Tag Archives: grieving

Continuing Bonds

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her self-portrait over that of her daughter who died in an illustration of continuing bonds.I was ashamed to admit I still talk to my daughter who died. And I was afraid that if I let go of her, or allowed my grief to dissipate even an ounce, we would both be lost. Other than that, seven years out from Marika’s death, I thought I’d figured out this thing called grieving, and was finally, kinda pretty-much (most days) at peace with the way things had turned out. I was okay, except for hanging onto her and feeling like maybe I was defective because I wouldn’t let myself detach.

Then, last week, I learned about continuing bonds, a modern view of grief where therapists encourage preserving but redefining the relationship one has with a loved one who died. Even altered by the absence of the physical presence, connections with the deceased can still grow and continue for the lifetime of the one left behind. The continuing bonds theory contends that staying connected, rather than ending the relationship, helps the bereaved cope with loss and the ensuing changes in one’s life.

For years, to feel closer to Marika, I’ve been talking to her, letting her inspire and guide me, taking up some of the things she did, learning to love what she loved, wearing her scarves and tight jeans, and eating sushi every chance I get. She was a writer and blogger so I became a writer and blogger. She loved Facebook and photography. So…. This was the only way I could survive.

This week’s assignment in photography class was to turn the camera on our-selves to make conceptual self-portraits, ones that express some facet of personal identity. I answered the same questions I pose to my other subjects: What is it like to do what you do? What did you lose? What did you find?

What it’s like to keep on loving Marika’s ghost – It’s comforting. It’s like I’m carrying her, like I did before she was born. Like I always have her close by my side. It makes me stronger. Braver.

I lost the feeling that I had to hide my ongoing attachment to my daughter. I found that our once rocky relationship has matured and mellowed over the past seven years. Marika used to say, “Mom, you’re a wimp.” And now I hear, “Mom, you can do this.”


How do you cope with loss and the accompanying changes in your life? In what other ways can one stay connected to a loved one who died?

Caring and Kindness Needed

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, felt like a rat when she made it difficult for a friend who was homeless after Hurricane Irma.Doing a good thing doesn’t count for much of anything unless you do it with caring and kindness. Knowing how loss hurts, I want to be helpful and do nice things for others. But too often I lose track of my caring and kindness. I forget how to support someone in pain.

At the end of last weekend, I cried when my son left town. Miserable in my empty house, I tried to feed the hole in my heart with ice cream. I made popcorn, and watched three episodes of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Nothing helped. It felt like grieving and loss, all over again.

After days of mourning I got back to appreciating the quiet house, and loving the privacy where I could dance wildly with the dog and sing to my dead daughter. Except for all the TV images of people suffering severe losses in hurricanes, I was feeling fairly comfortable when I got an email from one of my friends in Florida, “Hi. I’m homeless. Do you have a room…?”

Right away I emailed back, yes, she could have my guest room. But before hitting SEND, I listed all the reasons why she wouldn’t want to stay in my home: the smelly dog, the neighbor coming and going, lights out at 9:30, no storage space available, meetings with writers and bereaved parents scheduled there at all hours…. And I made a list of My New House Rules, which I didn’t include in the email but meant to have ready in case she still accepted my offer after reading all the listed conditions and deficiencies. I almost phoned her to talk her out of the idea of staying in my home. But she’d already (almost immediately) emailed me back. And there was so much relief and gratefulness and joy in her email – that I suddenly felt like a rat.


Did you ever lose your caring and kindness? Your patience? What animal do you turn into when you aren’t at your finest?


An Empty Nest on Mothers Day

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a perfectly ripe pear on a mattress when her grown son moves out of the house.It’s when they buy a mattress, “Sealy Posturepedic, Mom. And a frame, and I got sheets….” That’s when you know: they’re really leaving home this time.

The sob-fest starts. It almost feels like grieving again although this is good news. For him. He’s so excited, “Mom, I leave Tuesday.” I’m happy for him, and very proud, but my heart is a cracked egg.

When he next lands in town, he’ll only be visiting and it’ll be on a round-trip ticket with a predetermined disappearing-date. It won’t be some temporary flight of adventure where, with maybe an hour’s notice he’s gone who-knows-where, and suddenly sometime later – surprise phone call in the middle of the night, “Mom, you locked the door. I’m here, can you let me in,” he’s found his way home, his mission ended or the money ran out. No, from now on when it’s time to go home he’ll scurry towards his own place, far away, where he’s parked his own mattress that he bought himself with 12-month zero-percent in-store financing and free delivery. Where beer cans and pizza boxes grow in the kitchen corner because he hasn’t figured out yet that someone has to remove and recycle them periodically. Where he thinks, at last he’s gonna get a pet pit bull.

No more of those soaring times when I cancel out on girls’ movie night, “sorry, my son’s grilling steaks tonight.” No more finally falling fast asleep after I hear him slip into the house safely at 2AM. And the exquisite elation of being needed, “Mom, I locked my key in the car,” or “Mom, is there anything in the house to eat?” No more. It didn’t matter how early or late or inconvenient, I will miss those times.

