Tag Archives: Healing From Loss

Duetting: Memoir 67

Duetting: Memoir 67 Robin botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops layers upon layers to illustrate layers of grief and continuing bonds.

“Oh no! It’s gone,” I cry out in the middle of photography class. “All my work is lost. It just disappeared.” My heart stops and I stare in disbelief at an empty computer screen.
“Just hit Float All In Windows,” says Harry, the instructor. In a click my precious “lost” images are recovered and neatly lined up awaiting my next command. “You don’t lose anything in Photoshop,” Harry tells me. “It’s all right there. It’s just hidden in another layer.”

Layers. Photoshop is endlessly full of layers. They drive me crazy. They also intrigue me. Adjustment layers, restoration layers, background and mask layers … the opportunities to lose and find things are endless.

Grief is endless. But grief changes. The cumulonimbus clouds that hung on me have turned into delicate cirrus wisps high over Cayuga Lake. The frozen mud has thawed, and I can breathe once more. I’m light. In love with fragile, beautiful, unpredictable life. And it’s April again. The geese are back. But they don’t stay to nest. No, now I have ducks. And Marika. She’s here. In Ithaca, with me, still. But it’s different.

Around town, by the lake and gorges, and the Downtown Commons, I am warmed remembering this was her home. She was here. Some part of her is still here. Out with friends, in restaurants on Aurora Street, I clink my wineglass and make a silent toast. Walking her dog late at night in the driveway, I sing to her, and ask, “What exceptional thing will we do tomorrow, Mareek?” ­And in the house, where her image smiles back at me from every corner, I light a candle over dinner, saying, “One for good luck,” meaning, one for Marika.

Once in a while she appears in my dreams: I open a car door and she is in the back seat. She’s walking the Commons with a companion. Or we’re jogging. Or shopping. She is always young, healthy, and bright as the sun.

“I saw her, Suki,” I say on waking in the early hours of morning. Then I let the dream fade away as Suki rolls over for a belly-rub. I no longer keep my dreams in a notebook. I don’t need to look for Marika. She is hidden in the myriad of layers surrounding me. She is inside me. She’s in the shadows and corners, the undefined edges of space between what one sees and what one imagines. Close by, but beneath layers. Layers I often overlook in my continual quest to find the too-big answers. Layers that occasionally yield a tiny earring lost long ago in the carpet under her bed. Layers that tease me with the sounds of her trying on new jeans in the dressing room across from mine, or that suddenly flash her name or face on the computer. That stop me each time I pass a sushi place. The layers of ash and earth, of galaxies in the universe, of the internet. Layers of memories and dreams. Of who I am and who I was. Between my joy and my sorrow. There are layers where what we love and thought we lost can be found. And kept. Or set free. So many layers. So many choices. We can plummet into despair missing our loved ones—missing out on the joys in our own lives—or we can allow our love to be a source of new energy, creativity, and strength.

I am my own lifeguard now and I choose to guard Marika’s life as I guard my own. She is part of me. Pain and death are layers of my experience. They are not things to get over or through. My life has been shaped as much by her dying as it has been by having children, by being my soldier-father’s daughter, by fearing the ocean and becoming a lifeguard anyway. By allowing Marika to be my beacon of light. We’re in this together. In almost everything I do, I am duetting with my daughter who died. This is who I am now. This is how I am holding my self together. Together with my daughter.

And as I venture into the next chapters of my life, I take her with me. She will always be here, somewhere in another layer, not too far. Maybe right in front of my nose.

It is May 2013. A year ago, on the way back from Australia, I fell and broke that nose. It’s healed now. There was a lot of time to figure out that healing means more than simply being brought back to the original condition. I still have a big nose, but these days it sits quietly in the middle of my face and does not bully my other features for attention. When it was set, it lost some of its hook. It lost lots of its prominence in my mind. Now it’s more crooked but it’s mine and it fits.

