Tag Archives: Healing after loss

Rituals for Life, Love, and Loss

Robin Botie of Ithaca New York photoshops a ritual funeral for a dead bird.This sky lantern is for you, beautiful one, wherever you are. For your, (what do they call it?), birthday-in-heaven. Also, since the lanterns came only by the dozen, I’m mailing the other eleven to family and friends. So in this month before your birthday, you will get twelve lantern-launching ceremonies. If I could send you a dozen roses or a trillion chocolate Kit-Kat bars, I would. I love you. Lots. I didn’t really need to write this on the lantern; I’d already said it, in our driveway under an almost-full moon, to my daughter who died.

Long ago, the first rituals I created were funerals for dead birds. The neighborhood kids shared solemn words as we wrapped small creatures in Kleenex, with shriveled dandelions and daisies, and buried them in my mother’s rock garden. Later I created ceremonies, mostly around food, to acknowledge monumental changes in my life. We’re not talking séances or anything strange here. Rituals are simply small acts done to honor someone or recognize some event. We do rituals all the time. Like lighting candles on a cake and singing happy birthday. Like raising the flag. Planting a tree after a birth or a death. Clinking our glasses to toast someone.

For some reason, my most recent rituals almost always involve sending things UP. When my father died we gave his ashes to a friend, who had a small airplane, to toss them out over the Long Island Sound. For my daughter, we let loose a bunch of homing pigeons. Over the last five years, I’ve released balloons and butterflies for her, blown bubbles off high cliffs into the wind, read poems to the sun, and sang to the moon. Why, I wonder, do I keep looking UP for my daughter even though I found a page of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself among her things, the part where he wrote, “If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles”?

I’ll plant daisies, or roses, too, I tell her. It all helps. Rituals make me feel closer to my daughter. More connected. And all the singing, the lanterns, the birds, and butterflies I send UP – in the process, I’m lifting myself as well.


What other rituals might I do for the upcoming birthday? Or for the coming of spring and summer?

Healing After Loss: Giving Gifts

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York poses with cat and Suki-dog Havanese and toilet in the snow. “Oh, what I did with the money this time, for my mother – ” my friend Valentina reports to me, grinning, almost a month after the holidays.

For over ten years Valentina has been giving me handcrafted boxes from Russia, cookies, candies, … Long ago I started giving her gifts too. But during the years in and out of hospitals with my daughter who had leukemia I couldn’t bring myself to buy or make gifts. That’s when I started to give money. Which I doubled, once I learned that it was going to her family in Siberia.

Sharing always made me feel good, even in times of sorrow. Giving Valentina money and clothes to send to Siberia became something to look forward to. A card with pictures of Russian dogs always came back, with handwritten notes of thanks and printed greetings in Russian letters. English translations under the message would thank me and God-Bless me for the pig or the cow that the money had secured.

“Okay, this time I bought – don’t laugh,” Valentina says, and I’m thinking maybe she bought chickens this year, or rabbits. But the look on her face tells me it’s something big. A horse?

“I bought for my mother – ” she says, and I remember the photos she showed me of her mother, a small but sturdy woman at work in her garden or in her simple house. Of all Valentina’s sisters, brothers, and other family members I’ve heard about over the years, her mother has become my favorite.

“You will laugh, Robin,” she says, “but this is very special.” I can hardly wait to hear how the mother, with two grown sons living in the tiny house with her, will have milk or meat to eat this year.

“I bought my mother a toilet.”

I don’t laugh. But my smile grows as I consider my gift. Then I do laugh when Valentina insists I take a photo of myself and my dog and cat – and my toilet too – to send to her mother who now shows off her new toilet, the first in the neighborhood. I picture red-cheeked neighbors wrapped in scarves, stopping by to see this gift, maybe even test it out. And I see Valentina’s mother, who I may never meet, grateful to no longer have to traipse outside to the outhouse in the Siberian winter.

And later that night, sitting on my own porcelain throne, I send wishes for health and warmth out to all the mothers in Siberia. And all the children in the world, young and old, who keep half their hearts in places far away, with the ones they love.