Duetting: Memoir 65

Duetting: Memoir 65 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York Photoshops a ghostly presence of her daughter who died.

Years ago I hated taking photographs. Having a camera in front of my eyes kept me from experiencing the world, I used to say, I couldn’t be present to what was around me if I was focusing through a camera. But now, with my digital Sony RX100 that fits in a pocket, I can capture so much I didn’t even realize was there. Its postage stamp-sized plastic chip holds a million memories in tiny thumbnail scenes. Memories, and sometimes surprises. I click, drag, and drop the tiny images from the chip into the Photoshop program on my computer where I can enlarge or erase, copy as-is, or change them. Then I spend hours remaking reality. In Photoshop there are intriguing “tools” to work with. Tools geared to fixing. A Patch Tool and a Path Selection Tool, a Dodge Tool and an Add Anchor Tool. A Magic Eraser and a Magic Wand … a Clone Stamp. And a Healing Brush.

One gray day in early March 2013, I pass an old abandoned home. I stop because I’d grown up across the street from a ‘haunted’ house, and as a curious kid I’d peeked into the clouded windows to find traces of former inhabitants. Even vacated, there remained a vague residue of the lives that came and went. This other empty house just outside Ithaca now captivates my imagination. Respectfully, I approach the threshold to snap pictures and consider how I might ‘shop a ghost-image of Marika onto its porch. But back home, I reconsider as I view the images in Photoshop. The house is beautiful in itself. It wears its own stories in chipped paint that reveals familiar patterns in the weathered wood underneath. There’s no need to imprint my own longings onto it. Two years after Marika’s death, I find I’m filled with a deeper regard for others’ hearts and homes that house memories of lost loved ones. Loss and grief do not belong only to me.

Sooner or later we all lose someone we love. Then, critically wounded, we wallow in hopeless despair, suffering regrets and guilt, fatigue, denial, depression, anger … all sorts of symptoms and phases of grief. And finally we scramble to adapt, to redefine our lives, and find our new selves amid the gutted remains of our broken hearts.

Why don’t we learn about death early on, like in grade school, I wonder? Why don’t they prepare us in high school for all the dying we’re going to be faced with in the course of our lives? We should know that the longer we live, the more people, pets, and plants will die before us, and that the deaths of the ones we love most are going to scour our hearts raw. Allowing ourselves to get slammed by death over and over again—is this the humanness of us? Watching the bereaved keen and crumple every time—is this godliness? And why aren’t we taught how to use all our pain and longing as a source of new strength?

To live on after loss is to hold on, and let go, and love again, all at the same time. There are no rules, no right or wrong ways to go about grieving. This whole grief thing is just our individual journeys or unique adaptations to loss, which may eventually lead to growth, but could alternatively wipe us out.

Before she died, Marika and I were in the middle of a great mother-daughter divide. She was almost out the door when cancer clobbered her. Us. After two years stuck together sallying through cancer, Marika was ready to move clear across the world to get away from me. And one day she would have come back. There would have been graduations, shopping trips for gowns, maybe a wedding … grandchildren. All the would-haves have disintegrated. Now I hold onto Marika’s memory and her words, and let go of her future. And the future I’d imagined for myself. But I will not let go of her. Her absence is a presence. Something still remains, and even without a physical presence there is still a relationship. I watch as it mellows with time.

And I discover almost daily that all around me there are others dealing with loss. Everybody’s dealing with something. Maybe the humanness is in recognizing this. Maybe the godliness is in our simply sitting with the brokenhearted, listening, and being a silent, compassionate, non-judgmental presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Duetting: Memoir 65

      1. SUSAN

        WHEN MY FATHER DIED, I WAS CONFUSED AND ANGRY THAT THE REST OF THE WORLD CONTINUED ON. I REMEMBER THIS DISTINCTLY WHILE GETTING READY FOR HIS WAKE. I WAS ASHAMED OF MYSELF FOR LOOKING IN THE MIRROR AND NEEDING TO LOOK NICE AS I BRUSHED MY HAIR.
        WHAT ARE YOU DOING?, I ASKED MYSELF. HE’S DEAD, WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR HAIR?