These days, when I look in the mirror I see my eyes first. They are eyes that scan life down to the tiniest pixels. They sweep the sky. These eyes watched my daughter take her last breath. And watched my son turn into a man. Someday these eyes may witness the first breaths of a grandchild. Or they may again seek the departing soul of another loved one. My eyes have earned their furrowed trails of lines that branch out and upwards. No longer shuttered, these eyes are ever on the lookout for the best times.

“I was fragile, yet strong, among all of the smiling faces around me
making a pool with me in the center of all of the surrounding energy.”

Marika wrote this. These were the last of her words I found. Days before I left to scatter her ashes in Australia, I’d scoured the house to have all of her to take with me. These words were in her attic loft, in a notebook with nothing written before or after them. As though she was starting a new story.

As though she was starting my new story.

 

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 61

Duetting: Memoir 61 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops watching the moon after her healing journey to Australia when her daughter dies.

Barely twelve hours after landing in Ithaca, on my return from Australia, I fall head first and hard into my front door. And break my nose. Slowly, I lift myself up from the load I’d tried to carry into the house. Two huge garbage bags of cat-poop and soiled litter my cat-sitting friends had collected and sent back with the cat. The cat is still in the car, crying in his carrier. But I’m holding onto my head, barely able to breathe. A million things could have gone wrong in Australia, but they didn’t, and here I am, back on my own doorstep, losing my balance, falling apart.       

My nose rains blood. Stars flash before my eyes. My fingers fumble blindly over the newly reactivated cell phone in an effort to reach someone for help. In the emergency room, I hold my face for hours as my memories of Australia evaporate. I beg the doctor for a new nose, a nose job. Impossible, he says, but he can fix the break. I wake up after the surgery wishing I could sleep through the healing. But even sleeping is difficult, done sitting up in a zero-gravity lawn chair parked next to the bed where cat and dog keep vigil over me and the tray of tissues, pills, and tippy-cup with water.

Over the next weeks my face turns the color of stormy oceans, then of green-gray grass, and finally a yellowish shade like wheat ready for harvest. I write feverishly as I nurse my nose. I watch the crazy geese on the pond. They hoot and honk. They do their nesting and protective dances all over again. From the south windows I follow the geese and the slow changing of the moon.

“Hey, Marika in-the-moon,” I call to her when it’s a full moon. When it’s a fingernail moon. On moonless nights when I walk her dog. “Do you see the moon, Suki?” I talk to the dog. I talk to Marika. I talk and sing to Marika’s moonbeam smile in her life-size photograph that hangs prominently in the middle of the house. It all helps.

Late spring nights I try to sleep, breathing through my mouth, as around the pond the songs of a thousand frogs echo in high peeps and low gunk-gunks. Frogs gulp and grunt. They scream into the dark night. Windows open or closed, it doesn’t matter though. Mostly I hear only the muddled noise of my mind trying to make sense of life’s events. I wait in the tumult of the night until the din dies down, or doesn’t.

The days are filled with friends who check on me, prying me from my writing. They listen. It helps to have friends, especially those who also have lost loved ones.

My friend Andrea dies. My children’s mentor. The one who believed in me. Cancer.

I lie on my back on the living room floor. Suki, my inherited dog, stands over me, engrossed by this new perspective. She pokes her inquisitive little nose into my still-sore face, and I can’t help but smile. Then she drops a squeak-toy on my chest and I explode into laughter. The sound of my own high-pitched squeals fascinates me. But it soon dissolves into a howling cry as I sink back into sorrow. Marika. Now Andrea. Has cancer always destroyed so many lives and I just never noticed? Suki stares at me, terrified. When I quiet down she licks the tears around my healing nose.

By the end of June my blog site is up. If I want to be a writer, I’m told, I need to have a website and write a weekly blog. And find followers on Facebook and Twitter. Oh, if Marika could see this. More and more, it seems, I’m living my daughter’s life. Only I’m shy and clueless as to social media. Communicating with strangers makes my neck muscles tense up and renders me almost wordless. But it is the only commitment I have, so I treat it like it’s my job; every Monday morning, no matter where I am or how I am, I publish an article. I reach out to family and friends, to Marika’s friends, and to people I have not yet met. I’m never sure of what to say. So I write the stories of my stumbling into deep holes of grief, and my attempts to crawl back out. In the hope it will help someone. We’ve all lost someone or something we loved. There’s life after loss. That’s all I’m trying to say. Or, it’s what I’m trying to believe.

