Author Archives: Robin Botie

Triggering Grief, Triggering Joy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a scene from a morning hike off a country road that triggered happiness rather than grief.Smelling ripe peaches or hearing certain Christmas carols can trigger emotional meltdowns that leave you sobbing your eyes bloodshot. But what I didn’t realize before is that triggers like these can also bring memories that warm and comfort you. Sometimes, the thing that plays with your passions smacks you plainly in the gut. Other times, you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at how the mind can mash your feelings.

Like last Saturday, when a mysterious euphoria set in after a morning hike through lush woods. What on earth could infuse my brain with shear bliss? Was it the wildflowers? The sun? We had new haircuts, the dog and I, and we climbed down a small hill at the end of the trail, and found a shady spot on the quiet country road. There was a pond nearby. Swallows soared overhead. And a cool breeze stroked my bare shoulders. Maybe it was the perfect temperature of the air. Or perhaps it was the sound of my dog lapping water from the cup I held, her whiskers brushing my hand as she gratefully gulped. Could it have simply been my anticipating Chinese leftovers for lunch? I don’t know what it was, but something felt right and vaguely familiar.

Catching up to the friend I’d hiked with, in giddy bewilderment I announced,” I think I feel – happy.”

 

What triggers your happiness? What triggers your grief?

 

 

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Lost Children

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene in the country of two unhappy children running away.Where in the media are all the scenes and stories of separated immigrant families reuniting? Where are the videos of children running joyfully into the arms of their parents? On TV and Facebook, I need to see tears of joy, arms reaching and clutching, border-crossing mothers ecstatically hugging sons and daughters.

We need more time, the government says. More time. As a bereaved mother, I know that more time without one’s child is tormenting. Time is not a friend when it accumulates mercilessly between the last time you held your loved one and the present, looming dimly into the future. I know how it is to yearn to be with your beloved child. I’ve lived with longing, spent days aimlessly wandering in despair, and cried myself to sleep too many nights over the loss of my child.

A child is lost if you don’t know where they are, or whether or not they’re safe. If you cannot be with your children to hold and comfort them, they are lost to you. If DNA tests are needed for your reunification, a child is surely lost.

The aching for a child who has been taken away is different but not unlike that of bereaved parents. For people who have had a child die, their worst nightmare has already taken place. They are not in the middle of agonized waiting, wondering if and when they might be reunited in their lifetime. Hope is different. And bereaved parents don’t have to consider the aftermath, the psychological effects of separation on children who died. But these immigrant parents, whose children were torn from them as they tried to secure better lives, are now facing a slew of their worst worries. Will their family survive? Intact? How and where? On top of an undocumented family’s uncertain future, there is added anguish in fears their child may be scared, hurt, confused and lonely. And knowing one’s child is also suffering the pains of separation, only adds to the grief.

There can be no beginning of relief or peace for these families until these children are returned. This has to be one of the cruelest forms of torture. I cannot relax until they are all reunited. And the media is gushing with videos of joyous reunions.

 

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Wedding-Guest Dress for a Bereaved Mother

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter who died onto a floral design and then gets the photo printed onto fabric so whe can sew it up into a dress.Even though dead for seven years, there was no way my daughter would miss her friend’s wedding. So when my invitation arrived, I knew immediately that I would wear something of Marika’s to the event. I searched through closets and drawers for her black sequined shrug. It would be the perfect thing over my cocktail dress. Only, I couldn’t find the shrug. Anywhere. For two days I pulled apart the whole house, but it didn’t turn up. The only other clothes I still had of Marika’s were her soccer sweatshirts, winter scarves, and a tank-top. Totally inappropriate for a wedding.

I came up with the idea of photo-shopping an image of Marika as a young girl onto a flowery background, and then getting the picture printed on cloth so I could sew it up into a new dress. A Marika Dress. For days I sketched pictures, made a paper pattern, shopped for trimmings, and researched companies that would print photos on fabric. I immersed myself into the project with an energy and enthusiasm that had been absent in my life the past seven years.

“That’s totally inappropriate for a wedding,” a friend of mine said, when I told her my plans. Suddenly, I felt myself sinking into a dark abyss of grief and shame. I was wrong, weird. Out of place. I’d always been a little different, “You’re an artist so it’s okay that you’re kind of kooky,” someone told me long ago. Having my daughter die made me even more unlike most people. More self-conscious about who I was and how I fit in. Less likely to attend parties. I never wanted to call attention to myself or offend anyone. What I wear doesn’t really matter; just being a bereaved mother at an event like a wedding feels like standing naked in a crowd. Now, I was being inappropriate. And about to make people uncomfortable.

But working on the project had given me so much joy, I decided to make the dress anyway. I could wear it to The Compassionate FriendsRobin Botie of Ithaca, New York, has a photo printed on fabric and sews it into a dress. monthly meetings for bereaved parents, where they would understand my wanting to “take” my daughter to the wedding. For the ceremony I would put on the cocktail dress with Marika’s tank-top underneath.

Finishing the project, I scoured the house to find a satin sash to top it off. And during the search for the sash, I found Marika’s sequined shrug. It would be perfect over either dress. So now I have to decide. Or maybe I’ll leave that up to the bride and her mother.

 

Do you think the new Marika Dress would be inappropriate to wear to the wedding?

