Tag Archives: saying goodbye

Talking About Death

Talking About Death Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a drawing found in her daughter Marika Warden's room. She pictures death with the face of her daughter so it isn't so scary and unapproachable.During our almost-three-year journey through the Wilds of Cancer, my daughter Marika and I never spoke about death or dying. To do so would have been to abandon all hope of ever being free of cancer. It’s like we made some sort of pact to pretend that everything would turn out all right. Our discussions focused only on coordinating the here-and-now. This way, we could stride always forward from setbacks and disappointing news.

So towards the end, as the palliative care team took over, hinting about unplugging the life support system, I made them whisper and would not mention aloud that Marika was not going to live. At that point, I was too crushed by the thought of losing her. I couldn’t utter the D-words. Death. Dying. Dead. They pulsed in my head as I tried to convince myself of the terrible new reality. Marika, mostly unconscious by then, only heard encouragement from me as she lay there, “You’re doing fine, keep it up.” I’m pretty sure she already knew she would not survive. Holding back the truth has haunted me ever since.

Eight years later, a good friend of mine is in the end stages of her cancer. In the strange circumstances of life, I have been granted an opportunity, a second chance, to do a better job of supporting a loved one through the process of dying. I’m still wondering why it is so difficult to talk about the tough stuff with the ones we care about. All the very difficult, very human things one needs to address at the end of a loved one’s life — like apologizing, forgiving, thanking, acknowledging love and appreciation, and saying goodbye — are easy to ignore.

Then came the day my friend announced she was stopping treatment and starting hospice care. It was time to step up beyond my comfort zone, to acknowledge her dying.

Now Death is turning into a third friend in our company. In my mind I picture Death as having the face of my daughter, so it isn’t as scary and unapproachable as it used to be. Most days she (Death) sits peacefully between me and my friend. Sometimes she hugs us close. Other times, like when I’m being less than thoughtful, she (Death) blatantly slams our heads together. I’m getting used to Death’s gaze waxing and waning with my friend’s energy.
“What will happen when you die?” I ask my friend, “I’m going to miss you. You know?”

 

How can we make death and dying easier to talk about with our loved ones?

 

 

When It’s Time to Die

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops how she wants to die peacefully, in a garden

Not too long ago, at some unnoticed and now unidentifiable moment, I reached the point beyond which it could be remarked that, “She died before her time.” It got me thinking.

When it’s “my time” I want to be carried outside and laid in the sun, in a bed of day lilies and soft grasses. Wrap me in a blanket of hasta leaves. Amid birdsong and the sweet scents of lilac and honeysuckle, I want to be surrounded by friends sipping wine. We will all say our goodbyes, but I will stubbornly cling to life; there will be no dying peacefully in the garden for me.

The first time I met my friend’s father he proudly showed me his garden. He was already old then, and the vegetables and vines were growing greater than he could handle. He gardened and lived ambitiously. And eight years later, when it was his time to die, this old man kept going on and on, six days without food or water, relatives pouring in from all over the country, multiple moves from hospital to hospice-at-home. During the waiting, from 400 miles west, I sat picking spent buds off the plant my friend had left me. Deadheading, she’d called it. Trying to imagine the flowers and grasses endlessly going on, growing without me, I considered this dying, this idea that someday, now sooner rather than later, I will be dead.

I, like the old man, will take my time leaving. I’ll make pretty plans for my death, create a perfect day to die, and then grab every last moment I can to continue living. Even if I’m stuck in a dreary hospital bed tucked away from the beautiful bustling world.

My friend, sitting vigil, took photos of her father, half in this world and half out, photos of his hands holding her hand. When she finally crept back into town, exhausted, we sat over whiskeys, hardly whispering just a few words. She handed me her iPhone to see the multiple pictures of their entwined hands. They both had gardeners’ hands. Sturdy calloused hands that displayed lifetimes of pulling at thorny weeds and tamping down moist soil around fragile seedlings.

Daily now, I remind myself: We are born. We live. We die. And in that middle part, as I go about the living, all the brutal and beautiful living, I want to consciously consume every second.

How do you want to die? What is dearest to you in your life?

