Tag Archives: Dealing with Loss

Duetting: Memoir 51

Duetting: Memoir 51 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the storm of dealing with her daughter dying of cancer.

The Shipwreck Coast. That’s the name of an eighty-mile section of rough coastline off Australia’s Great Ocean Road. At its midpoint, the town of Port Campbell hugs Two Mile Bay, a calm spot on this perilous coast with otherworldly names like Port Fairy, Moonlight Head, and Wreck Beach. It is off-season here in March 2012. That is why I am able to get a motel room facing the bay, and a table with a seaside-sunset view at 12Rocks Café Beach Bar. Eating beer-battered fish I study the cliffs, the stunning backdrops to the dramas of over 180 ships that sank off this coast. A lot of ghosts, I think over my glass of white wine. The only accessible spot to the stormy Southern Ocean, Port Campbell long ago became known for coastal rescues and shipwreck salvaging operations. It was from this stretch of beach that rescue teams were launched using rockets to fire rope lines out to sinking ships, to help bring in survivors. Sometimes the sea was so wild that those hanging onto the lifelines were washed away in the turmoil of being rescued.

On another rocky shore, on the third day of March 2011, Marika’s father called my friend Celia to come to the hospital in Rochester, so I wouldn’t be alone for the Letting Go of my daughter’s life the next day. But I pretended Celia wasn’t there. And I did not call Rachel or tell Laurie. Laurie would be heartbroken. She’d want us to hang on until she got there. I wanted to spare her the sorry trip. I wanted to spare Marika any more time of pain now that the time of miracles was over. Besides, now that I could see where it was all heading, I wanted my daughter for myself.

Alone with Marika in the glass fishbowl of the ICU room, I rubbed her feet, aware of the four teams that still took turns hovering near the door, peering in like buzzards checking out road-kill. The dose of Propofol had been upped to paralyze her so she could no longer work against the breathing machine. They said she felt nothing now. She was in deep trusting sleep as the monitors and mechanical devices ticked on.

If I had known how to face and share the awful conundrum convulsing in my head, I might have said: Marika, you put up an awesome fight. There’s no leukemia left in your body. But your lungs have been destroyed. And you have no immune system. I’m scared, Mareek. The only thing they can promise is more infections, more organ breakdowns, pain, a life attached to oxygen tanks and ventilators, maybe feeding tubes forever. I can’t let them hurt you any more. Your dad and I are letting you go. You are dying. For someone who prized independence and wanted to control the way you lived, you’re being given no choices now. You’ve been cheated and it isn’t fair. I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it all better. I love you and I always will.

Cut! I wish I had said that. But that is not how it played out. “Rewind. Replay,” as Marika would have said. Reality this time:

“Hang in there, Mareek,” I whispered, hoarsely. “Everyone is taking good care of you … so you can rest now. Stop fighting the breathing machine … it’ll be okay.” I kissed her arm near a small mole. And then my hands on her numbed feet kneaded a wordless love song. A silent dance over her soles, over and over: I love you, I love you, I love you, … It was like I was swimming in slow motion, in aimless circles, still trying to hang onto and lug my lifeless child back to shore. Still lifeguarding. Remaining vigilant, protecting and keeping watch over my precious charge. It was all I knew how to do. And slowly it dawned on me that soon there would be nothing left of her to guard. So, yielding to the miserable truth, the next thing, the only thing to be done was to fill my stinging wet eyes with her face. Memorize her face. The face that always fascinated me. The lavender-lined eyelids, her perfect nose, her rosebud lips. The face that, even when steeped in anger at me, was the most beautiful and best part of myself.

We all get caught up in storms. On the Shipwreck Coast in southeast Australia, the dangerous rocks just below the water’s surface have dashed many a ship to shards in storms. Sometimes captains lost their bearings. Or the pilots didn’t see through the heavy mist until it was too late to change course. Things got out of control. Ships smashed into pounding surfs. They capsized and couldn’t be righted. Passengers still on the sinking boat could see big fires built on the beach to warm survivors, but no one saw the reality of what was happening until the blue emergency lights burned and the rockets were firing. And in the commotion of it all, maybe there wasn’t even a clear second for the desperate ones on the doomed vessel to realize, “We are not going to survive this.”

 

 

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 27

Duetting: Memoir 27 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a family of geese to illustrate her memoir dealing with loss and bereavement.

When your life gets completely obliterated you can chuck it or you can go on, wailing and whimpering as you plant one foot forward in front of the other. I don’t know which is harder. In the thick of loss it’s not like you can recognize any options.

In March 2012, on the first anniversary of my daughter’s death, people are sending me mixed messages: it’s time to get on with your life; give yourself time to heal; get over it; this will be with you forever. It embarrasses me that I’m not employed yet. I had allowed myself the year off. But now my mother’s hints about getting a job have turned into sharp jabs that leave me gnawing at my cuticles. There are no jobs in Ithaca, not for me anyway. I don’t even know who I am anymore or what I can do. Marika’s been gone a whole year, and all I want is to stay home and write at my table in the corner of the house, overlooking the pond where the geese are back trying to nest again.