Way before our colliding with cancer I had developed an aversion to producing visual art. So I’m not sure what on earth led me to enroll in a Digital Photography course at Tompkins Cortland Community College in the fall after the Australia trip. I know nothing about photography. I’d borrowed a small point-and-shoot for Australia and could barely manage that. Computers and technology in general confound me. And here I am in a class with tech-savvy college students and a handful of retired folks with huge expensive cameras hanging around their necks like gigantic gaudy jewelry. The only thing I have going for me is my sense of design. And maybe my newly developed adventurous spirit born from the discovery that I need to actually do something in order to have something to write about in my blogs. But there’s this keen desire to breathe visible life into my memories of Marika. Like one huffs and puffs at the last embers of a dying campfire.

So I rent a digital camera from the school and photograph whatever sits still long enough for me to consider f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO settings. Right off, I learn to photo-shop pale images of Marika’s face onto all my landscapes. Soon I’m ‘shopping away, trying to make impossible scenes appear somewhat real. I ‘shop Suki a dozen times all over the living room, in one picture. I enlarge Marika’s face until I can gaze into her life-sized eyes. Working in Photoshop is the closest I’ve come to finding peace. Or God, maybe. Time and troubles disappear when I ‘shop. The making of each picture is a prayer of gratitude. It’s comforting to me, if not actually useful. It’s challenging. I stagger out of class each week dizzy with new ideas. And in my weekly blogs I add photos to complement what I write. 

It doesn’t take long to notice that my approaches to writing and photography differ. I work hard to find the exact words to describe reality. How something feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. I could never write fiction. But when I photo-shop, I can tell a more colorful story. So I tell the truth in words, but shamelessly stretch it in my photos. And I call the whole thing ‘healing.’

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 55

Duetting: Memoir 55 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a duet with her daughter who died despite peopkle telling her what she wants to do is impossible.

People always tell me what I want to do is impossible. And I have to wonder, what do they see when they look at me? Do I look so inept? How many times on this Australia trip have I been told I wouldn’t be able to do something? To walk to Bells Beach, to get to Port Campbell on a Tuesday, to travel without a car, … to spread ashes in the ocean without drowning myself.

“Impossible,” I’d also heard back home, coming upon the first anniversary of Marika’s death, “You can’t keep a relationship with someone who is dead.” But I was talking with my dead daughter every day and every night. Speaking to her came naturally to me after she died. How could something so comforting be impossible?

Sadly, watching the twilight turn to night over Two Mile Bay, I regret how often I, myself, have similarly, close-mindedly shot down other’s ideas. I recall a time years ago, in the middle of winter when my father had taken my sisters, and me, and my children on a vacation to a Caribbean Island. Arriving on a balmy night, the sisters and children immediately headed for the beach where we kicked off our shoes and danced in the starry dark. Until my father, flustered on the boardwalk, said, “You can’t be on the beach at night,” and then I, myself, ruined the joyful moment saying, “Okay, everybody to bed now.”

“Impossible. No way,” I’d decreed when sixteen-year old Marika begged to go off on road trips with friends. To young Marika on the edge of our pond or hanging out in the surf with her boogey board, I would holler, “Don’t fall in” and “Don’t go out too far” and “You wanna do WHAT?” Objections. Directives. Were those my only songs all those years? So much negativity, controlling, and prejudging. This dragged up a deep sadness, because there were few relaxed, neutral communications with my daughter that I could remember.

“Mom, I wanna duet. Let’s do Chopsticks,” Marika used to beg me as a kid. When I could put it off no longer, we sat close on the piano bench and she’d begin plunking keys. To duet is to take part in an activity with another in a way that achieves a harmonious effect. A unity, of sorts. But for me, keeping in sync with someone else was like trying to catch the first step on a fast-moving escalator.
“I can’t,” I’d say and give up. She asked me to play only a few times more before she gave up as well.

