Tag Archives: from grief to gratitude

Duetting: Memoir 63

Duetting: Memoir 63 Robin Botie of ithaca, New York photoshops a scene illustrating the day she was stopped by a flashing police car for speeding, as she sits low, wishing she was invisble, considering whether or not to pull the cancer card, the 'my daughter just died of cancer' card.

Driving home one autumn day, a police car blinks bright lights and trails me until I pull over in disbelief. It is Officer Barr, the same Officer Barr who had stopped me in the exact same spot years before, after my divorce. And here he is again, telling me I was speeding, but this time he also notices my inspection is three months overdue.

Waiting for him to do whatever cops issuing tickets do back in their vehicles flashing dazzling lightshows, I sit low in the car hoping no one driving by will recognize me. I look over at the seat where Marika used to sit, where, if she were here now, she’d be rolling her mascaraed eyes at me. Why always me, I’m kicking myself, why can’t I just become invisible? Officer Barr taps on the window. He looks no different from when I saw him eight years ago.

“It behooves you to go to court,” he says, handing me two tickets on four pieces of curled paper. And all I can think is, I need a break. Maybe I shouldn’t leave home for another year or two. What do I say in court? What do I wear in court? Should I “pull the cancer card” as Marika used to say? The ‘my-daughter-just-died-of-cancer card?’

For two weeks I wail about the tickets. I pick out and toss aside various outfits for my day in court. Friends warn me I will pay over a thousand dollars between the two fines and the surcharges. I cry over the phone to my friend Celia,
“I’m a wreck. I don’t know if it’s the court date or the rewriting of chapter ten.”
“What’s chapter ten?” Celia asks.
“It’s the one where Marika dies,” I say, trying to hold back the floodwaters swelling in my head. “No, it can’t be chapter ten. This is my third rewrite; Marika’s died a hundred times for me in my manuscript this past year, and I’ve never had a reaction like this.”
“You’ve got a lot going on,” Celia sympathizes.

On the October day I am to account for my deviant behavior, wearing a rust-colored skirt and sweater, I settle myself into the wooden pew-like benches of the Ithaca City Court. I survey the scene to find a familiar face, to figure out where I fit in, and if I am over or underdressed. A man in a black suit stands before the judge and is told to pay four dollars to a local food store with which he’d had some entanglement. A redheaded preteen squirms in his seat, nudging his father who wears khaki shorts and rubs his face every five minutes, looking nervously from side to side. A thin, pale woman is six months pregnant, out of work and paying off hundreds of dollars of previous violations, five dollars at a time each month. The judge jokes with a young man in an orange jumpsuit who wears chains around his waist and wrists.

The judge is the one I feel the most kinship with. A neon pink shirt is barely concealed under her black robe. She looks like someone who would understand a fleeting loss of control, about being human and making mistakes. But Judge Rossiter never gets to hear my story. I do not get to stand before her to plead my case. She suddenly leaves the courtroom and the city attorney approaches. He waves my papers at me, the papers which show how I diligently got my inspection taken care of the day after Officer Barr stopped me.

“I’ll make you a deal,” the attorney says.
“Uh, is that how it’s done?” I ask doubtfully, wondering why no one else had been offered “a deal” and why the judge had gone without seeing me.
“I’m going to dismiss the ticket for the inspection and charge you fifty dollars for the speeding. That’s the deal.”
“This is legal?” I ask, looking around for witnesses and still praying I won’t get charged the thousand dollars my friends had predicted.
“You can wait and present your case to the judge, but she doesn’t make deals. I make the deals,” he says. It feels like a bribe. I have no excuse for the speeding and haven’t yet figured out what to say to the judge about it. “And there’s an eighty-dollar surcharge,” he adds. But my mind is already made up.
“I’ll take the deal,” I say, rising, my skirt clinging to the backs of my legs.

As I leave the courthouse I pass people in suits, in uniforms, in tee shirts and jeans, and in rags. There are people in wheelchairs, in chains, in tears, in defiance. Some are in dire straits. I walk by a hundred different stories. I’m out a hundred thirty dollars, but I still have my house, my son, my car, a bank account, my friends, my health, … my manuscript. It’s the first time since cancer came that I can remember counting my blessings.




