Tag Archives: a mother’s grief

Duetting: Memoir 28


Duetting: Memoir 28 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene of treading on shaky ground to illustrate how she feels that she has no religion.

There’s something I should have mentioned long ago: I have no religion. I mean, I don’t know if I believe in God, or in scriptures, or heaven, or in any of the various teams directing members about how to worship or who to trust. Religion, like politics, is one more thing that divides people. I don’t subscribe to any sides even though it means I’m often treading on shaky ground.

I like to imagine there’s some invisible thing out there, some entity that’s always creating, giving and taking. Watching over us all. I feel closest to this thing when I’m by an ocean or hiking in the mountains. Regularly, looking up at the stars or out across valleys into the hills, I send out grateful thanks to it. When I feel lost, this something reminds me I’m not alone. It counsels me to treat others the way I’d want to be treated, and it assures me I will never understand the ways the world works. Occasionally I beg for help or protection. And then it fades as it bids me to do my best and be strong.

In times of crisis or loss, I’ve always envied those who have faith in someone or something beyond this world. Life would be so much easier if I was chummy with God or had some indisputable doctrine to live by.

Back on the last day of June 2009, Marika’s burgundy snowflakes were all over her again. Her job as lifeguard and boating counselor at Stewart Park Day Camp was to begin the next day. It was supposed to be the summer to make up for the loss of the previous summer.

“I’m fine,” she said, dully, when I caught up with her at Strong Memorial. She’d already been put on intravenous arsenic, the standard second line treatment for her type of leukemia. “I’m bored,” she said, meaning she felt trapped and knew her summer plans were now shot. I rubbed her feet and made mental notes of what I would fetch from Wegmans.

“Have you heard anything from Jake lately?” I asked, suddenly needing to know more about the other almost-adult child with leukemia. Whenever we had a setback I’d check the status of the other players, as if we were in some sort of race to beat cancer.
“He hasn’t returned my messages,” she said, and turned away. We settled into our old established patterns for hospital confinement. But “fine” and “bored” didn’t last long.

“She didn’t eat the Cheesecake Factory takeout,” I whined to Laurie.
“Robin, she’s depressed and in pain. You don’t eat when everything between your hair and your toenails hurts.”
“And now they stopped her chemo. What does that mean? Are they giving up?”  
“That’s just temporary, until they make sure she doesn’t have an infection or pneumonia again,” she assured me. But two days later, Marika was short of breath, and the Roc Docs put her in the ICU to avoid respiratory failure, her signature crash landing. Then she did crash and was put on the ventilator once more. And as she lay there unconscious, the cascade of complications compounded. Low blood pressure. Liver malfunction. Kidney failure. Her heart developed an electrical abnormality leaving her vulnerable to lethal arrhythmias. Inefficient heart patterns. My own heart smashed into my stomach. I flailed about wildly to grasp something stable, anything that might hold me or help me find solid ground. I rubbed Marika’s feet fiercely.

A portable dialysis machine was wheeled in. It looked like a cross between an ancient refrigerator and a big old-fashioned tape recorder standing on its side. I stared at it skeptically. It hummed and churned. A wheel spun around as Marika’s blood went in and came back out. I watched the colors of the input and output to discern any differences, and asked questions of the technicians who monitored the process constantly. There was no one else to talk to. I was miserable. During dialysis, for some reason I was not permitted to rub Marika’s feet. Desperate for connection, by the end of the second week in the ICU, I left my Sleeping Beauty for a weekend at home when her father came to take over. Then, in Ithaca, I couldn’t face anyone. People said, “How’s your daughter doing? I’m praying for her,” and I didn’t know how to answer. If they were kind or tried to hug me, I broke down crying.