In early spring of 2012, my daughter’s been dead a whole year, and suddenly I need to duet with her. Not just our everyday exchanges where I’d sing, “Don’t do this” and “You can’t do that,” and she’d follow with her refrains, “Mom, what the—” and “Get a life, Mom.”

“You can’t have a duet with a dead person,” a friend insists. And I know it’s too late to have the conversations and exchanges Marika and I should have had. But, reading Marika’s poems aloud, I hear her voice. Her songs swish around in my head. Now she’s daring me to have a duet and it’s impossible to ignore. So for hours every day and into the night I read and echo her words, and scribble out my own. It’s like when we used to fight. We were mostly saying the same thing but we were bouncing against one another from two opposite planets. And now she is saying, “I will not follow you. You will have to follow me.” So I do, recognizing that we are each of us stubbornly strong women. Beautiful trouble, I used to call Marika. I had never before considered myself strong or beautiful. But something is growing in me. Something’s shifted. Somehow our relationship is changing and it’s like I’ve finally grown up. She’s grown up. And we’ve melted into one. I follow Marika’s words to find her, to find myself. To find us: who are we now, and what we could possibly carry on together as time goes on.

Line by line, I read her poems and responded. It felt like duetting. As if we were playing an elaborate game of checkers or tic-tac-toe that depended on each other’s moves. Marika’s words. My words. Marika’s. Mine. Before leaving for Australia, I pasted our words together on paper. And then I shared them aloud at the last Feed and Read, enlisting my friend Paula’s help for Marika’s part. A duet with my daughter who died. Not only was it not impossible; for me it was like delivering a divine opus.

So here, on my last night on the Great Ocean Road, I know, when one is doing something, doing anything to climb up out of a rut, anything’s possible. I understand now that to squash a person’s efforts may be to shoot the very thing that keeps her breathing. I’ve learned that anything’s possible with people cheering you on. And that getting from Port Campbell to Melbourne before dark on a Monday, a day when the buses are running, has to be possible. With all the connections between buses and trains, I could travel all day and still not see Melbourne until nightfall. By car, it’s only a four-hour ride. So Eleanor at the Loch Ard Motor Inn operates on the computer and on the phone. She finally shouts out from the front door and manages to arrange a ride to Melbourne for me with her son’s friend, Cannonball.

In the morning, I am packed and ready to move on. Locking the little room with the bay view for the last time, I count my resources: the rolling suitcase; the pack with Puppy and the last quarter of Marika’s ashes; and the iPad, my link to friends and family back home who have faith by this point that I might really pull this mission off. And now I have Cannonball.

Maybe he’s named for his gut, barely hidden under a soiled tee shirt that says QUIRKS three times in large letters. He has a long black ponytail, no front teeth, orange fingernail polish, and a car with bald tires that is packed to the gills. He tells me, as we drive off, that first we have to stop at the pub.

Uh, what? The pub? You wanna WHAT? I’m suddenly seriously nauseous, and kicking myself for being, once more, in some weird stranger’s car. Until, half-listening to his words, I realize I’m shutting my mind and prejudging again. Turns out, it’s Cannonball’s moving day so he’s driving the “dog” of his fleet of cars. He’s returning to his kids in Melbourne after working many months at a good job on the coast. His teeth got totaled just days ago in a car accident involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road. And he has to return the keys and pay the last of his rent at the pub before leaving Port Campbell for good. There’s still no accounting for his orange nail polish but the tiny details don’t matter once I warm to his generosity and kindness. He does most of the talking during the long drive, pointing out various sights along the way, and finally drops me off in Melbourne, in sunlight, near my hotel. An engineer, well paid and compensated for his travel, Cannonball won’t take money from me. I shake his hand gratefully, because anything’s possible, and that could’ve easily turned out any-other-which way than it did.

Duetting: Memoir 54

Duetting: Memoir 54 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her shadow on a beach in illustrating her grief journey to Australia to scatter her daughter's ashes.