        Reply
        1. Robin Botie Post author

          I get that. The crazy things one does, the silly little things one thinks about when you think you shouldn’t be able to think or do anything at all and your head and heart are completely somewhere else. And maybe you feel shame or confusion or some emotion that doesn’t quite fit with what’s going on. But life is going on. And the You you didn’t think was even going to be able to get out of bed and show up, is still going on. And the whole world seems to be going on even though sense has come to a complete standstill.

          Reply
  1. Camille Doucet

    Bonjour Robin, thank you for reaching out to me with your duetting, again. I lost my dad at 10. And indeed there was no ‘teacher’ or people put on my school path to help my siblings and me to heal and integrate. I’m still growing with that death at my age, 65. I think that is the humanness, this striving to heal all along our lives from whatever loss, violence or confusion befell us. We are all unique and there is no one size fits all recipe to learn, to heal and your own unique approach to photoshop and write is as human and unique as I have seen.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I guess we find our ways through life, the ways to breathe and learn to love and laugh again. Sometimes it’s in writing or painting or singing. Sometimes it’s in cooking up a lovely storm of a feast. Many are lucky to find other people to invest their love in. I think I’ve tried it all. And the way I keep healing and hoping keeps changing. It must be so hard as a kid to lose a parent or a sibling. I’ve never really gone to church or temple, but I have to hope that someone there can help folks, especially kids, when it comes to learning about death and loss. May 8th. A date I can’t seem to forget somehow. I hope your birthday is wonderful. Hugs!

      Reply
  2. Karen ORourke

    This is beautifully written, Robin, Thank you for sending it. It’s been 11 years for me now. I have survived, but continue to struggle with my loss. We contiue on with hope and love.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you, Karen. You’re right – it all comes back to hope and love. That, and a few good friends who understand, will be what keeps us going. Eleven years. It sounds so long. And then I realize I haven’t seen my daughter for ten. Yikes, how can I be living and laughing and carrying on for these ten years without my Marika, I wonder. Maybe all this photo-shopping and writing I do is simply my new way of loving and hoping. I’m wishing you the discovery of more places to put your love and hope.

      Reply
  3. Lucy Bergstrom

    Robin, this is piercing. Why DON’T we learn about dying, death and loss in school? Maybe this is a task for you, who have explored its innermost being. Even if a school kid has only lost a hamster or a cat, an ancient great-grandmother, they know, or can imagine, the feeling of being bereft, feeling guilty, etc. etc. There are kids who lose their parents, and schools hardly know how to handle the situation. If the kid’s teacher isn’t an intuitive, kind person, the kid might get no help at school OR at home. The reason this isn’t taught is because no one wants to got there, but HEY! We’re all going to die! We’re all going to lose our most cherished friends, relatives, spouses. It goes with being alive, to mourn.
    I LOVE your last sentence about godliness. People usually avoid those who are in mourning, because “What would I say?” No need to SAY anything! Just be there.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Easier said than done, Lucy, the ability to simply sit and listen to the breathing or the laments of the brokenhearted. As I come to the end of my manuscript I am wondering what else I can share with those who are suffering losses. It would be interesting to write a kids book about grief. But I’m no expert. And my time has come to figure out what I want to do next. I have been really delving into Photoshop lately, to the point where I’ll miss meals, miss appointments, miss a sunny hikeable afternoon – just completely engaged in photoshopping.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you, Lynne. As I come to the end of my manuscript, I’m getting a little nervous about what’s next. I’m wondering if there’s such a thing as healing images, photos for the brokenhearted. Thank you so much for being out there, reading and responding to my work. Many hugs.

      Reply
  4. Gail Teran

    Beautiful. I agree, as we learn about birth, we need to learn about death early on and the different stages of grief. Sooner or later we lose someone, and so unprepared for the feeling that come and go.

    Be well, Hugs

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Hi Gail. As I’m learning, even social workers and teachers need to learn more about death and grieving. It’s amazing how unprepared even those who are supposed to know how to help are. Yeesh!
      Love ya!

      Reply

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