A cousin called to tell me a group of nuns in New Jersey were praying for Marika. Another cousin brought Marika’s name up in a service at his temple in Tucson. “We’ll keep her in our prayers,” various friends promised. I thanked them, “We need all the help we can get.” Visions flooded my head: Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, cloistered away in an abbey of somber nuns, singing and praying in heavenly harmony. Prayers, churches, synagogues, mosques, and monasteries were all foreign to me. But if more people were uttering Marika’s name, and wishing us well, it couldn’t hurt.

Still, for me, then, the only sure solid thing in this world was my daughter. I rubbed her feet and wondered, would those nuns really pray for a girl whose mother practiced no religion?



Duetting: Memoir 6

Duetting: Memoir 6  Robin Botie 0f Ithaca, New York, photoshops a bereaved mother searching through her deceased daughter's facebook page as if it is a window to another world.One night in Massachusetts, my sister Laurie and I watch the stars. Then she takes me to Marika’s Facebook page. There we find love letters, poems, stunned friends from all over pouring their hearts out to Marika through the internet. One friend touches another through words that ripple outward, beckoning to an aunt and a mother huddled over a laptop like it’s a window to another world. Invisible webs stretch among us all. So this is what Facebook is, I think. I cast her name out into cyberspace: Marika Joy Warden, who are you and where have you been? Words radiate from my fingertips tapping on plastic. My plea rains over all the planet before waves of warmth come back to me.

On the screen, I see familiar names and photos of children I once knew, now grown. For many of them, Marika’s was their first death. For many more, it was the first death of someone their own age. A few had phoned me on her birthday and on Mothers’ Day. They are traveling or still at college. In all corners of the world, they are getting on with their lives.

I am not getting on. I want my daughter back. I will try anything to keep her close. Wear her clothes. Sleep with her stuffed Puppy, and build a nest in my bed for her real dog, Suki. Marika loved sushi, so I take Rachel out for sushi dinners. Over and over, I play the few songs Marika had recorded. Yearning to know what it’s like to sing before a crowd, and how she could keep practicing a song “until it’s right,” I sing. One song. Musician/songwriter Susan Ceili Murphy put the first poem I found of Marika’s, “Atop a Mountain,” to music. I practice until I can get through it without bawling. Then I take it to France with me and sing it under vaulted ceilings in castles and cathedrals, wherever I find an echo. I sing it over hilltops, off the top of my hotel in Nice, in a boat on the Seine. I sing it to twelve goats in a barn in the Loire Valley, as the biggest goat cocks her head and squints skeptically at me. And back in Ithaca, walking Marika’s dog at night in the driveway, I sing the song to the stars. Finally, I sing it at the memorial in the middle of June.

No one in Ithaca, other than my babies, has ever heard me sing. Setting up for the memorial at the Stewart Park Pavilion on Cayuga Lake, I test the mic with the first lines of the song. There is a sudden hush and I realize I’ve grabbed people’s attention.
“You sound just like Marika,” someone says. Pleased about this, I step before the crowd shortly after, take a deep breath, and begin “Atop a Mountain.” It will take many more months to recognize that my singing would not be the way to hold onto my daughter. But at the memorial, I follow Marika’s voice through the song, without a crack until the last note. My heart pounds as I find my seat, and scoop my inherited dog up into my lap.

Her dog. People had wanted to see Suki. So I brought her, but I’m wondering if this was a mistake. She squirms uncharacteristically. Seeing and smelling so many of Marika’s friends, Suki’s searching frantically for her shining girl. Even though I had quickly become her new girl and she’d become my shadow, waiting for me in her nest by the front door whenever I’d leave the house. Having lost one of her girls, she does what she can to keep on top of the other. My song over, I bury my tears in Suki’s fur. She whines, and looks mournfully at the friends as Rachel begins “Changed for Good,” a song from the show, Wicked. Marika had once silenced a crowd at camp with that song. And now, out of Rachel’s mouth comes perfection. Even when she starts sobbing into the mic, and then apologizes. No one blinks when Rachel sings. And then Cassie sings. And Julie sings. Songs for Marika from those of us who rarely open our mouths in public. I imagine Marika watching us from above, dumbstruck.