My mission on the southeastern coast of Australia is almost over on the day I decide to try a shortcut on the way back from my morning explorations. It’s a cliff path called the Discovery Walk. I take it. But whatever one is supposed to discover on this path is lost to me as I just want to get back to my room, and the bathroom in particular, as soon as possible. Following the path, I heavily descend the stairway to the beach, and find the incoming tide has swallowed up the bottom steps of the cliff. A shallow pond now blocks my way across the beach to the motel. Too tired to hike back up the cliff and around through town, and too scared to wade through the small but growing swells of waves entering the pond, I stand immobilized. The bag of ashes in my backpack jabs, “Mom! Don’t be a wimp!” And then more gently, “You can do this.”

So I watch to time the waves, take a deep breath, and dash through the shallowest part. Right away a wave rolls in. It’s not a huge wave but my heart’s pounding wildly anyway. And my feet can’t find the damp sand ahead fast enough for my hundred-twenty pounds to catch up to them. I flounder. And fall. And the wave recedes, leaving me scrambling to rise from the shallows. Then, for seconds, before all the surfers and swimmers, sunbathers, and stray dogs on the beach, just at the intersection of my day’s path with theirs, I stand, shuddering. Sobbing. No, maybe I’m giggling. Uncontrollably on this beach. They must think I’m a madwoman. I try to stifle this torrent of emotion but it grows. And I don’t know if I’m laughing or crying but suddenly my bladder goes. Then I’m really wet. Yet somehow I know—I’m okay. It’s all going to be okay.

Because tomorrow’s coming. And who knows what will be blown in with tomorrow. There’s the trip to Melbourne, the Queen Victoria Market, the HuTong dumpling place, and the adventure of locating the nursing school Marika was to attend. And so much more to explore.

On my last night in Port Campbell. I return to the Loc Ard Motor Inn and unwrap a small take-away by the altar. A Lamington, Marika’s food item #5 that she never got to try. Covered with dark chocolate, dusted with coconut, the cube of cake sits perfectly in the palm of my hand. I sink my teeth into it and find it is spongy. Yellow. Sweet and soft with a touch of crunch. Lamingtons are integral to Australian childhood, typically available at school bake sales, I’d learned. Like brownies and chocolate chip cookies back home.

“You’d have baked these for your dad and your friends. You were like that. Only not with me,” I tell Marika’s ashes, recalling the blue-iced birthday cakes and sweet smiles she reserved for others. I never cared about the red velvet cakes. The time she spent hours making chocolate turtles and didn’t leave me a single one, I almost crumpled. And I might have buckled under completely because not a single one of her poems was written to me. Mostly what Marika left me was a bunch of mysteries. Like who is “deejaylungbutter” who she acknowledged in one of her songs? And who was the Australian she was flying to in the poem she wrote long before she ever met the Australian boyfriend? And what is the story about all the endless unruly brown spaghetti rendered from old VHS cassettes that lined the bottoms of her dresser drawers? There is so much more to be discovered. Or to remain unknown. All I know for sure is, I have Marika’s words. Her words have gutted caves and gorges in my mind. She didn’t have to bake or be nice to me. Marika always knew I loved her. And I know she loved me, as brash as she often was. In the hospital, fighting sedation near the end, she’d reached out to hug me. That’s what I need to remember.

 

Duetting: Memoir 43

Duetting: Memoir 43 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York photoshops an old picture of her daughter who died of leukemia as she sang her last concert.

“We have a donor for you,” the Roc Docs announced at our meeting, like they were giving Marika a birthday gift. “He is twenty-nine years old.” Age and gender was all the information the transplant team could share about our donor.
“The transplant preparations take two weeks, and the donor is available in mid-November.” Because of her history of extreme reactions to treatments, Marika would have to stay in the hospital during the rigorous preparations. “So you’ll be admitted at the end of next week,” they said. Startled by the short notice, I must have gulped. Suddenly seven sets of eyes turned to me. Then a small voice popped up, not my own.

