Tag Archives: bereaved mother

Celebrations of Life

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs peaches before going to various friends to help make a peach pie in a celebration of life.A good friend of mine decided to have a celebration of her life before her death. “So I can be there to hear all those great things people will say about me,” she told me, during the planning stages. Feeling ancient and ailing, she mentioned her hopes of still being alive for the big event. And when the evening of the party arrived my friend was indeed still ticking, scooting back and forth among the guests in her motorized wheelchair, sharing her poetry and photos, and sampling the double-chocolate chip cookies.

Being a bereaved mother, I thought I knew all about celebrations of life, funerals, and memorials. Four months after my daughter’s death, after family and friends had time to put together slideshows and videos, we gathered to honor the memory of Marika, to tell the story of her brief life, and acknowledge her death with the release of doves and blue balloons over Cayuga Lake. It was a comfort to see how much she was loved. I wish she could have experienced it.

Rejoicing in a person’s life while they are still around seems to be a growing trend. Beyond the time for big birthdays and other celebrations marking milestones, those whose lives are nearing the end are now often organizing living funerals. Swan songs. Their party of a lifetime. For the ones they shared their time on this planet with. It makes them think in terms of gratefulness. It may even help to calm anxieties about dying.

To me, still lively and hoping to be hiking at one hundred, a celebration of life means a daily reveling in who and what surrounds me.

“Please come over and get some peaches. We are inundated,” a couple of hiking friends texted me, the morning after my ailing friend’s life celebration. Riotous red and yellow fruit was all over the kitchen when I arrived to find the smiling couple sitting together, slicing piles of peaches. “Take as many as you like,” they said. I filled my bowl with enough fruit for two small pies, and then went jaunting all over the countryside visiting various friends to gather inspiration or ingredients, make the dough and do the baking. And then share. This was a veritable celebration of the life I love.

 

If you were to design your own celebration of life, to be held before your death, what would you include?

 

 

Bereaved Mother at Wedding

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops an image of her daughter who died onto a screen of flowers to illustrate one of the emotional triggers encountered as a bereaved mother at a wedding.Extra tissues were stuffed into the small purse I’d made to match my dress. The dress sewn with my daughter’s image tucked into the folds so I could ‘take’ her to her friend’s wedding.

I’d set rules for how to conduct myself at this wedding: Be inconspicuous, don’t glom onto any one person, look for others who appear lost or alone. And, to anyone who might ask about the image of Marika on the dress, reply, “It’s too long a story to tell here. What’s YOUR connection to the bride or groom?”

There were some thorny things about weddings I’d failed to think of. Like, how memories would be triggered by rollicking flower girls spinning in shiny shoes and pink twirly dresses. The father-daughter dance. Like having people pop up from my past, from my time with Marika. Plus, I was stunned by how grown up and beautiful her friends had become over the past seven years.

My plan was to leave before the reception. But the ceremony was short and I soon found myself talking to old acquaintances, inching towards the drinks and cheese platters. Besides, it would be rude to go without greeting the mother of the bride who was off being photographed. When I finally caught up with the wedding party, they insisted I stay for dinner, and showed me the seat where my name was written on a handcrafted coaster. The seat next to the mother of the bride.

So, gathering up the skirts of my dress, I sat down for dinner across from the family’s closest friends who all seemed to know about me and my daughter. A woman came over, followed by her husband who told me they’d lost their son, and knew how I was feeling. That’s when I remembered I wasn’t the only one with a story. Weddings are bittersweet events for many. I made silent toasts to Marika and to the son of the kind parents, and then laughed and applauded with the crowd.

Occasionally, my eyes got watery. But I did not have to dig out the tissues.

When dinner was over, just before the cutting of the cake, before anyone could ask me (or not ask me) to dance, I slipped out. Away from the party, dashing down the driveway like Cinderella escaping the ball. But first I grabbed a piece of the bread-pudding cake to-go.

And at home, in the lightest rain, I danced with my dog in the driveway, spinning like a little girl in a twirly new dress.