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Totally Immersed in Another Project

“When my son died, I couldn’t work so I stayed home and built this wall,” a fellow bereaved mother said. In awe, I looked up and down two lengths of neatly stacked rocks, some boulder-size. That’s when I knew I could actually do my own project that I’d started and struggled with earlier that day.

It began with an email that sent my heart soaring, crying with joy and gratitude. Friends of my deceased daughter were getting together for a bachelorette party, and one asked if I could “make a little video … to include Marika in the weekend.”

I knew nothing about videos, how to make them or send them, but knew I wanted to do this. Wanted, as in: would stop everything in my life including the dozen other projects I was engaged in, to do whatever I could “to include Marika.” Nothing means more to a bereaved mother than having her child remembered. So immediately, I googled, How To Make A Video On IPhone.

For some people, simply getting up and out each morning is a major project. For some it’s a way to keep their focus on or away from their sorrow. Some live from project to project, defining themselves by what they are involved in. Projects can open up new, life-changing possibilities. Growth. They can keep the brain working, and sharp. They can drive you and everyone around you crazy.

The video, I kept reminding myself, was not to be about me. It was not even about Marika although her presence had been requested. In the middle of panicking about what to record, I discovered that the video could be only 30 seconds long or it would be undeliverable.

You are laughing at me because everyone knows how to do this; any kid makes and sends videos several times a day. For me, it took a village. And lots of grunting. And whining. With lots of help, after many online tutorials and several sessions with friends over the course of two whole days totally engrossed in my mission, I came up with this. This is what I did this week instead of writing and photo-shopping my regular blog. It’s really rough. But I’m still beaming. And ready to begin another new project.

 

What is your pet project these days? What was the project that almost did you in?

 

 

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We Need to Take Care of Each Other

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a dead butterfly into a perfect setting, in considering the life of beloved chef and author Anthony Bourdain of CNN's show Parts Unknown.Leaving the house one morning last week, I noticed a bright Monarch butterfly flying around the spirea bush outside my front door. I stood a moment watching it flutter over the tiny nectar-rich blooms, the most perfect setting a butterfly could want. Then I left in a hurry. Later that day, I noticed the butterfly was still there. It was flapping its wings only occasionally and seemed to be settling in for the night. Strange how it was still there, I thought. Maybe it was laying eggs, or maybe it was a sign from my daughter who died. I went about my long list of things to do before bed and forgot about it. The next day I found the butterfly. Still there. Only now it was lifeless.

When I tried to gently remove the poor thing from its perch, I found one of its antennae was wound around a small branch. The butterfly had gotten itself stuck. And now it was dead. All that time, I never noticed it had been struggling. If only I had reached out my hand when I first saw the butterfly, I could have shooed it away and maybe it would still be alive. If I had spent more time, I might have seen it was in trouble. I could have helped.

That was the same week Anthony Bourdain took his life. CNN, the TV station that keeps me company as I photoshop, was broadcasting information for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. In between they were playing clips from the celebrity chef/author’s popular world-travel documentary, Parts Unknown. It was hard to believe. The man who had everything. A perfect life. Now over. Where did he get stuck?

It made me realize we need to take care of each other better. We need to slow down and pay attention. Love, listen, and reach out more. Sometimes I can be oblivious to the inner workings of my fellow humans and other creatures around me. But these are the ones I share this time on earth with. We are all related. And each one’s well-being matters.

 

How do you help a friend who’s stuck in a bad place? And what can I do with this dead butterfly, too beautiful to throw away?

 

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Fathering Continued Beyond the Grave

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of her father who is still fathering from beyond the grave

Father’s Day when your father is no longer around can be a time of bewilderment. Especially when it seems your father continues fathering from beyond the grave. Although my dad has been dead for eight years, I can still hear his words. Sometimes he is encouraging. Proud of me. Other times his words are filled with doubt and directives.

My father’s ghost shows up every time I spend more than the cost of a meal in a good restaurant. He says, You don’t need this; spend your money on something worthwhile. Dad makes me feel like mopping the floor with my tongue when I’ve spent money on something that doesn’t work out, like the Roto Rooter guy who charged me the $175 minimum service fee and then left without fixing the garage drain problem.

Dad sneers, This is the way you balance your checking account? and I shrink. He tells me, Never lend money to family. Be good to your sisters. Be generous to your friends. Spoil your dog; that’s your best friend. You don’t need a husband.

When I race home from Wegmans, throw bags of groceries in the fridge, wolf down dinner, and drag the dog for a quick potty before dashing off to some event across town and, in the scurry, misplace the car keys… Dad says, This is a hell of a way to live.

When I burn dinner, he suggests, Okay, now we go out to a nice restaurant. He chuckles at me dancing with the dog to John Philip Sousa’s marching band music, and persuades me to play every army bugle call I can find online.

Dad points out the honeysuckle that needs trimming, and the tiny dings in the car’s fender that should be painted before rust sets in. And the raccoon that lives under my deck, named Oscar after the squirrel Dad used to feed on his porch – sometimes I think the ‘coon is my father reincarnated, now overseeing my weed-whacking.

From the other side, from beyond the great divide, from wherever he is or is not on Father’s Day, I can hear my father louder than usual. His words comfort me like old familiar songs even though they mostly remind me I’ve been careless or done something stupid. Most of the time he has a valid point.

What voices do you hear from your father? What does Fathers Day mean to you?

 

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