“I can’t,” Marika said, and the focus honed in on her. “My concert. I have to do my concert.” There was a stunned silence in the small, overstuffed room.
“Your concert? But—um, when is your concert?” one of the team finally asked.
“It’s either the 26th or 27th of November. We’re still working out the details.”
“Uh, we can see if the donor can wait,” one of the team suggested uncertainly. Leftover smiles were frozen on the faces of the doctor, the social workers, and the nurses. They eyed each other in disbelief. Then they looked at me like I should do something. I heard myself swallow. No one said to us, “We’re worried about losing our small window of opportunity” or “We might lose our donor.” If this was a bad idea, it wasn’t being made clear. They simply nodded and said they would ask the donor if he could be available at another time. So everything was put on hold. My stomach was grinding bricks.

“Are you out of your mind?” Bewildered when I told her, Laurie yelled at me over the landline back home. “Remission doesn’t wait around for you to check everything off your to-do list.” She said nothing to Marika, didn’t yell at her. But a day later, she called back to ask me, “So, what’s the new game plan?”
“The concert is on Friday, November 26th. We get admitted on Monday the 29th, and the transplant is on Monday, December 6th. Wanna come out for Thanksgiving?”
“No, but I wouldn’t miss that concert for the world,” she promised.

Thanksgiving in Ithaca is a chaotic coming and going of thousands. Evacuating students, mostly. But also friends and neighbors. The people you count on to participate in putting on a concert, or to show up. All the movement over the course of a few days makes planning an event during this time period an exercise in patience, creativity, and faith. Marika and Russ scrambled about to get a back-up singer and other musicians from people who had not yet heard their music. By the day after Thanksgiving, the night of the concert, The Nines in Collegetown was packed. I knew almost everyone there, and their mothers. Saving a seat for Laurie, I nursed a beer at a table with friends as we ate pizzas and tried to hear ourselves talk over the clamor of The Nines, known for its crowds, Blue Monday jams, and deep-dish pizzas. Our excitement and anticipation were at a peak when simultaneously, the band appeared and Laurie arrived. My eyes immediately zoned into an examination of Marika. Cute dress. When did she get that? She’s wearing the boots I gave her. She looks happy. She looks tired, like she just woke up.

Pleased with the crowd, Marika started singing “Party Jam,” a short song she and Russ wrote. Her large earrings dangled wildly as she moved to the music. In the back, Russ beat away at his drums. I was mesmerized watching my daughter doing what she dreamed about. I ordered another beer.
“Hello everyone. Welcome to the Nines,” Marika said cheerily, and went right into “Soldier,” a song she had written for her brother who was there in the crowd, recently honorably discharged from the army. She grimaced at her back-up singer who, unfamiliar with the tune, sang off key. The singer wore an old ridged washboard tied around her neck, which she struck with two drumsticks. I glanced across the room at her mother who smiled proudly at her healthy, spirited daughter.

“Don’t forget to tip those bartenders,” Marika ordered at the end of the song. “I wanna see more of you dancin’,” she yelled. The crowd cheered. The music got louder, and she danced. Then we all danced. We bumped into each other and laughed, waving our arms. It didn’t matter that we could hardly hear the songs over the percussion. This was what we’d waited for, what our lives had been put on hold for. The crowd at the Nines was crazy. The music boomed and Marika was in command. I wanted to freeze-frame the moment. She sang “Never After” and trailed off, “I am not going anywhere, I am not going anywhere, I am not going anywhere.”

Finally, with a victorious smile, finger pointing and fist punching the air, Marika shouted a song by Cake, “I want a girl with a short skirt and a lo-o-ong jacket.” A raucous finale. Just in case anyone was thinking this concert was to be her swan song. Sometimes I wonder if Marika knew it would be her last performance.

It was ending. Please don’t let it end, don’t let it be over yet, I pleaded in my head, sending a grateful prayer to whatever kind spirit might be watching my world. Cheers to Russ and all the musicians, to all the servers at The Nines, to everyone in the crowd. I shot blessings to the doctors who waited and the donor who waited.