 

What is it about weddings? That makes you cry? That makes you want to dance?

 

 

Lost Children

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a scene in the country of two unhappy children running away.Where in the media are all the scenes and stories of separated immigrant families reuniting? Where are the videos of children running joyfully into the arms of their parents? On TV and Facebook, I need to see tears of joy, arms reaching and clutching, border-crossing mothers ecstatically hugging sons and daughters.

We need more time, the government says. More time. As a bereaved mother, I know that more time without one’s child is tormenting. Time is not a friend when it accumulates mercilessly between the last time you held your loved one and the present, looming dimly into the future. I know how it is to yearn to be with your beloved child. I’ve lived with longing, spent days aimlessly wandering in despair, and cried myself to sleep too many nights over the loss of my child.

A child is lost if you don’t know where they are, or whether or not they’re safe. If you cannot be with your children to hold and comfort them, they are lost to you. If DNA tests are needed for your reunification, a child is surely lost.

The aching for a child who has been taken away is different but not unlike that of bereaved parents. For people who have had a child die, their worst nightmare has already taken place. They are not in the middle of agonized waiting, wondering if and when they might be reunited in their lifetime. Hope is different. And bereaved parents don’t have to consider the aftermath, the psychological effects of separation on children who died. But these immigrant parents, whose children were torn from them as they tried to secure better lives, are now facing a slew of their worst worries. Will their family survive? Intact? How and where? On top of an undocumented family’s uncertain future, there is added anguish in fears their child may be scared, hurt, confused and lonely. And knowing one’s child is also suffering the pains of separation, only adds to the grief.

There can be no beginning of relief or peace for these families until these children are returned. This has to be one of the cruelest forms of torture. I cannot relax until they are all reunited. And the media is gushing with videos of joyous reunions.

 

Totally Immersed in Another Project

“When my son died, I couldn’t work so I stayed home and built this wall,” a fellow bereaved mother said. In awe, I looked up and down two lengths of neatly stacked rocks, some boulder-size. That’s when I knew I could actually do my own project that I’d started and struggled with earlier that day.

It began with an email that sent my heart soaring, crying with joy and gratitude. Friends of my deceased daughter were getting together for a bachelorette party, and one asked if I could “make a little video … to include Marika in the weekend.”

I knew nothing about videos, how to make them or send them, but knew I wanted to do this. Wanted, as in: would stop everything in my life including the dozen other projects I was engaged in, to do whatever I could “to include Marika.” Nothing means more to a bereaved mother than having her child remembered. So immediately, I googled, How To Make A Video On IPhone.

For some people, simply getting up and out each morning is a major project. For some it’s a way to keep their focus on or away from their sorrow. Some live from project to project, defining themselves by what they are involved in. Projects can open up new, life-changing possibilities. Growth. They can keep the brain working, and sharp. They can drive you and everyone around you crazy.

The video, I kept reminding myself, was not to be about me. It was not even about Marika although her presence had been requested. In the middle of panicking about what to record, I discovered that the video could be only 30 seconds long or it would be undeliverable.

You are laughing at me because everyone knows how to do this; any kid makes and sends videos several times a day. For me, it took a village. And lots of grunting. And whining. With lots of help, after many online tutorials and several sessions with friends over the course of two whole days totally engrossed in my mission, I came up with this. This is what I did this week instead of writing and photo-shopping my regular blog. It’s really rough. But I’m still beaming. And ready to begin another new project.

 

What is your pet project these days? What was the project that almost did you in?

 

 

Saying Goodnight

Saying GoodnightLiving alone, I don’t get to say “goodnight” very often, except to ghosts. But for one night every year, just before summer begins, I get to say it over and over again at Ithaca’s Hospicare and Palliative Care Services’ annual Illuminations, an evening of remembrance and community.

Five years ago I asked about volunteering for this event. Having a job to perform makes it easier to attend parties and gatherings, especially as a bereaved mother prone to bursting into tears. No one had filled the spot on the volunteer sign-up list requesting a Goodnighter. “Say goodnight to guests and thank them for coming,” the job description read. I could do that, I thought.