Expressing Thanks

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops color and texture onto an old photo of herself and her mother for a post about expressing thanks and appreciation.In the last seconds of my father’s life I told him, “Thank you.” Throughout our time together, I’d always thanked him for gifts and meals in fancy restaurants. And as the plug was pulled on his life support, I wanted the last words he heard to be, “Thank you, Dad.” In a desperate final instant I added, “for making my life—richer,” not able to find the right words to thank him for who he’d been or what he meant to me. Ever since, I’ve been haunted, wondering what on earth he could make of those words, if he even heard them, lying there unconscious and on his way out of this world.

My mother taught her daughters well, to say those two words. Thank you. And in similar fashion, although maybe not with the same consistent results, I taught my own children to acknowledge peoples’ kindnesses. But expressing the deepest, most sincere thankfulness—beyond the simple etiquette of responding to someone’s generosity—is different. That does not come easily for many of us. It’s kind of like exposing yourself, your vulnerability. It often involves trying to tiptoe around some unresolved issues that stand in the way. It sometimes involves fear. Conveying your appreciation might lead to a long awkward silence. It might turn you inside out. Or turn the one you’re thanking inside out. To communicate a genuine acknowledgment of sheer gratitude is to face all the ups and downs in the history of that relationship. And if the relationship is a complicated one, any response you get might send you racing from the room to hide in the nearest closet.

Here it is days away from Thanksgiving, the time we typically express our thanks. And not only should I NOT need this holiday to come forth with my gratitude, I should NOT be waiting until the ends of people’s lives to let them know they are appreciated.

So how do I do this? How do I deliver my heartfelt thanks to those who have treated me to-the-sky-and-back caringly, to the ones who might not be around when I finally figure out what I want to say, and find the courage to share it?

This post was originally going to be a note of gratitude to my mother. But writing about gratefulness, I got distracted and flew off on a tangent. Because my mother lives far away, and cannot hear me over the phone, and is not responding to emails, I wanted to briefly thank her here, as she’s my greatest fan. She gave me life. She carried me around, seeing to my welfare until I could take care (more or less) of myself.  And my mother is the one who not only taught me to say ‘thank you,’ she taught me to write letters when words were hard to find, or impossible to utter.


Happy Thanksgiving!


From Grief to Gratitude

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops friendship bracelets around a photo of her daughter who died of leukemia being hugged by friends.Saturday was my daughter’s sixth angelversary. Angelversary is the name bereaved parents often use to gently refer to the date of a child’s death. It marks the day a son or daughter became an angel. Or the day they took up a heavenly abode. I’m still on the fence about heaven and where one ends up after life. And Marika was no angel. But these wretched anniversaries wreak a range of emotions. What bereaved mothers and fathers really want, besides having their children back, is to know their child is loved and won’t be forgotten.

The first few angelversaries I was immobilized with fear and dread, wondering how I could survive the day. Then there were years when I obsessed about exactly how to commemorate such a time: to turn off the phone and stay in bed, or line up back-to-back meet-ups with friends? To curl up and cry? Or celebrate Marika’s life with balloons and butterflies?

“I’m declaring a personal holiday,” I told a bunch of other bereaved parents last week. “I’m going to party and drink and do all the things she liked to do. I’m gonna be really good to myself. Cake. Chocolate. Hiking with my daughter’s dog. I’m going shopping.”

I was going to write about all those things. I was looking forward to barging into the day full force, like my daughter would, feasting on the beautiful free time to do anything I wanted. And then, first thing on the day of Marika’s sixth angelversary, I felt a desperate urge to grab onto my grief again. I needed to drown in sorrow. Feel pain. Cry. Maybe so I could remember how much I loved, and how much that love costs me still.

There was a box of Marika’s photos. The ones from her last years. I knew they would fuel a major breakdown. What I didn’t know was, after the deluge of tears from seeing dozens of photos of Marika being held and hugged in the middle of friends, how grief could melt into gratitude. It warmed me as much as the cocoa, the chili, and the good cheer I found the rest of that day among my own friends.

All the beautiful, wonderful friends. Hugs to those who keep me going. And brimful thanks to everyone who filled Marika’s life with love. She was no angel. But she was loved.


How do friends keep you going? How do friends keep you grateful?