I Hate Saying Goodbye

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene of how she hates saying goodbye.It was the last photography class. It had been a difficult semester but the class was one of the things that saved me. I showed up even the day after my mother died. Whether or not I had completed the week’s assignment, the instructors and other students always made me feel welcome. But an hour before the class would be over forever, I left. I silently snuck out like I always leave: like I’d be back again next week, like nothing would have changed.

I hate saying goodbye. The painfully awkward standing around, nervous fussing, words spoken, words unuttered, and generally dragging out the inevitable separating make me want to disappear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a routine parting or a departure into death; it means things will be different from then on. I’ve already experienced too many changes, too recently. It’s scary to move onward once again, meet new people, start another class, another project, begin the next new chapter of my life. After all, how many more new chapters do I get? Might this be my last? Goodbye implies an end to something—a Last Time—and I hate Last Times: the last time I prayed for a miracle, a loved one’s last breath, last words, the last time I saw my daughter’s face, the last family photograph before….

There is no One Right Way to say goodbye. You can bid farewell to someone or something without even uttering the dreaded word ‘goodbye.’ A nonchalant “See ya” would work if one musters up a tiny wave of the hand. “It was great to share this time with you” could really resonate if a brief hint of eye contact is added. A simple silent nod could suffice. But me—I don’t do goodbyes.

At times of parting, I wish I could be bold enough to speak up, to simply sum up the situation and spill out what’s in my heart. But the words conveying my sentiments have a long winding labyrinth to follow from heart to head to my voice box. It can take days or months for my message to journey out into the world.

During the car ride home from the last class, and over the weekend, the words I wish I had left the class with finally found their way into my head and then onto paper.
“Thank you,” I would have said. “Thank you all for being here, for amazing me with what you accomplished, and for bringing me happiness. See you around.”
A goodbye message. I
t’s pretty-much what I could have told my mother and friend (who both died over the course of this semester) as well. Might need to memorize and practice.

 

How do you say goodbye – not forever?

Finding Gratitude When Everyone Seems to be Dying

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York photographs her lawn full of dandelions in discovering gratitude in grief.“All I ever do is go to funerals,” my father used to complain, after he retired. And here I am, myself, counting funerals and memorials as major components of my social life these days. Seems I’ve gotten to the age where the people I care about are dropping like flies, one right after the other. I’m not yet sure how to be at peace with so much loss. But I’m learning.

Confession: Until my daughter died, anything to do with death or dying or dead bodies terrified me. I am one of those who never went to people’s funerals.
“We should spend time with our loved ones BEFORE they die,” I used to rationalize. But eight years ago I experienced tremendous love and support when hundreds from the community came out in the cold pouring rain to my daughter’s calling hours. After that, I decided to always show up and reach out to the broken-hearted  bereaved.

On the event of last week’s new moon, I made another new intention: to try to view death through a lens of gratitude rather than sorrow or pain. Not sure about how to find gratitude when everyone seems to be dying, I wanted to be grateful for the time I had with my beloved-ones and for the ways they touched me. Maybe I could even be grateful for the pain—my own, and others’, since recognizing and sharing the pain is what helps us heal.

Friends and family members are going to keep on dying. This is how it’s been forever, and how it will be the longer one lives. Yet I will howl and stomp and drive off alone into the far hills mourning the loss of them, until I drop down exhausted, and then finally remember—gratitude and presence.

The rabbi officiating at my aunt’s funeral last week looked around at all of us who showed up, and said,
“Each one of you is a memorial to her life.” I remembered that, as I returned home later that day and found my front lawn dotted with bright dandelions. Memorials to life itself. Ordinary, plain, not very big or powerful, each bloom contributed to the magnificent glow welcoming me. Consoling me.

Sometimes simply being there, showing up and shining with your best intentions, can ease someone’s aching heart. And fill your own hurting heart to its capacity, gushing with the warmest gratitude.

 

How or where have you found gratitude during painful times? Who are you missing today?

