Tag Archives: daughter died

Wedding-Guest Dress for a Bereaved Mother

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her daughter who died onto a floral design and then gets the photo printed onto fabric so whe can sew it up into a dress.Even though dead for seven years, there was no way my daughter would miss her friend’s wedding. So when my invitation arrived, I knew immediately that I would wear something of Marika’s to the event. I searched through closets and drawers for her black sequined shrug. It would be the perfect thing over my cocktail dress. Only, I couldn’t find the shrug. Anywhere. For two days I pulled apart the whole house, but it didn’t turn up. The only other clothes I still had of Marika’s were her soccer sweatshirts, winter scarves, and a tank-top. Totally inappropriate for a wedding.

I came up with the idea of photo-shopping an image of Marika as a young girl onto a flowery background, and then getting the picture printed on cloth so I could sew it up into a new dress. A Marika Dress. For days I sketched pictures, made a paper pattern, shopped for trimmings, and researched companies that would print photos on fabric. I immersed myself into the project with an energy and enthusiasm that had been absent in my life the past seven years.

“That’s totally inappropriate for a wedding,” a friend of mine said, when I told her my plans. Suddenly, I felt myself sinking into a dark abyss of grief and shame. I was wrong, weird. Out of place. I’d always been a little different, “You’re an artist so it’s okay that you’re kind of kooky,” someone told me long ago. Having my daughter die made me even more unlike most people. More self-conscious about who I was and how I fit in. Less likely to attend parties. I never wanted to call attention to myself or offend anyone. What I wear doesn’t really matter; just being a bereaved mother at an event like a wedding feels like standing naked in a crowd. Now, I was being inappropriate. And about to make people uncomfortable.

But working on the project had given me so much joy, I decided to make the dress anyway. I could wear it to The Compassionate FriendsRobin Botie of Ithaca, New York, has a photo printed on fabric and sews it into a dress. monthly meetings for bereaved parents, where they would understand my wanting to “take” my daughter to the wedding. For the ceremony I would put on the cocktail dress with Marika’s tank-top underneath.

Finishing the project, I scoured the house to find a satin sash to top it off. And during the search for the sash, I found Marika’s sequined shrug. It would be perfect over either dress. So now I have to decide. Or maybe I’ll leave that up to the bride and her mother.


Do you think the new Marika Dress would be inappropriate to wear to the wedding?

Self Care Day

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a child sleeping in a slipper-shaped bed to visualize away her back pain.When the pain in my back got so bad that I couldn’t sleep left-side or right, or even belly-up, I went shuffling to my doctor’s where the nurse weighed me, took my blood pressure, asked where it hurt, and finally looked at me, cocking her head, and said, “Have you been depressed lately?” At which point I broke down into a drippy, wailing mess.

Without going into the whole story of my daughter’s dying seven years ago, I wanted to let the nurse know I felt entitled to some depression. But the question left me speechless. I stood there shaking and sobbing, looking anywhere but at her eyes, wondering if I had liver cancer, and wishing I could just curl up to sleep. Hanging on the wall was a children’s book illustration of a sleeping family. They were floating in the sky, each member cozily cocooned in their own fuzzy, quilted slipper-shaped bed.

I returned home with comfort food from Wegmans, Aleve, and a prescription for physical therapy sessions, and spent the next several hours visualizing my pain away in Photoshop. I’m calling it a Self Care Day.


What do you do to take care of yourself?

In Another World

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her daughter who died, Marika Warden, with a tessellation of puppies in the background.Right away, the old mother was drawn to the girl at the end of the table who sat clutching a stuffed animal, her mascaraed eyes staring straight ahead.

How could the mother not be reminded of her own beautiful daughter? From the million images tessellating in her head, one arose of her daughter sitting up in a hospital bed, clinging to her stuffed puppy as doctors announced, “You’re eighteen. So you’re the adult in charge.” And now, here was this unknown almost-adult girl seated across the table, hugging her stuffed animal and looking dazed. Why was this girl here?

“ …When my mom died,” the girl said, shortly after. Then something inside the mother burst. “My mom won’t be here for my graduation, or when I get married, or when I have kids,” the girl continued, and the old mother remembered for the billionth time that her own daughter would never get to graduate college, get married or have kids.

She had watched her daughter suffer and wondered why she herself hadn’t been the one to get cancer. Maybe in a different dimension of existence, in an alternate reality or some parallel universe, things were different. In another world her daughter might still be alive. But here, in this world, at the other end of the table was a daughter who lost her mother.

Suddenly the girl sat down next to the mother. The girl’s eyes were even more radiant up close, with a familiar hint of opalescent eye shadow and perfectly painted waterproof mascara. There was much the old woman would have liked to say to the girl but she couldn’t find her words, couldn’t begin, and now the girl was so close, smiling and crying at the same time. Tears ran down both their faces.

“I’m gonna get a tattoo with my mom’s name,” the girl said.
“I have a tattoo,” the mother said, peeling off her sweater to show the girl her shoulder tattooed with her daughter’s name. “Can you read it?” the mother asked. “Yes. That’s right. It’s Marika.” The girl beamed.

“And who’s this?” the mother asked, already knowing, pointing to the stuffed animal the girl clung to, thinking of the stuffed puppy she’d given her own daughter at birth and now kept on the mantle in the middle of her house (and kissed goodnight most nights). The girl held out her fuzzy stuffed dog.
“My mother gave it to me,” she said, turning it over to show the stitched-on tag that spelled LOVE ME.


