Loving and Losing a Car

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops her banged up Prius as she wonders why she is carrying on about loving and losing a car.Falling in love or forming any strong emotional attachments was not going to happen after my daughter died. No more grieving for me, I thought. But last week, losing my car, I cried like I was losing my best friend. A friend who had faithfully protected me with its life, to the bitter end.

On the way to Boston for the weekend, passing a slow-moving vehicle on a busy highway, I pulled left into the middle lane and discovered a huge truck tire lying in my path. There was no way to avoid it. My beautiful Prius crashed into it with a great thud. This is the end, I told myself upon impact. But the car somehow plowed through the tire. I kept driving. There was no way to pull over or stop so I continued on, shaken but unharmed. The Prius, who I’d long ago named Peeje after a beloved pigeon, got me to my destination and days later, back home to Ithaca, New York. And after the weekend, checking out the damage, I learned I’d smashed the car’s sub-frame, under-panels, radiator, and every single part of her belly.
“Call your insurance company, this is going to cost you…” the mechanic told me.

With visions of skyrocketing premiums, big bucks for major repairs, and weeks of car rentals, I took my Peeje to the Toyota Dealership where they offered me a small trade-in towards a new Prius, and I accepted it. Immediately. Gratefully.

Then suddenly, I had tears in my eyes and was stroking Peeje’s hood with both hands. There I was, once more grieving the loss of a familiar, comfortable, beloved part of my life. We had a lot of history, Peeje and I. When she was still new we got lost together exploring October Mountain in the Berkshires. Many a snowstorm we’d slowly inched up the long hill to my house, both of us willing her little engine to keep chugging. This was the car that carried elderly loved ones (now gone) with wheelchairs and walkers to fancy restaurants. She carried me through dark empty streets to retrieve friends who’d drunk too much. “Thanks, Peeje,” I’d say every time she got me home safely.

“You’re gonna have a whole new re-built life,” I sobbed to my Peeje, driving her home one last time, to empty out the six-year accumulation of stuff in every corner of her. I wondered, after all I’ve been though, why I was carrying on so about loving and losing a car. But I gently dusted off her seats and lovingly packed her snow tires into her trunk. And let her go.

 

How on earth does one end up loving a car or a house or something that doesn’t even have eyes or a heart?

 

Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow, Sometimes I Just Need a Good Cry

Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow, Sometimes I Just Need a Good Cry  Robin Botie of Ithaca photographs magic carpet spirea for illustration of how joy and sorrow can blossom together.Sometimes I just need a good cry. Preferably at the movies where I can recover easily, I might have said in the past. But a good cry should not be feared. And an opportunity to do some serious sobbing came up the other evening when a small group of bereaved parents had baked a cake, and were singing Happy Birthday to one of our deceased children. Watching the exquisite storm of gratitude, pain, and love in the mother’s eyes, I remembered that conflicting whirlwind of emotions—the joy of having your child remembered and honored, the sadness of seeing each subsequent birthday sweep you ever further away from the time you were together, and just plain missing your beloved one—This can turn the toughest of us into desperate howling messes. A similar, old familiar storm brewed in my own heart. And I welcomed it.

If you are not one of the unfortunates initiated into the hellhole of child loss, you may be wondering—Why torture yourself like that?

Strange as it seems, I never want to forget the rawness of the pain of loss. If I can recall how my worst times felt, I can listen, understand, and be of comfort to someone else. A good cry is not to be feared. In being a living human, there’s a spectrum of emotions to be experienced. I write and talk a lot about finding joy, however this is only one part of the human experience. I want it all. I need to cry. I need to dare to love.

Love makes you happy, and love makes you sad. Grief and pain are simply the residue of your love when the joyful times seem like eons away. Often, I want to hug my grief the way I want to hug and hang onto my daughter who died. Tears are tangible remains of what I have left of her now. My love pours out, and I love those tears.

“You’re happy,” a friend pointed out to me recently. And I immediately felt guilty, as in—I lost my daughter, I’m not supposed to feel happy. This simply is not right. We are human. We can experience it all.

Jolly Reds, pinks, hot lime and deep greens bloom on the Magic Carpet Spirea plant in my garden. Like multi-colored teardrops. Tears of joy and sorrow. They blossom together.