The End of an Era

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a restoration of a photo of her young children, now the end of an era.My mother’s house in Massachusetts had sold, and I was desperately searching the shelves to take away something to remember all the sweet times over the twenty years in that place. Tears welled as I took a final glance around, said goodbye, and went out the door for the last time.
“It’s the end of an era,” friends kept telling me, when I arrived home sad and dazed. I thought about that. I tried to envision all my personal eras: childhood on New York’s Long Island, college and graduate school upstate, two decades in business designing my world as Silk Oak, and the years spent raising my babies into adulthood. But the “end of an era” meant far more than simply the loss of this time and place. Something bigger was ending.

For as long as I can remember, there were adults in my life I looked up to, ones higher up than my parents. There were important people who took care of us and I trusted them. Kind Doctor Strauss, the firemen who stopped our boiler from exploding, the tall policeman who occasionally visited PS94 to talk to us about safety, my teachers, … my President. The ones who had my best interests in mind. I felt safe and secure because I was in what my father called “the best country in the world” and we had really strong leaders. Later, I got to vote for some of my leaders. How amazing when the ones I voted for were elected; how much faith I had when the other team won, that we would still be lead judiciously even though under another brand of wisdom. Those days when I casually wondered what a World War must have felt like, or when I didn’t have to consider that I might possibly be a next target of racism or discrimination – that was an era.

Losing my mother’s place where I loved spending long weekends is sad. Losing the ceramic bird and beautiful white blankets my mom said I had to leave behind for the new owners is mildly heartbreaking. But losing my security and the trust that my leaders are looking out for me – this is indeed the end of life, as I’ve known it.

 

What does “the end of an era” mean to you in your life? What helps you deal with disappointments and worries in the world today?

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I Killed My Cat

I Killed My Cat | Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, photoshops a portrait of the cat she had euthanized.Going to bed is not possible. Because before I go to bed I brush the cat and give him the last half of his chow so he won’t stomp on me, hungry in the middle of the night. But there is no cat tonight. I have killed him.

He’d just finished his dinner and was making the yowling sound that usually means he’s about to throw up. I chased him yelling “No Not On The Carpet” all over the house until the dog and I cornered him. He was panting and a front paw looked broken. He tried to get away limping on the buckled paw. That’s when I realized he was in pain.

A bright almost-full moon glared at me as I lugged the cat carrier to the car. The cat and I drove from one emergency animal hospital to another but Cornell University’s Companion Animal Emergency and Critical Care Service confirmed what the first vet told us.
“We can stabilize him $800 to $1000 overnight $129 to have him seen by the vet, call the cardiologist in the morning maybe $1600 heart failure leaking blood clots $340 sonograms and testing, hypothermia, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – we cannot promise a good prognosis …” I’d already spent $100 at the first hospital.
“Please. I don’t want him to be in pain.”
“It’s up to you,” said the vet.
“Look, I’m the one who signed the papers to remove my daughter’s life support. So I can face letting go of her cat if it’s the time for that,” I told the doctor of veterinary medicine who looked no older than my daughter who died.

Almost ten years ago, at an SPCA extension in PetSmart, Marika held up a lethargic kitten that had multiple thumbs and a Roman nose.
“Look mom. This one has two hearts on his side.” With some effort, the kitten raised its head and licked her hand gratefully. “You’re lucky,” she said. He was lucky. The vet found eye and ear infections, an upper respiratory infection, and a heart murmur. We took him home. Marika named him Skittles and he grew to be a big, sweet, healthy member of our tiny family. Now Skittles’ luck was running out. His heart murmur had caught up with him.

This is crap, I said to myself. I am not God. Why am I always the one signing papers and calling the end to life?

Skittles was wailing when the vet carried him back to me, swaddled in stiff pink waterproof pads. I wrapped my arms around the pitiful bundle.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered into the fur on the top of his head. “Thank you for being a really great cat.” What could I say to this friend I just sentenced to death? “I love you, Skittles.” I rubbed his chin. He licked my hand gratefully as the vet injected him.

The almost-full moon glowered at me when I arrived home and walked my daughter’s dog in the driveway. It kaleidoscoped through my tears as I began my nightly chant:
“Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Marika. Goodnight Morocca, Fraidy, and Sushi … Goodnight Skittles.”

Has anyone ever had to do this? What do you do to feel better? It feels like I’ve been dumped into an old plastic bag where something’s decaying. Everything looks blurred and gray outside the bag while inside it stinks and I’m running out of air.