We are ALL Dying

A woman with coffee photoshopped by Robin Botie in Ithaca, New YorkWe are ALL dying. This is what I tell myself, driving to the hospice center to train to be a morning-shift kitchen volunteer. Even with weeks of hospice training, I’m still nervous about interacting with people who are dying. I don’t want them to see behind my eyes, the hidden thought: you might not be here when I return next week. So I keep telling myself we’re All leaving town sooner or later – some of us just have an earlier flight.

Shadowing the Thursday-morning volunteer, I operate the sanitizing dishwasher and the coffee machine. She shows me where to find spatulas, and introduces me to the staff and the routine. Then she has me make an egg, my first egg for someone who is not in my immediate family.
“I’m not much of a cook,” I apologize before I’ve even cracked the shell. This might be someone’s last egg so I want it to be good.

“We’re all leaving town, we’re all leaving town,” I say to myself as I follow Thursday-Morning into a darkened room and place the tray with the egg and a tippy-cup of milk before a pale man in a hospital bed. I follow as we peek into rooms to offer breakfast.
When we return to the kitchen, a tall man in boxer shorts is rummaging about. He does not look like he’s dying. He looks like he’s hungry.
“Are you finding what you need?” Thursday-Morning asks. The man walks out with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream.
“That’s my kind of breakfast,” I say to him. But he is focused on his dish.

A white-haired woman sits at the dining room table waiting for her eggs. I bring her coffee on a tray hoping she won’t get impatient as I scramble around to help Thursday-Morning make a perfect egg and piece of toast. The woman is very polite to me. She’s not scary at all. And she’s in no hurry.

When the morning shift is over I drag my feet saying goodbye. I find myself smiling, looking forward to the next time.
Then, in my car heading home, I have a flashback of long ago breakfast trays with bright cloth napkins, jolly eggs and toast, and smoothies. To  coax my daughter out of bed for high school, and later for morning drives to the hospital, I’d bring her breakfast-in-bed trays.
“Mom, you make the worst pancakes,” she used to say.

I cry when I remember. Marika, do you believe this? Look where I am. I’m gonna make breakfast trays for all these people now.
But I quickly wipe my tears. There’s something else to worry about now: when I do my kitchen shift, what if they ask me to make pancakes?

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14 thoughts on “We are ALL Dying

  1. Nancy Eichhorn

    Greetings Robin,
    Thank you for your touching story.
    The Spring 2015 issue of Somatic Psychotherapy Today focuses on Embodied Spirituality. One of our contributors is writing an extensive article on hospice care. She noted your picture in this blog (Elder Pearl), and hoped to use it to accent her article.
    I am writing to seek permission to use this photo. I cannot pay for the picture. I work as a volunteer myself. I can give by line credit and link to your blog.
    I hope this will work. I await your response.
    Nancy Eichhorn, PhD
    Editor-in-Chief, Somatic Psychotherapy Today

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Hi Nancy. Thank you so much for finding my site and for asking my blessing for using my picture. I just checked in with Pearl, my model, and she’s fine with the idea but would love to have a copy of the magazine if possible. I’d be thrilled to have the photo used. Having a credit and link is very exciting. Many thanks for your interest.

  2. Elaine Mansfield

    Yes, that’s Hospicare. Hard to get ourselves there and hard to leave. I laughed when I read that you aren’t much of a cook. Really? I imagine you cooking everyone fantastic desserts for breakfast. And there’s always pancake mix. Great one, Robin, and thanks for making Hospicare such a powerful force in our community.

    1. robinbot Post author

      One of these days I hope to run into you at Hospicare, Elaine. If I can’t find you in the forest, at least we should be able to meet at Hospicare. Pancake mix better be what they have in the kitchen there because I really am mot a good cook. I can make anything look great but don’t try to chew or swallow it. Thanks for reading and mentoring. Will you be able to come to my Works in Progress reading on Saturday, July 12th? Happy Summertime.

  3. SusanB

    It’s funny what we think about when we’re going about our day. And it’s good to share all of your thoughts, crazy or not because someone else may have felt the same way or had the same thoughts, or was struck and smiled by what you’ve written here. It’s good too that you are volunteering your time. Your daughter is no doubt proud of you even if you can’t make pancakes.

    1. robinbot Post author

      Thank you, Susan. What’s really funny about our day is that I was thinking of you just before I found this message. Headinmyhands was what I remembered from a few nights ago when we both responded online to someone who was so sad. There didn’t seem to be any other replies and I felt we were holding this poor woman up from both sides as she reached out with her grief. I know I should just shut up and not offer advice, not being a counselor. But I wanted her to listen to your words, they were so right. Her sadness stayed with me for a long while. Thank you for being out there, for her and for me. Many cheers!

  4. Michela

    I love your line ‘we’re all leaving town sooner or later..’ When I lost my husband at 32, what got me through was thinking that was just his time and mine will come too one day!

    1. robinbot Post author

      Yes, Michela. Our flights will all come. But in the meantime there is so much we can do to live, love and honor those who shared part of our journey. Losing a husband at that age is much too young and unfair. I’m sorry. And I’m wishing you a really good summer. Thanks for checking in.

  5. Kirsten Wasson

    As is often the case with so many of your blogs, I felt sad and moved and refreshed after reading this. “He does not look like he’s dying. He looks like he’s hungry.” That’s a line I’ll never forget. (The pancakes don’t have to be great. They just have to be pancakes). Thank you, Robin.

    1. robinbot Post author

      Thank you, Lynne. Well I can hardly wait for my opportunity to make pancakes at Hospicare. I will take your words with me and make them my mantra. They don’t have to be great, they just have to be pancakes. They don’t have to be great …

    1. robinbot Post author

      Yes, more humor needed, Lynne. One of my goals now is to put more laughter in my life. Wishing some for you too. Thanks for responding.

  6. Annette Corth

    Another lovely image and story. It feels good to have a few lighter ones interspersed among the heavier ones.

    1. robinbot Post author

      Hi Annette. Yeah, I’m trying to lighten up. Read the one I posted for the beginning of summer. And please help me make some adorable light memories this summer. Cheers to you.


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