Tag Archives: Dealing with Loss

Too Much Change

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, is resisting change after years of too many changes and finally finding her own crazy path through life.How willing are you to change your habits and/or lifestyle? This was the question haunting me the last three months. It took that long to get an appointment with the particular medical person who many friends and acquaintances were raving about, about how she had improved their health and changed their lives.

The question was towards the end of the thirteen-page patient survey the office mailed to me, in the section querying about leisure behavior patterns, diet, alcohol and other substance consumption. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d scored my willingness to change as fairly high. Then, as soon as I sealed the envelope to mail it back, I knew I hadn’t answered truthfully. And now, on the eve of my scheduled appointment, in the middle of a brilliant summer of partying, wine tastings, campfires, garden celebrations, picnics, barbecues and dinners on the deck, I am pretty sure I would not want to change even a tiny blessed thing about my life (other than getting back my daughter who died).

When Marika died 8 ½ years ago, I didn’t want to be alive at all. For many miserable months, I had to work hard to find or create reasons to drag myself out of bed each day. Friends, food and wine were the only lights in my life. Filling my time with these as much as possible, over the years I found ways to keep myself together, keep looking forward. So much changed. Too much change. Now, finally I feel like I re-found myself, redefined my self and my new path in life. The road I follow may seem strange to some. But I am making my own peculiar way and life is beautiful once again. As for my habits and health—I am keeping my appointment, but I don’t know how much more I can bear in the way of changing.

 

How willing are you to make changes?

 

 

 

Why Can’t I Keep my Mouth Shut?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a bad-ass flower, a zinnia, as she wonders, Why can't I keep my mouth shut?We’re all better off if I say nothing this week. Because these days, too many of my truest feelings and worst thoughts keep slipping out of my mouth. No, they tumble out of my mouth and flatten everyone within earshot. My most bold opinions come spewing out of me like semi-automatic gunfire. And people don’t usually react well to this.

I don’t know if this crankiness and loss of control is because of all the rain, the heat, my advanced age, the current political turmoil, or possibly just boredom from my new diet of chard and fish—but lately I seem to have zero ability to hold my tongue. At unexpected times I feel compelled to speak what’s in my mind. And I’m a stick of dynamite with a short fuse, a walking time bomb that could explode if you say the wrong thing.

Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? In the past, I was always the wishy-washy one, the one who wouldn’t take a stand, couldn’t make a decision. Teachers and friends used to beg me to speak up and be more assertive. And now, I have no patience for others’ cruelty, stupidity, or anything that does not comply with what I perceive as the truth. At the first inkling of discomfort, I’m likely to spout out,

Hey, life’s too short, and Hey, I don’t have to swallow any nonsense anymore. I’m one tough bitch with a dead daughter. So don’t mess with my head.

Photographing flowers calms me down, helps me to see sense. But there was nothing quiet about this brazen-faced zinnia. In a week-old bouquet, it still blazed brilliant among the shriveled-up blooms surrounding it. Another bad-ass flower. Sassy. Like the daughter I’m missing. Yow, back in her times I would be crushed to the pulp whenever she unloaded what she had to say.

 

What gets your goat? Or gets you to verbally attack the ones you love most?

 

My Mother, the Matriarch of the Family, Died

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a picture of her mother, matriarch of the family, who died.Last week, I went to visit my ninety-three year-old mother and found a stranger in her apartment. A docile, pale old lady in a wheelchair was falling asleep over her hardly-touched cake and coffee. She apologized and begged forgiveness of me, and of anyone who came near.

This was not MY mother. The mother who, weeks ago, was still stuffing her walker into the car, and shuffling off to the “beauty parlor.” The mother who bought jewels to match every outfit. The one who demanded that everything be executed in her own particular way, or you’d suffer her scorn. MY Mom could out-eat anyone, and was shamelessly vocal about whatever or whomever she disliked. Head of our tribe, she didn’t apologize.

Last week, the only thing my Mom ate with any interest was rum-raisin ice cream. It was set before her in spoon-sized clumps after lovingly prepared meals were removed and dumped in the trash. Morphine was doled out to balance my mother’s free-from-suffering time with her time to be able to think and communicate coherently. Sleep, when it came to her, was deep and steeped with groaning. Over the weekend she drifted ever farther away into her sleep.

On Sunday we sisters kissed her goodbye, said we’d be back in two weeks. But early the next morning, I got The Phone Call, the call that knocks you upside down even if you’ve known for a while that death was parked waiting right outside the door. Needing time to process this, I went to the gym. There, responding to the first person who casually inquired, “Hey, how are you?” I tested out the words too impossible to believe yet, “My Mom just died,” adding, “I think I’m an orphan.”

“No,” my friend said, looking me sternly in the face, kinda like my mother used to, “You’re not an orphan. You’re a matriarch now.”

I am still waiting to see how all this will hit me once I finally get it through my head that my Mom, the woman who gave me life, carried and protected me—and ruled my world—is dead. Sooner or later, I will be clobbered hard by the loss of her, I’m sure. But that morning in the gym, after being dubbed “matriarch,” I mustered up twice as many planks than ever before and threw myself into a fierce aerobic frenzy. Then, still breathless, I phoned my sisters to assign them various tasks from the list of all that had to be done to accommodate the great shift in our tiny family. What kind of matriarch will I be? I wonder. The glue of the family, or the iron fist?