The first year, I was so nervous about approaching people that I forgot how easily I could fall apart upon hearing Christmas carols or smelling cucumber-melon body-spray. But I strolled through the gardens where hundreds of lit candles inside white paper bags lined the walkways, and found the ones labeled with my father’s and daughter’s names. Balancing a glass of wine and a plate of fresh fruit and cheese on my lap, I sat through the program of live music and poetry. Then it was almost dusk, time for floating candles on the pond. And Taps. Taps was my cue to start getting into place between the guests and the parked cars. There, I would chirp out my greetings to all the people as they left for home.

No one had mentioned that a real live, very talented trumpeter would be playing Taps. Suddenly, I was stuck stock-still, standing in a hailstorm with my skin turned inside out. The sun was setting bright red and I felt like a duck shot down out of the sky. Somehow I recovered, remembering, I was the Goodnighter. I quickly took my station. And remembered my lines. “Goodnight.” And “Thank you for coming,” I croaked, in between gasping recovery breaths. My shaking stopped when people started saying goodnight and thank you, back to me. And when it was all over, and the last guests had gone, I fetched the luminarias with my father’s and daughter’s names, and knew I’d found my calling.

So come say hello. Say goodnight to the Goodnighter. Goodnight is not goodbye. It is a sincere wish for your wellbeing. And it is my song of gratefulness. For a beautiful evening with people who understand love and loss. For feeling connected. For having the opportunity to say aloud, from my heart, goodnight and thank you. And to sometimes hear those words echoed back.

Illuminations at Hospicare on June 7, 2018 at 7:30
At 172 East King Road, Ithaca
A free event (but they’ll take donations for a personalized luminaria)

My Memory is Broken. But I’m Not

My Memory is Broken. But I'm Not“She’s broken. Falling apart, scarred for life since her daughter died,” various friends and family members have said about me. This week I was going to write about how I didn’t feel “broken,” how I believed I was stronger and better than ever. But then I lost my mind. Briefly. Just memory failure, really. But the mortification still grinds in my head.

I was sitting with a friend at a table outside the gym when a beautiful young woman stopped by. “I’m Shoshana,” she said, smiling at me with familiar warm brown eyes. Immediately I recognized her as one of my daughter’s oldest friends.
“I’m so glad you came over,” I said, my heart laughing and crying as it does whenever I run into one of Marika’s BFFs. I’m always grateful when this happens. It takes courage to approach a bereaved mother; once old friends fled the aisle in Wegmans to avoid me. Shoshana set her coffee and croissant on the table, and sat down.

“I think of Marika a lot,” she said. And I thanked her for that, told her it meant everything to me that Marika was remembered. Shoshana mentioned what she’d been doing lately. That doesn’t sound like you, I said, and then shared a dozen details of what I remembered of her. Only, the images that popped up in my head were memories of a different girl, not the Shoshana sitting before me. I’d completely confused her with another of Marika’s friends.

Suddenly, we were saying goodbye. I mentioned one more thing that was totally not about Shoshana, and she looked at me like I had cracked.

She left. And for a moment I sat there disoriented, blinded by bright sunlight and shards of memories. And then I recalled the serious child who told silly jokes, the quirky kid who couldn’t carry a tune but was so giving, so eager to please. She was one of the few young friends that would look me straight in the eye. Her warm familiar eyes. The real Shoshana. I’d last seen her when she visited Marika in the hospital.

I caught up with her. Still dazed, I tried to explain. But there is no way to account for the brokenness of a mind that can recall every detail of a daughter’s last years, and yearns to have that daughter remembered, but cannot keep the other pieces of the past straight.

If you see me on the street, in the gym or at Wegmans, please say hi. I will not break if you mention my daughter. Chances are she’s already at the foreground of my thoughts. Besides, when it comes to brokenness, we’re all on a spectrum. And a broken memory doesn’t mean you’re a broken person. So forgive me if I don’t remember your name. I know who you are. Mostly. It’s in your eyes and your smile.