They’re early this year. Every year the same two geese sit in the same place and build the same measly little nest. Some years they even get to hatch their eggs before a raccoon or woodchuck claims them. Marika and I often watched a bevy of baby geese paddling in the pond between their parents, or waddling on the bank. One always toddled way behind or in the wrong direction. We woke many mornings to squawking and splashing as the parents tried to ward off other overtaking geese. And inevitably, every day, there’d be one less egg or one more baby goose gone, and then another gone, and another, until there were no baby geese left. Then the father would fly off and the mother would wander back and forth along the pond bank, picking at the pitiful remains of the nest. And I can tell you for sure that geese cry; it’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. A sound, something like sobbing, sighing, heaving, and honking—all at once— fills the sky begging, “Why on earth?” and “What’s next?” and “How?”

“Did you hear from Pat?” I call Rachel. Pat was Marika’s Australian boyfriend. Rachel has his address, email, and phone number from the shoebox where she’d found the final wishes and a sealed letter to be sent to him upon Marika’s death.
“He said he’s expecting to hear from you.”
“Do I have the right address?” I’d emailed Pat twice already and not gotten a response. None of the Australian connections have replied. This is not turning out to be the trip I’d imagined. I wanted to meet up with people. I’d hoped to make it a family pilgrimage with my mother and Laurie, but my mother couldn’t go. And now, because of Laurie’s recent knee replacement, we need to rent a car to get around, forcing me to alter the trip again. Laurie calls at the last minute.

“Robin, I’m sorry. My knee is infected,” she says. There is a long pause. I wait. For the inevitable. But she wants me to fish it out of her. Laurie must really feel bad; I usually can’t shut her up to squeeze in a word of my own.
“You’re not going?” I say, knowing already and seeing only stunning white light.
“It’s just not going to work for me. I’m sorry. I really wish I could go,” she says. And I try not to panic or say anything to make her feel worse. So. Why on earth? What’s next? And how?

The day before I am to leave for Australia. Greg carries his rifle down the stairs, and together we traipse outside and around the pond to shoot the Heart Drive from Marika’s old computer. It bothers me that the box of Marika’s life-before-cancer could get swallowed up and lost forever in Greg’s vast accumulation of stuff upstairs. The Staples tech had said to destroy it. Destroying is a job for my warrior son; putting the pieces away in the right place is what I do. This is the last item on my list of things to take care of before the trip. And Greg may be called to his new job in Afghanistan before I get back. So we place the little black box at the base of the willow tree that still stands despite being shot at for the past year.

BAM! LikeBAM! He shoots. All the homework assignments, Marika’s pre-cancer concerns, the girl-life contained in that small black box, LikeBAM! The long-gone girl who preceded the almost-adult daughter I miss, BAM! BAM! No fanfare. No fireworks. No explosion of computer chips or chorus of hallelujahs. Just two surprised geese taking off fast from the pond at the first of the five shots. I hold back my tears as we examine the remains of the box. Satisfied that the contents are indeed destroyed, we bury it deep into a muskrat hole by our feet. This is Marika’s pond. Part of her will always be with it. I curl my lips around quivering teeth, and clamp down hard.

Back inside the house my friend Liz types away on the computer. Greg disappears upstairs, and I hover nervously over Liz as she fidgets with my iPad, and enters the email addresses of the women who have been gathering month after month to hear what I’ve been writing. Time is running out as I scour my contacts and my memory for all the strong women in my life, to add them to the list.
“How am I going to do this?” I ask Liz.
“You go to your gmail account on your iPad, you open up this email, then you –”
“No, I mean the whole thing. Tomorrow. This trip,” I say. “It isn’t right. What on earth am I doing going to Australia—alone—to spread my daughter’s ashes?”           

 

 

Getting a Life

Getting a Life   Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cover for her manuscript that helped her heal from child loss, and will now be shared on her blog.“Mom, get a life,” my daughter Marika often told me, mostly when she was angry with me. It was the last coherent thing she said to me, “Get a life.” And after she died I did everything I could think of to make a new life for myself, one she’d approve of.

Mainly, I tried to do all the things Marika loved to do. Things I’d never considered before. Like writing, blogging, and photographing. It was comforting to coop myself up at home for endless days crafting weekly blogs and a 200-page memoir about our journey together through the wilds of cancer. It was like duetting with my daughter. Or with her ghost. Writing and rereading the manuscript brought her back to me, made her come alive again and again. It helped me heal. I never needed to get the work published. It did enough just giving me a foothold to re-enter the world.

There’s a problem with getting a life, or getting a new life. Living isn’t just about doing things or maintaining one single mission. And people change. I’ve changed. Nine years after Marika’s death, I’m finding I need more time to watch birds, or to simply sit and do next to nothing. I want to spend more time in the company of friends, to listen to others’ stories. To listen to music, to maybe even dance. These days there’s never enough time to record meaningful material for my readers. It takes me forever to compose. Yet writing, blogging, is a connection to Marika and to my newfound community that I do not want to give up.