 

Staying Afloat

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York Photoshops her Havanese dog gazing at a dandelion by the pond.Staying Afloat -- Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York Photoshops daughter, Marika Warden, swimming in pond filled with algae.“Do you remember this?” I asked, holding up the ancient rake. “I got my rake, my Wellingtons and work gloves. What am I forgetting?” The boots and gloves were oversized. My shorts were tight and tiny. No one would be stopping by so my hair was tied up haphazardly.
“Don’t look at me like that. I have to rake the algae from the pond.” I took a fast drink of water and bent down for a kiss.
“First we rake. Okay, I rake. Then I pull the cattails up by the roots. Then I get to carry the piles of raked and pulled stuff from the pond banks. Then I pour the blue dye off all the edges to discourage algae growth. And then – I don’t know why I do this every year. I should be spending this time with you.”

This is the conversation I had with the dog. She watched me from inside the sliding glass door as I reached and pulled and piled algae and old pondweed. For seven days I raked the pond in one or two-hour sessions until dripping sweat stung my eyes and my back ached.

“Do you swim in your pond?” People always ask me that. The truth is I can’t remember when I last swam in the pond. My daughter was the one who used the pond. She and her friends splashed around on neon-pink and orange poly-foam noodles, shrieking with laughter. “Mom, look. Watch me. See me.” I kept the pond clean and beautiful for her. Now that she’s gone, I’m not sure why I bother.

To keep a pond cleared for swimming is backbreaking work but sometimes hard physical labor is what one needs to stay afloat in grief or depression. Some people pray. Some meditate. Some go for walks in nature or drive fast and far. All of these I have done. There are many ways to deal with loss but the thing I come back to each spring is the raking.

I could see my inherited dog waiting and watching my every move from inside. Tearing off my boots, my socks, the tight shorts, and my father’s watch, I scanned the shallows. There was no longer any easy access to the pond. I sat down on its grassy edge. Now or never, I thought, and scooted off into the cool water. I splashed. I swam out through warm and cold spots. I swam in a circle. And hollered out to the dog, “Hey, Suki. I’m swimming. See me?”

 

In times of trouble what do you do to stay afloat?

Change and Loss

Mother of Robin Botie with dieffenbachia plant that is experiencing change and lossThe first thing I did in Massachusetts, after emptying the car of my mother and her bags, was to put the dieffenbachia plant back on her porch. The plant had spent the winter on my dining room table in New York while my mother spent the winter in Florida.
How long do houseplants live, I wondered? I’d been bringing this dieffenbachia back and forth to my mother’s summer home every May and October for four years. Since the year my daughter lost her fight with cancer and I couldn’t bear to let anything else die.

“Cheers!” my mother and sister and I toasted once we were all assembled. “To another great summer,” we said, clinking glasses. I knew I was not the only one thinking it might be our last at October Mountain.
Things were changing. The packing and traveling each season were becoming difficult for my mother. Many of her friends were no longer there. One by one over the past years, the playing golf, barbequing on the deck, driving to nighttime theater, … had stopped. And now the cozy summer home would be put up for sale.
It didn’t seem possible that we would not keep returning summer after summer. Even as we settled into the familiar routine of opening up the house, I felt the loss.

I’ve learned loss is not only about losing a loved one. Loss can be losing a place you are rooted to, or a lifestyle. A friend of ours lost her mind; another lost her mobility. My sister has to give up the work she loves. I fight hard not to lose my dream. We all know loss. Dealing with it demands all the things we think we don’t have, like strength, faith, patience, creativity. It takes courage to let go of what you love but can’t keep. Sometimes all you can do is look to what’s next. For better or for worse, something’s always next.

“Cheers,” I say. Here’s to the mountains that greened up over the weekend, to the spider that weaves web masterpieces in the lawn, to exquisite meals at Chez Nous Bistro, to the old dieffenbachia. A toast to being able to get up and down stairs, to the West Massachusetts skies filled with bright stars, to family. To health and happiness.
Here’s to another summer.
To all of us. To what’s next.

Stuck Fixing My Messy Beautiful

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, is reflected, praying with cameraIn March 2011, I turned into frozen mud.

I always believed I could design my way into or out of anything. To design is to start with something, a lump of clay, a need, canvas and paint, or a girl who died of leukemia and her grieving mother, and then turn it into something else. For me, to design is to fix and to make beautiful.
But in March 2011, cancer killed my daughter. I could not fix that. I froze. Like mud in winter. Who am I, I wondered? Am I still the mother of a daughter? Who or what am I supposed to fix now?

The day after she died I discovered my daughter was a writer. So I began to write. I wrote our story. And rewrote it and kept writing. Here was something I could fix. I could edit the manuscript endlessly.
But this is messy. In rewriting, I relive the times in and out of hospitals with my daughter. I bring her back to life for twelve chapters and hold my breath as I watch her die. Then, dragging my dashed spirit up off the floor, I fix the next half of the book where I travel alone to Australia with her ashes, come home, and begin a new life. Over and over again, I write and relive every day. For three years.

“When are you going to get a real job with health insurance?” my mother nags.
“It’s time to move on to something else,” says a friend.
“I’m designing my way to healing,” I try to explain. But the truth is I am stuck.

Writing led to blogging. Almost everyone has lost someone or something they love. I ache to fix the pain as another relative is diagnosed with cancer, a friend’s son kills himself, a stranger online reaches out for support.
“There’s life after loss,” I blog on my website, and write the stories of my own struggles in the hope of helping someone else.
Blogging led to photography. I wanted to add pictures to my stories.

My frozen mud began to thaw when I discovered Photoshop with all its fixing tools: a Patch Tool, a Dodge Tool and an Add-Anchor Tool, a Magic Eraser, a Magic Wand, a clone Stamp, …and a Healing Brush. Photoshop lets me redesign my universe. The opportunities for change are endless. The beautiful truth is there are some things I can fix.

“Can you make a photo of me flying in the clouds?” an elderly friend asks from her wheelchair.Glennon Doyle Melton's memoir, CARRY ON WARRIOR, is out in paperback now

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!   And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!