Okay. Big breath. Get centered. It’s not like he’s going to Syria. He got a job. Everyone with kids eventually goes through this. Empty-nest syndrome. It’s just a little harder for me, maybe, having “lost” one.

If I’m lucky, I’ll get an occasional phone call. But I don’t remember calling my own mother when I left home. Not until I became a mother myself did I even consider she might be anything other than thrilled when the house emptied out. And Mom always said, “You should have one just like you.” Sigh.

He left for his new home before he could eat the pear I’d saved for him, nursed for days to perfect ripeness. Seeing that prized pear sitting alone, uneaten, triggered a major meltdown. And when I finally stopped sobbing, there was nothing to be done but devour the pear myself. And phone my mother.


Please remind me, what’s so wonderful about Mothers Day?

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?



New Chapter in Life

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops honeysuckle and life on deck.They’re just beat up old chairs, I told myself, wiping away tears as I stuffed the deck chairs into my car. The white Windsor-back chairs had once been part of my prized dining room set. Then, years ago, they were relegated to the deck where we grilled steaks on hot summer evenings, and draped the chairs with towels while we swam in the pond below. Sometimes the kids dragged the chairs off the deck for campfires, and assembled s’mores on the seats.

For the past eight years I had little to do with the deck. The three summers before my daughter died, we were in hospitals. After that, I was not able to bring myself out there. The chairs quietly deteriorated. And now they were headed for the Salvation Army, the first stop on my list of things to do before going to the Ithaca Hikers’ Picnic. The four chairs and three cushions (one had been carried off by the wind way back) filled up the trunk and back seat of the car, wedged around empty water jugs. My second stop before the picnic would be the weekly fetching of fresh water at Greenstar Natural Foods Market.

In this new chapter of my life, five years after Marika’s death, I am reclaiming the deck and summertime. The past week, in a frenzy of clearing and cleaning, I weeded the overgrown gardens, clipped back the honeysuckle that hung over the driveway, swept years of fallen leaves from the deck, and raked algae from the pond. I replaced the four dilapidated deck chairs.

“We can’t take those, they aren’t saleable,” the woman at the Salvation Army said, after I’d unloaded three of the chairs. The chairs felt heavier as I stuffed them back into the car. In shock, I drove to Greenstar. The water jugs were unreachable. So I went on to the picnic. But first I parked in the lot of an abandoned storefront. To cry. Because there would be no new chapter for these chairs; their last stop would be the dump.

The last hikers were leaving as I arrived at the picnic. They listened as I held back tears.
“Just put them by the road at the end of your driveway, with a sign that says FREE,” they said. So I drove back home, unloaded the chairs, and lovingly lined them up on the narrow strip of grass by the road. And minutes later, when I came out of the house with a sign that said FREE, they were gone.


What relics release the floodgates of grief for you?


Not My Normal Self

Not My Normal Self - Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, tries to do the tree yoga stance in a photoshopped moonscape.After a half hearted workout, I dressed myself in the warm comfort clothing I’d tossed into the gym-bag earlier knowing I would go nowhere but straight home. No one would see me in the threadbare sweatshirt, the fleece vest, my son’s army long-johns, multiple pairs of arm warmers, and my polar fleece pants that make me look like I weigh 200 pounds.

This is not my normal self, going to the gym late in the day, skimping on the workout, and not caring enough to pick out respectable clothes. Slipping into the shoes I usually wear only to walk the dog, I hurried from Island Fitness, hoping no one would notice me.

When I arrived home, fumes of grilled meat greeted me. My son was in the kitchen with a new friend and a pile of barbequed chicken thighs sat in the middle of the kitchen counter.
“Oh hi,” I said to the friend, raking my windblown bangs with my fingers. She was beautiful. And tall enough to see the inch of gray roots on top of my head. I left my scarf on to distract from the rest of me and looked to my son, not sure if I should quietly disappear. But the counter was set for three. Bottles of pinot grigio and merlot were already opened and he offered me a glass of the white. I threw off one of my layers of fleece.
“Uh, if you tear up the romaine, I’ll make a Caesar dressing,” I said to the guest. We worked side by side, me dumping together anchovies, garlic, and olive oil as she cut and carefully arranged the salad. I ditched a pair of arm warmers and drank some wine.

It was so easy. So normal. And I’ve been craving easy and normal ever since my daughter died over three years ago. Glancing at the life-sized portrait of Marika on the wall, I made a silent toast to her.

The three of us filled our plates and ate. The friend laughed like a two-year-old being tickled. I almost cried to hear laughter in my house again.
“I just bought cake at Sarah’s Patisserie. Anyone into dessert?” I asked when we’d polished off most of the food. But they smiled, no. “Well, thanks for a great dinner. I’ll do the dishes,” I offered. They disappeared upstairs and there was more laughter.
I tore off my sweatshirt and began to clear and clean, humming “Some Enchanted Evening,” an old favorite. Then I ate a whole mini-cranberry-ginger cake myself and thought about the ever-changing nature of normal.

What is normal anyway?