Tag Archives: hanging on to grief

Lost my Empathy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her tesselation of squirrels.My father was the one who taught me to love animals. For years, he had a wild squirrel he named Oscar that he trained to eat peanuts from our hands. He had an old drooling boxer dog who was my big brother the first years of my life. Animals were as important as people were to me. As an adult, I made animal designs for tee shirts, and coined the slogan “Creatures of Earth Unite for Survival.” I would cry copiously anytime I saw commercials showing neglected or abused animals. And whenever my son brought out his shotgun, I’d stomp and shriek a ruckus to scare away his targets, yelling, “Not the bunnies, not the birds….”

But something changed. Somewhere along the years, I lost my empathy. For animals, anyway. Maybe now that my daughter died it’s difficult to recognize the preciousness of a wild critter’s life.

Last week the visiting wildlife control operator confirmed that my house has squirrels, mice, chipmunks, woodchucks, raccoons, ground bees, cluster flies, and more. This was fine for outside. But they’ve been nibbling their way into my home. And into my humaneness.

The operator reminded me of all the reasons I didn’t want to live with wild creatures. The potential fire hazard of gnawed wires, Lyme disease, chew-holes in the stucco and trim, destroyed belongings…. We would start with the squirrels. We’ll eliminate them from the house, he said, informing me that once squirrels move into a place they’re not likely to move out. I suddenly remembered that squirrels were my son’s old girlfriend’s favorite animal.

The operator was listing all the options and processes he intended to employ. Video-taping, trapping, removal, … euthanizing. I squirmed, and scratched at my underarms, thinking of all the creeping, the chewing on electrical wiring and insulation, the dropping of turds. The twitchy-thing squirrels do with their tails that probably shakes out whatever fleas and ticks they’re carrying. Squirrels scuffled between floor joists, sounding like a herd of greyhounds racing overhead, through the house, north and south.

My father would have said, Poor squirrels—they’re just trying to make a living too.

The operator squinted, pointing at a hole in the house’s exterior. You might have some Flying Squirrels here, he said. And the thought of squirrels flying in my house put me over the top of my tolerance.

Okay. I’m in. How fast can you euthanize them? I gulped.


Wasn’t Rocky, of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a flying squirrel? What destroys your empathy?

Holding Up or Hanging On?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, as a toddler holding up her younger sister, Laurie Botie.“Hold up yaw sistuh,” my mother said years ago as she posed us for a photograph. But my sister didn’t need my support, even then. Most of my life I’ve hung onto her because I depended on and needed her, and didn’t want her to fly off without me.

This past weekend we got together to celebrate her birthday, at my mother’s place. Shortly after we arrived, the conversation turned to last week’s blog post where I’d Photoshopped an age progression on a picture of my daughter who died.
“Why do you feel the need to do that?” my mother asked.

I am not going to share who said what about letting go, hanging on, moving on, and so forth, in the skirmish that followed. It got me wondering about the differences.

Holding up is to keep something from getting away or falling, to keep in high regard, to endure. You’re holding up quite well under the circumstances, I like to hear, as opposed to why do you have to keep hanging on? Hanging on is to hold tightly, to grasp, perhaps in desperation. Hanging on is waiting, persisting with some effort despite difficulties or setbacks. It is clutching at something and letting it lead you who-knows-where, maybe even allowing it to drag you backwards or under.
“I am not hanging on,” I insisted, and then announced, “I’m gonna hold Marika forever.”

Are you hanging on to someone or something for dear life? Or are you holding up your dearest memories of a most precious one in order to honor her and recycle your love for her into something more. Can you carry the one you love, and thought you lost, into your future even when others are telling you to get over the loss?

I’m not saying whose resolve was not budging and who was close to tears defending her position.
“I loved your latest post and the age progression photo you did,” my sister said. I shut up and smiled gratefully. She had my back and was holding me up this time.