ate several dinners out, and spent a weekend away at Lake George. Suki and I hiked with friends almost every day. Each morning we saw a great blue heron take off from the pond. At night we watched the moon reflected in the pond as frogs sang. I tried to videotape the full moon and the frog-song but Suki whined wanting my attention and I laughed too hard to hold the camera.

Then came August 11th. There was little planned for that week other than medical tests. On the calendar was written: CT scan, mammogram, eat only clear liquids, call lab for test results. It rained, the driveway flooded. The credit card bill came due. I learned that since I had lyme disease I could no longer donate blood. The great blue heron disappeared along with the resident duck. Rodents noisily clawed their way through the house’s rafters. Robin Williams died. Lauren Bacall died. The days were spent waiting for doctors’ calls, not daring to make plans that would need to be cancelled. Another diagnosis, a rare disorder, my doctors couldn’t answer my questions, it wasn’t cancer but I couldn’t be grateful.

For seven nights I sank into bed scared.

“Where’s the joy, Suki?” I asked last night, sobbing to my sweet inherited dog as we settled into bed. Suki looked straight at me, picked up the Green Ball, and merrily squeaked it in my face.

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Mothers Healing Together

Yoga on the dock of Wiawaka Holiday House on Lake George led by Kathleen Fisk. Attended by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, and other bereaved mothers from all over New York.In my dream I am in a van with several other people riding through the Ithaca Commons. Outside on the left, we pass my daughter, Marika, who is smiling brilliantly, blindly, walking with a friend guiding her.
“Hi Marika,” everyone in the van calls out to my daughter who died over three years ago. I’m happy she hears their greetings. I call out to her myself, “Marika, we love you.” Through the back window of the van I see her turn and hold her arms out. Her smile fades and she cries.

The alarm clock woke me then. It was time to get up and go off to the weekend retreat for bereaved mothers, Mothers Healing Together.

Hours later, at Wiawaka Holiday House in Lake George, there were women in all stages of grief. They were healing the holes in their lives as they held close the memories of their beloved children. They looked for ways to honor them and link them to the future. I talked with them like they were sisters. We shared our stories and cried together. We laughed together. We bathed in the vibrations of gongs and walked the winding path of the garden labyrinth following one another’s footsteps.

My own memories stirred from sounds echoed over the lake. I remembered  cookouts, camps, attending soccer games, … being so proud of my daughter at school musicals. For the first time in over three years I found myself at a time and place where I was Marika’s Mom again.

I cried when I came home. And I marked my calendar for next year’s retreat.

As for my dream: I tell myself Marika walks happily, peacefully, among new friends as I do. It cheers me to imagine her jamming with the other talented children of the mothers I spent time with who, like me, sing their daughter’s songs and live their children’s dreams.Retreat for bereaved mothers at Wiawaka Holiday House at Lake George, New York with gong bathing, gardens, and sculptures by Pam Golden.

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