 

Final Words

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a friend floating in space to illustrate losing a loved one.“How would you like me to remember you?” I asked my friend who was in the active stage of dying. Death was days or maybe only hours away. She lay silent for a long while in a hospital-bed newly parked in her sunroom. Her eyebrows scrunched up. I felt bad that my question was making her work so hard, so I rephrased it, “All this time we’ve spent together, what do you want me to remember?”

She finally whispered her response and I repeated it out loud so I would never forget. And shortly after, howling in the car, I wrote down what she said, and then dashed off to roam the unfamiliar country roads north or east of her house, to lose myself before it could be announced that I’d lost my friend.

Over the next three days I became more and more unmoored, ungrounded. Restless and unruly, I waited as family members and a vast community of friends made their farewells. I thought there would be time to be with her, to hear more of her final words.

For the last two years I’d known exactly where I’d be Wednesday afternoons—in my friend’s sunroom, sipping tea, surrounded by her cats and my dog. We would read aloud each other’s words and missions—hers to leave a legacy for her family, mine to record the journey through the wilds of cancer with my daughter, and to address the issues my daughter and I never talked about. The tough conversations about living and dying. Cancer. And loving. In my friend’s sunroom, on Wednesdays, ideas and words I could never before discuss became routine. We learned words could plant one’s footprints firmly for others to follow, or set a person floating off into space. We explored and captured the right words, the best words, ever aware that my friend’s time was running out.

Three days after that last visit, when I got the text, “She left this morning very peacefully,” I pulled out the page on which I’d scrawled what my friend had responded:

“Remember that the two of us, together, asked the hard questions.” Except for “goodbye” and “I love you,” this was the last thing she told me. Rereading her words, the ones I am now taping to my computer, was like finding a map that pointed the way home from a long odyssey.

 

What are the hardest things to talk about? Do you remember your loved one’s last words?

Giving Gifts to the Dead

Giving gifts to the dead, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a new dress for her daughter who died.It’s birthday time again—for my daughter—who’s been gone physically for eight years now. Happy Heavenly Birthday to Marika, some people will say. I love it when she gets birthday greetings; it warms my heart even after all this time. Bereaved parents, other than getting their beloved deceased ones back, just want their children to be remembered. And often, on birthdays, they feel compelled to do or get something ‘for’ their beloved. So, as our big day approaches, in my resolution to keep Marika close and include her in my world, I am considering the various options for giving her a present.

Maybe you’re thinking, I’m taking this a little too far. But I did not invent this idea of gifting the dead, myself. Since the Neanderthals, people have been burying their dead with all kinds of offerings. And today, Cambodians, Mexicans, Chinese … people all over the world have holidays where they leave flowers as well as food and drink at the burial grounds of their ancestors and other deceased loved ones. Go visit any cemetery to see lovingly placed teddy bears, toy cars, … balloons. It is a positive coping strategy for mourners. The folks at The Conversation call it “restorative giving,” recognizing that giving gifts to the dead is one way to deal with the pain of loss while maintaining ties with a deceased loved one.

If there’s no grave, a griever who wants to gift the dead has to be more inventive. Some possibilities for making a meaningful and beneficial contribution of some sort that day: I could buy a gift Marika would have liked and, with the help of a local pastor, I could give it to some girl from a needy family. Or I might leave a pretty bracelet in Marika’s favorite park for some lucky person to discover. I could make a donation to a charitable organization in her name. Maybe I’ll plant a rosebush. Maybe I’ll make a small campfire in the yard and invite a couple of old friends over for s’mores. Or I could bake (or fetch) a cherry pie and do a ritual with peach tea by candlelight, reading a special poem aloud.

And, in addition, because Marika opened the doors to social media, technology, and photography to me, I will take this opportunity to Photoshop a new dress for the girl who, even dead, still changes my life every day.

 

What do you do to honor a deceased loved one on a birthday?

 

 

How Long is a Lifetime?