When Marika died, long before I could begin to write, it helped to read what others had written about their losses. So I’m hoping you won’t mind if I share bits and pieces of my own manuscript here, in my weekly blogs, over the next weeks. Or months. Just to keep in touch while I venture out to discover where life will lead me next.

 

 

 

Wildfires

Wildfires Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a New Year's campfire while the wildfires blaze in Australia.In Ithaca New York’s cold wet winter, we lit candles and campfires, bonfires even, to herald in the New Year. At the time, I didn’t know that on the opposite side of our planet, in Australia, not too far from where I left my daughter’s ashes, there was ongoing, worsening fiery devastation. The media is now filled with images of wildfires forcing people and their pets to flee to nearby shores, houses exploding, homes and whole towns in smoldering ruins, volunteers comforting injured koalas and kangaroos… they say half a billion animals have been lost. And I don’t know how many hearts have been broken in all this. But I will never again be able to bask in the warm glow of a fire without remembering the videos of roaring flames and smoky orange skies, and people trapped on beaches, watching as winds sweep the blazes ever closer.

 

 

Soothing Words: I’m Still Here

Soothing Words: I'm Still Here  Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York plays her cornet as a soothing ritual for dealing with the pain of loss.“Are you in pain? Why are you groaning?” the aide asked my 93-year old mother.
“To hear myself, to know I’m still here,” Mom insisted, “No pain.” Close to the end of her life, and on morphine, my mother’s world was disappearing. Producing the constant, low, gravelly moaning sound was soothing to her. Although it gave her visiting daughters the creeps.

I’m remembering that now because I may be creeping out some people by some of the things I do to comfort myself. And what I do to assure myself I’m still here, still an active participant in the world.

Not everyone understands that while I wake each morning, grateful to be alive, I am ever aware that the list of people who have touched my life, who died, grows continually longer. This dying-thing is a problem that’s going to get worse the longer I live. So I’m looking for positive ways to deal with the pain of losing loved ones.

It used to be I could recite their names every night as I lay awake waiting for sleep. But as more and more people in my world keep disappearing off the planet, I’m losing track of their names.

Over the course of last year, I learned to play TAPS on my cornet, and began dedicating each note to the beloved ones I can no longer see. It’s like calling out to the dead. Like saying goodnight, goodbye, thank you, and I care about you. But it’s more.

Last week, I played my cornet in the early morning, by the foot of a dear friend’s grave at Greensprings Natural Cemetery. Afterwards, I felt so at peace, I told several of my living friends who then responded, “You’re so nice to do that.” I didn’t know what to say to that, because playing TAPS is as much for me as it is for my dearly departed. It is utterly calming to me. I hear the notes echo out into the sky, over lakes and hills, and assure myself: I am still here. And as long as I’m able, I will call to the ones who altered my life, and keep some small part of them here with me.

 

How do you soothe yourself? Have you ever found that something you do or believe in is irritating to others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I Crazy for Treating my Dog Like a Child?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the dog she inherited from her daughter, her fur baby replacement child.After my daughter died I didn’t want to love a single person or thing ever again. But Marika left me her dog. That was 8 ½ years ago. In the midst of my grieving, Suki became the sweetness and light in my life. Even now, when I look at this poochie-girl, the oxytocin in my brain bubbles over, melting all moodiness and moving me to plant multiple kisses on the fuzzy bridge of her nose. I’m a total mush pot over this dog.

Most of the time at home, when I’m not talking to my dead daughter, I’m talking to her dog. I worry about every little lump I find on her—is it cancer, is she going to stay healthy and have a good life? Is she too warm? Is she too cold? Driven to sew polar fleece blank-ees and construct plush featherbeds in every corner of the house for my baby-dog, I have a sneaking suspicion that Suki has turned into a replacement child.

Last week, Suki turned ten. And I wondered what I could possibly give her for a birthday present. She already had an abundance of squeaky toys and chew-sticks. And multiple puffer coats for cold-weather hiking. A card offering 20% off on a Dog DNA test arrived in the mail, and for a brief time I considered making a doggie birthday party but these ideas made me want to barf. Instead, I decided to spend a ton of time with her.

On the big day I put a bowtie necklace around her neck and fed her lots of roast beef. We hiked with friends, chased frogs around the pond, and played fetch. She got several belly-rubs. We spent the whole day together and I almost took her to the meeting of bereaved parents that evening knowing they’d understand my not wanting to leave her behind on her birthday. But Suki seemed worn out from all the attention. She crawled up on her new pillow perch in the window by the front door and pretty much told me she’d had enough.

Am I crazy for treating my dog like my child?

Well. Life is too short to worry about such things. And it’s too hard to go through life without love. So I’m just gonna keep doing anything I can to make sure my inherited dog has the best life possible.