 

Finding Resilience

Finding Resilience Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a bruised rose to illustrate resilience.After I weed-whacked flat the little rosebush in the back yard, I remembered how I’d planted it over a decade ago with the kids, to honor our Omi Rosie, my strong-willed grandmother who had moved her family out of Hitler’s Germany in 1938. Unlike the family, the rosebush had never thrived. So, intent on reclaiming its spot for more lawn, I thwacked the scrawny plant to smithereens with the weed-eater, and then stood sighing over the strafed remains, sure I’d murdered it.

Two weeks after the attack, a small splash of red in the new lawn caught my eye. The rosebush. It had survived and was producing buds. One was blossoming brilliantly.

It’s a gift, I told myself. My first inclination was to attribute the small miracle to the ghost of my daughter who, in life, had gifted me red socks and red sweaters. But when I got close up with my camera, I recognized the astounding sheer resilience of the plant. Scuffed up and riddled with holes, it was a formidable survivor. It seemed to have a mission, like my Omi Rosie. It was gutsy, like my daughter who had partied with abandon despite cancer constantly clobbering her. It was scrappy and scarred. From all of life’s poundings. Like me. And like me, it was still standing.

I don’t know if one can learn resiliency or practice growing it. Or if it’s something you only discover when your world’s been shaken upside-down. Wherever it comes from, resilience is the thing that allows you to rise from the rubble when the sky falls. When I thought I had nothing to live for, it slowly sprouted from deep inside (or maybe from out of nowhere) and filled my emptiness with hope.

Creeping on hands and knees, I took a hundred shots of the rose. It is not beautiful. But it is truly—badass.

 

Life with a Dead Daughter: When People Forget or Don’t Know

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, tells about her life with her dead daughter, when people forget or don't know her daughter died.“How’s your girl doing?” asked an old friend at a public event last week. Dumbfounded, I stopped breathing and stared at him. He couldn’t mean My Girl, as in my daughter who died. Was he maybe inquiring about my BFF inherited dog? Or the young woman who helps me in the garden? No—he really was asking about my daughter—whose funeral and memorial he had, himself, attended eight years ago.
“Uh, well, you know she d—,” I stopped myself.

It had been years since I’d run into someone who didn’t know of Marika’s death, where I’d have to awkwardly inform them of her demise. I hate having to spill this to clueless folks who, as a result, will feel queasy around me forever after. Sometimes people who know my story avoid me, like maybe they’re scared I’ll fall apart howling. Spotting old friends at weddings and funerals, I’ve learned to wait and let them approach me rather than descend upon them. And I never mention my daughter unless they do, even though I’m itching to talk about her. Such is life with a dead daughter. I feel I have to protect people. I leave them plenty of time and space to make the first move. If they’re brave enough.

But this guy had known my daughter died.

“How’s your girl?” He asked again, with warm smiling eyes.
“Well, um—I’m keeping her close in my heart,” I tell the poor fellow, trying to simultaneously show him I’m okay, and he’s okay for not remembering, and remind him that Marika is dead. It was the best response I could come up with in my shock.

He cocked his head, and I repeated in a steady calm voice, “I keep her very close in my heart,” emphasizing ‘heart.’ He winced, and smacked his face. And I thought he would shrivel up and sink through the floor in mortification of forgetting. I told him it was all cool, and thanked him for thinking of Marika. He broke free of me shortly after.

“What is Marika like?” one of my hiker friends asked, the very next day, upon seeing the tattoo of Marika’s name on my bare arm.
“Thank you for using the present tense, since I think of my daughter as still being here in many ways,” I said, not entirely sure she understood that Marika is dead. Then I merrily answered her, rambling on and on about my favorite subject to talk about.

 

When’s the last time you invited a bereaved parent to talk about her beloved child?

 

 

 

Socially Inept

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, has been talking to dead people for so long that she forgot how to socialize with live ones. She flees back to her garden where even the flowers seem to be laughing at her.I’ve been talking to dead people for so long that I forgot how to socialize with live ones. So at the reception of the latest memorial (memorials being the highlight of my weeks lately), when two men started two separate conversations with me at the same time, I froze and panicked, and fled the scene as soon as I could, not even stopping for a piece of cake. And at home, I went back to weeding the garden, grumbling to my dead daughter about my lack of the simplest social graces, until I sensed some snarky late-blooming bud of a lily laughing at me.

Life’s too short to beat oneself up about being socially inept. Unfortunately, I can’t blame this on my losses and bereavement. So I’m gonna stick to the garden and Photoshop and the safety of my own kitchen for a while, where I can’t embarrass myself. Catch you next week after I’ve recovered. Cheers!