How Long is a Lifetime?Over the last week, in addition to Notre Dame, so much seemed to be falling apart or perishing. In my world, more friends died. My house was invaded with ants and stinkbugs. A mouse got trapped in the kitchen sink. Two unopened containers of yogurt expired. My car’s rear brakes wore out completely and had to be replaced. My back went out.

And early one morning when the dog was squealing her gotta-go-potty noises, I tried to let her outside and discovered the knob on the front door wouldn’t unlock the deadbolt. The back door had quit working just two weeks earlier. Horrified that I couldn’t exit the house north or south, I phoned a locksmith.
“It’s lived the end of its life,” George at Ace Security said about the doorknob. Not exactly the message I needed to hear, being thoroughly invested in the challenges of living forever and trying to keep life going for my household and various ailing friends. Plus, being obsessed with loss and death, the idea that even inanimate objects can have lifespans really bugged me.

“How old is that doorknob anyway?” George asked, certain I had an ancient house with parts that had never been replaced.“Only twenty years old,” I answered, suddenly realizing my daughter was only twenty when she got to the end of her life.

So. How long is a lifetime? In Google it says that in the tiny country of Monaco, people live an average of 89 years. The average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 with women living 5 years longer than men. Greenland sharks live 400 years. A friend is rehoming her 11-year-old macaw that will live another 40 to 70 years with multiple new owners. The mayfly only lives 24 hours. A typical lifetime for a car is 10 to 15 years although I usually sell mine after 6, and I hear 20-year-old Toyota Corollas still cruise the road. A home can last hundreds of years with diligent maintenance and timely renovations. The plastic bags I hoard in my closets take 10 to 1000 years to decompose, but if you bring a pint of rum raisin ice cream to my house it’ll be gone in nanoseconds.

Notre Dame was over 800 years old.

It was the week the daffodils finally started popping. Fresh, young flowers that will be gone before this new week is over. I can see them waving in the wind, just outside the aging front door which is falling apart even further as it awaits new parts. Twenty years. Seems too short for a lifetime, even for a doorknob.

What lasts forever? Or almost forever? What is the oldest thing you still own? Who is or was the oldest living relative in your family?

Getting Hit With the Reality of Loss

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old image of her mother who died. Hit with the reality of the loss of her mother, she is learning to adapt to a new reality.After someone you love dies, your brain doesn’t always completely register that your beloved is no longer here. Like when my daughter died eight years ago, it wasn’t until weeks later, when I sold her car, that I understood for sure she wasn’t coming home. Fairly composed up to that point, when I handed over the car keys, a massive tidal bore broke loose from deep within me.

Getting hit with the reality of loss, just when you think you’re in control of your emotions or beyond mourning, can knock you upside down. A totally unpredictable, ridiculous little event has the power to erupt into a pivotal moment when you realize what you lost and that something big in your life is changing as a result.

After my mother died in January, I wondered for months, Where’s my grief? Then, last week I was stuck in the bathroom doing a pre-colonoscopy prep — you know, the dreaded procedure where you flush your insides out with gallons of clear liquids and laxatives, and then sit on the toilet and wait. Filled to the gills, I sat there alone, bored, picking away at my cuticles, trying not to think about the next day’s procedure. It was a time I would have phoned my mother. And she’d have told me, “Go drink a glass of white wine, it’s a clear liquid.” But I remembered my mother was no longer just a phone call away. That’s when the reality of her dying hit me. Hard. And even though towards the end of her life she was too deaf to hear me over the phone to reply with encouraging words, it would have been enough to simply hear my mom ramble on about what she ate for dinner, how she was doing the best she could, and that nothing else was new.

When I stopped sobbing, I phoned sisters and friends. I phoned the Halco Heating Company to say I was appreciating the new heat pump in the bathroom. I called the gastrointestinal nurse for the umpteenth time, “Nothing’s coming out yet” — anyone — just to have some company during my lonely mission. Until I thought I could hear my mother growling at me, “Shit already, or get off the pot.” And that kinda worked the magic.

 

What was a moment in your life when reality whacked you over the head? What was the moment the loss of a loved one really hit you?