Tag Archives: death and grief

Losing a Friend

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographed her friend Annette months before she died.Over the past few years I was called to my friend Annette’s deathbed a couple of different times. The hospital is just a short drive from my house, so I kept her company during many emergency room visits. If she got admitted for an extended stay, I’d merrily come and go twice daily, delighted to have her in my neighborhood. When we spoke about dying, she joked. She twisted her oxygen tube into a noose around her neck. Then she shaped it into an angel’s halo and held it over her head. She got me laughing ‘til I was short of breath myself. My friend for over thirty years. She made me feel adventurous and indestructible, like we could go on forever outwitting the angel of death.

And we did. For a while, she always bounced back. As per her request, I’d fetch steamed lobsters and double-chocolate-chip muffins from Wegmans, to celebrate the victory.

Not this time.

Annette died. And, since I wasn’t with her, since I didn’t get to see her ever-lively self in a lifeless state, I’m left trying to convince myself she’s no longer just across town or only a phone call away. She’s gone, I have to keep reminding myself. No more wild road trips wondering if the oxygen tank would last. No more silly antics during the most solemn moments. No more photo-shoots where she’d literally bend over backwards to give me a great shot. I’m just beginning to realize all the ways I will miss her.

Grief is grief. The pain and suffering when a loved one dies cannot be measured or scored. That’s what I tell people who try to compare one person’s loss to another’s. When a friend dies, you cannot simply assume their pain is less than that of someone losing a spouse of sixty years, or losing three children rather than one, losing a beloved parent, or a long-awaited infant who dies at birth…. Someone’s misery is always perceived to be greater or less than someone else’s. Having experienced losses of a parent, a child, and friends, I believe each is painful in its own way. Each loss is different. Un-comparable. For me, now, in considering my losses without weighing one against another, I would say:

When you lose a child it’s like losing a limb or a vital organ. But when you lose a good friend, you lose some deep-rooted, invisible, remarkable, un-nameable thing that allowed your spirit to soar.


Who was the friend whose death broke your heart? How do you honor the memory of a good friend?

Surviving a Family Reunion

At the annual family reunion, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, poses the family behind an empty chair.At the dinner party on the last night of our annual family reunion, I surveyed the dining room for a seat.

The Kids’ Table was bustling with parents settling their young children. I remembered years back, reluctantly leaving my babies at the Kids’ Table and watching from the Parents’ Table as they ate more and laughed more without me hovering over them. My 26-year-old son now sat with his 30-something year-old single cousins at the Kids’ Table, along with adorable almost-2-year-old Tovah.

Glancing over at the Big Table, I thought of my father and long gone white-haired grandparents. And my uncles, Henry and Martin, who sat there not so long ago. It was always the smallest table but it was where the big people sat so we called it the Big Table. It was the table that got served first and was closest to where the food was parked. My favorite cousin, Brigite, was sitting at the Big Table because she was the organizer of the event and both her parents sat at that table.

I was about to take a seat next to my sister and other cousins at the Parents’ Table when Brigite beckoned to me, “Robin, sit here.” Immediately, without a word to my sister, I flew to the empty seat next to Brigite, at the Big Table.
“Thank you so much for inviting me to sit here. I’m so thrilled,” I told her as we waited for our appetizers.
“Robin,” she said, raising an eyebrow and twisting her head to address me directly. “I need to give you a little perspective here.” One of her eyes was wincing. “There’s Number 1.” She pointed to her father, my Uncle Max, who sat across from us staring into space with a smile. “There’s Number 2,” she said, indicating her mother. “Number 3, Number 4.” Our Aunts Bope and Terri. She poked her head in the direction of her older brother, “He’s Number 5.” Then she looked squarely at me with somber eyes.
“I’m 6. And you’re Number 7.”

Three sleepless nights later, after I’d calculated that I was Number 5 on my mother’s much smaller side of the family, I knew it wasn’t a numbers game. It was more like musical chairs. If I could stay fast and strong enough, I might be able to bulldoze my way to the last empty chair whenever the music stopped. I intend to live long, for myself and for my daughter who died. Maybe I will be the one to live to a hundred.
But I will not be the first. Several times during the reunion I heard it said of my Uncle Max (Number 1) that he’s gonna outlive us all.

How do you survive the sad element of loss at family reunions?