What Lasts Forever?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a daylily on top of a boulder in her rock garden that could be two million years old.“Another boulder,” I hooted, as Excavator #5 dislodged a large mud-covered rock. That made four. Four boulders now sat in my yard. Solid. Substantial. They would outlast me by eons, hanging out on this land forever. Always.

If a stone in Central New York could tell its story, it would reveal that millions of years ago it was detached from its parent rock by weathering and erosion. It was then pushed and dragged by glacial ice, scraping over soil and stone. Sometimes stuck in stream beds, the rock’s rough edges were rounded, worn smooth. Once settled, it sat for ages, being built around or buried, or left alone as forests grew up around it. A rock in New York could be two million years old. This is why each boulder I find, I love.

My biggest boulder had been pulled from the bottom of the pond years ago. By Excavator #4, shortly after my daughter died. The pond was deteriorating. Muskrats. Weeds. Algae. I was trying to save it. Marika and the muskrats were the only ones to swim regularly in the pond. When she died, I had told people, “I feel like frozen mud, like a heavy lifeless rock.” And then the excavator found the Pond Boulder.

The Pond Boulder must have first been unearthed back in 1998 when Excavator #3 dug the pond and then left the heavy nuisance he found at the bottom. My third pond. Built with my second husband, by the third excavator. It was my third home on the same land. Nothing lasts forever.

For many summers the Pond Boulder sat as children swam above, kicking and splashing on pink Styrofoam noodles. Years later the huge rock, fished out by Excavator #4, was rolled to the base of a nearby tree. And last week Excavator #5 bunched all the boulders together into a kind of giant rock garden. My boulders. Like I could ever own them. Or hold on to anything in this world.

“Come see my boulders,” I said to the friend who planted daylilies in my yard in June. “And will you look at the lilies? They’re not doing so well in this drought.”
“They only bloom for a day,” she said, watching me pick off shrivels of spent blossoms. “That’s why they’re called day-lilies.”


What lasts? What can you count on to be there when the world as you know and love it is washed away?



Rituals for Life, Love, and Loss

Robin Botie of Ithaca New York photoshops a ritual funeral for a dead bird.This sky lantern is for you, beautiful one, wherever you are. For your, (what do they call it?), birthday-in-heaven. Also, since the lanterns came only by the dozen, I’m mailing the other eleven to family and friends. So in this month before your birthday, you will get twelve lantern-launching ceremonies. If I could send you a dozen roses or a trillion chocolate Kit-Kat bars, I would. I love you. Lots. I didn’t really need to write this on the lantern; I’d already said it, in our driveway under an almost-full moon, to my daughter who died.

Long ago, the first rituals I created were funerals for dead birds. The neighborhood kids shared solemn words as we wrapped small creatures in Kleenex, with shriveled dandelions and daisies, and buried them in my mother’s rock garden. Later I created ceremonies, mostly around food, to acknowledge monumental changes in my life. We’re not talking séances or anything strange here. Rituals are simply small acts done to honor someone or recognize some event. We do rituals all the time. Like lighting candles on a cake and singing happy birthday. Like raising the flag. Planting a tree after a birth or a death. Clinking our glasses to toast someone.

For some reason, my most recent rituals almost always involve sending things UP. When my father died we gave his ashes to a friend, who had a small airplane, to toss them out over the Long Island Sound. For my daughter, we let loose a bunch of homing pigeons. Over the last five years, I’ve released balloons and butterflies for her, blown bubbles off high cliffs into the wind, read poems to the sun, and sang to the moon. Why, I wonder, do I keep looking UP for my daughter even though I found a page of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself among her things, the part where he wrote, “If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles”?

I’ll plant daisies, or roses, too, I tell her. It all helps. Rituals make me feel closer to my daughter. More connected. And all the singing, the lanterns, the birds, and butterflies I send UP – in the process, I’m lifting myself as well.


What other rituals might I do for the upcoming birthday? Or for the coming of spring and summer?

Addiction Like Cancer

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops a collage to illustrate being lost in the wild woods of addictions and cancer.“How’s your daughter doing?”
“What’s your son up to these days?” I’m afraid to ask my friends. Because too often there’ll be a scrunching of brows over eyes suddenly filled with torment, followed by a torrent of emotion, the significant word finally gushing out – “addiction.”

“My daughter is….” “My son … heroin, meth, …addicted,” people who know I “lost” a child send me emails and personal messages online. Offline, I hear it going around the table during introductions at bereaved mothers’ gatherings. Almost every day there’s another heartbroken parent. Waiting for The Phone Call. Preparing for the worst. Aching. And OMG, I hear the pain.

I remember that pain. It isn’t so different from when your child has been diagnosed with cancer. Your heart sinks into your gut. And there’s little you can do to get rid of this scourge. You start wondering how you contributed to it, what was the something you did or did not do. You’re angry, sad, and ready-to-embrace-whatever-might-help scared.

Addiction, like cancer, is a deadly disease. Mostly, what I remember from plodding through the wilds of cancer, is fighting for my daughter, for her health, her life. Fighting and worrying. And loving. You love so hard it tears the breath and light from you.
“We will never be out of the woods,” one mother told me. And it’s true.
“You don’t want to be out of the woods,” I wrote her back. “Because then you’ll be in my neck of the woods.” There’s no more worrying here, but –

There’s nothing I can tell them. “I’m sorry,” I say, the same words people said to me when my daughter died.

The only thing that helps, either side of the forest, is knowing you are not alone. There are gazillions of us crying for our children, praying for our children, singing to the moon hoping our children know we will always love them. However they are. Wherever they are. Or are not.

If you are the parent of a child with an addiction, I humbly share your tears.


What do you do or say when someone is in pain over a loved one’s addiction?