Tag Archives: child loss

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?

 

 

 

Continuing Bonds Continued

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an old photo of herself with her daughter who died of leukemia, to illustrate continuing bonds grief theory.“I’m over that. Done. I’ve moved on,” said a friend, about her child who died years before. Great for her, I thought, not able to imagine ever even wanting to be “done” with my own daughter, gone over 7 ½ years now. Actually, I’ve been carrying my Marika—whatever I could find left of her to hang onto—since she died. Different things work for different people.

A griever’s mental status used to be questioned if one held on to the memory of a loved one too long. Mercifully, someone came up with a modern grief theory called Continuing Bonds. It is now considered acceptable to create an enduring relationship with a deceased loved one as a way of coping and finding comfort while continuing to live one’s life. Even as one’s life changes with the loss. It is okay to stay connected. And it’s normal for these relationships to grow and change over time.

Continuing Bonds came instinctively to me. A matter of my own survival, it began the day after Marika died, when I collapsed, devastated, onto her bed, desperate to breathe in her scent and see the world from where she saw it. At first, I needed to wear what she wore, and hold what she held. That led to doing what she did, and loving what she loved. All the things that were part of her life, that I hadn’t understood or cared for—like writing, photography, blogging and posting on Facebook, making up tunes to play on instruments—I ended up finding myself drawn to. Doing these things daily now, I am living a life my daughter would have loved. It makes me feel forever linked to her.

There are many ways to maintain ties after the loss of someone who was the light of your life. I wanted to know what Continuing Bonds looked like for others. Not much is written about this because each person approaches it differently. It looks like the widow who still talks to her husband of fifty years, or the bereaved parents who keep their child’s room as it was before death—in order to have a special place to feel close to him. Some people start foundations and community events to honor their loved ones. Some look to their deceased loved one for inspiration in trying new things. Some create meaningful personal rituals, or works of art. Others continue their loved one’s work. Many try to live in a way that would make their beloved proud.

“Moving on” can be good. Maybe that’s what living is all about. But we learn from the ones we love and think we lost. Whether or not we choose to ‘carry them with us’ into the next chapters of our lives, I’m pretty sure that simply having loved them turns us into better people.

 

What do you think about keeping connected to a deceased loved one?

 

Categorizing Friends

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an image of all types of friends for categorizing friends.“How many children do you have?” The question used to put me in a quandary.
“One living and one dead,” I’d reply, needing to account for both kids. Needing to hang on to what I love, and peg it in place. I think that was how my categorizing started. Now I categorize everything, including friends. Online friends and offline friends. And offline friends are further classified into my Regular Friends and the new Blue Friends.

There is nothing really regular about my Regular Friends. Many knew me in my old life, knew my daughter. When she died, they showed up to support me and they continue to do so. These Regular Friends keep me grounded, anchored in the real ongoing world with news about their kids’ graduations and weddings, their grandchildren. These are mostly people I chose long ago. We are connected by history. I love them, love that they stuck by me. But. They don’t really get me. They don’t understand my fascination with afterlife, or what drives me to endlessly photo-shop my daughter’s face. Forgetting that I’d give my eyeteeth to have one more hour with my girl, they sometimes complain about their children, about petty things a daughter did, or a son did not do. I call them ‘regular’ because these friends are happily not initiated into the realm of child-loss. I’m grateful they don’t know this pain.

Then there are my newest friends. Bereaved mothers and fathers. I call them Blue Friends as they aren’t at their happiest, and I may never know them at their happiest. Many of these people are folks I would never have met if not for our shared grief experience. Now I am drawn to them. I see beauty and a particular grace about them. They are like cousins. We are fragile and broken in the same ways. These friends get who I am. Now. They understand the crazy things I do—we do—to keep connected to our children who died. They will plant candles on a cake and sing Happy Birthday to my dead daughter with me. When I desperately need to talk about my girl, my Blue Friends listen without feeling uncomfortable. There is something very special about the way we can laugh together despite our crushed hearts.

In an unpredictable world, where a child you love can disappear forever, I need friends of both types: those who know, and those who are blessedly ignorant of how everything changes and everything hurts when you lose a child. I’m grateful for all my friends. Having them has made everything almost manageable. Stepping cleanly from one set of friends to the other, sometimes several times in one day, I always felt like I was on solid ground. But that changed last week when one of my Regular Friends had her world pulled out from under her— her child died—and suddenly, even assigning categories can’t stop the conundrum of change as a Regular Friend turns Blue.

 

Best friends, foodie friends, crazy friends, needy friends…. Is it okay to categorize your friends?

Another School Shooting

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, upset about yet another school shooting, buries her sadness in Photoshop to create a photo illustration of what kids' high school days used to look like before all these scholl shootings.I give up. Just sitting here. Can’t write. But I can’t ignore another school shooting. More brokenhearted parents. Devastated families. It’s too painful searching for words to describe having to face the rest of your life without the child who made your world shine. So I’m burying my sadness in Photoshop, where I can patch together a cozy nest to keep my memories of what kids’ high school days used to look like. Before.

How do you deal with so much senseless tragedy?

Dealing with Mother’s Day

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops Marika Warden, the girl in Ithaca who kicked leukemia but died of complications.Just so you know: I’m not even going to try to write coherently today. It’s my daughter’s birthday. In a week it will be Mother’s Day. And all I can think, every minute of the day and night now, is how I wish I could get back the joy of those days when Marika was alive.

She loved singing, being near water, Australia, sushi, and carrot cake. And the dog I inherited. So I’m singing to the full moon, hiking with the dog, raking algae from the pond, and eating sushi and cake. All the things I gifted her, the pedicures, the shopping sprees, dinners out with friends … I am now gifting myself.

A card she gave me on May 9, 2010 says, “Mom happy mother’s day! IOU one lunch out @ your choice of restaurant! Always, Marika.”

It’s because she wrote, “Always.” She drew a heart around the middle of the word. That’s why, four years after her death and for as long as I can chew, I will eat lunch out on Mother’s Day.

Maybe I’ll even buy flowers.

 

Taking bets: Will my son call me for Mother’s Day or not? Will I remember to phone my own mother before midnight on Sunday? How will you deal with Mother’s Day?