Laurie and I walked back to the car, our Frye boots scuffing the sidewalks of late-night Collegetown. My ears still rang. In the dark streets, the dazzling streetlights were kaleidoscoped by my tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 24

Duetting: Memoir 24 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops Andrea Riddle and Marika Warden wearing headwraps and hoop earrings, as cancer patients.

There is always some anxiety as I wait for guests to arrive. My friends are so different from one another. They range from Marika’s age to my mother’s age. For the Feed and Reads I’ve gathered them from my hiking group, from foodie endeavors, former workplaces, and past mother-daughter relationships. One friend’s daughter will join us, and also a woman I’ve never met who felt linked by loss. And Rachel. If I can reach her.

“Hey Rachel, where are you? You haven’t called or emailed me in over a month. I’m getting worried,” I leave multiple messages on her cell, “You’re coming to the Feed and Read aren’t you?” Rachel usually communicates with confidence, like she’s the Mayor of Cool. But when I last spoke to her she’d sounded almost suicidal. Too wrapped up in my own pain, I’d never really considered how Marika’s death affected her best friend. 

Soon I’m more warmed than worried, looking around the first assembly of my readers. They introduce themselves and talk like they are old friends. And in the months to come, they will be. In their courageous effort to help me, they will discover familiar connections and create new ones. But there are two who are missing. One is Andrea. She had often “borrowed” my children over the years, spoiling them and stretching their minds. She’d visited Marika several times in the hospital. Andrea had given me my first teaching job, knowing what I could do long before I did. Two months ago we walked in the woods as yellow leaves fell. What kind of horrible joke was it that she was recently diagnosed with cancer herself? I wanted to be there for her. But wearing her head wrap and hoop earrings, she so resembled Marika, I could hardly look at her. Now Andrea is too sick from chemo to join the Feed and Reads.

The doorbell rings and I run to answer it. Rachel.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says, all bubbly at the door.
“Look at you!” I gush. “Your hair. You look adorable. You look – happy.” She looks like she owns the world and has just walked into her own birthday party. Her makeup and manicure are gone. And her hair is shaved off except for a bit at the top.
“It’s a Faux-Hawk,” she says, brushing at her almost bare head. “Do you like it?” It’s freezing outside, but she’s wearing a wife-beater undershirt, neon Michael Jordan sneakers, and low rise baggy khaki shorts that might be her dad’s. She looks like the beloved janitor from some old TV show. But she still has on the fragile silver necklace that was Marika’s.

“I’ve been sober for fifty-six days,” Rachel announces at the table as we feast on butternut squash soup, cheeses, salad, sushi, and shrimp cocktail. She proudly shows off her tattoos. One particularly huge one spreads across her ribs on her right side, “Be strong when you feel weak,” a quote of Marika’s. I’m very aware of how different Rachel is, from before, from the others. And I’m proud of her, like she’s mine.

When the meal is over, we move into the small living room for the reading. A photo of Marika sits on a tiny table next to me. Next to it is a box of tissues. And pencils and notebooks, for comments.

The Feed and Reads will go on for over a year. Whenever I have a couple of new chapters to share we will feast. My work is the focus at these gatherings, but everyone here knows grief. Before and after I read, we share our stories.

“It was just like that for me when my husband was in the hospital, before he died,” says Jane, the friend-of-a-friend I hadn’t known before. Next to her, Barb, who will host most of the Feed and Reads, sits stunned, holding a tissue in mid-air between her lap and her face.
“After my husband died I wrote him letters too,” says Annette, whom I’ve known over twenty-five years, “It was a powerful healing tool.” Celia, who remembers everything, brings the group back to my story saying, “You forgot to mention the prom. You have to write about the prom.”

It’s as if they all know I need them here. They somehow sense the best way to support a grieving parent is to show up and listen. So I keep writing and rewriting. To read aloud my daughter’s story. All a bereaved mother really wants is for her child to be remembered. For the rest of my life I will listen patiently while friends ramble on about their kids graduating, getting their first real jobs, getting married … and there will be no more news of Marika that I can contribute to the chatter. But here is my time to tell about my beautiful brave girl, her accomplishments, and her extraordinary passage through the bloom of her short life.