Tag Archives: healing

Duetting: Memoir 6

Duetting: Memoir 6  Robin Botie 0f Ithaca, New York, photoshops a bereaved mother searching through her deceased daughter's facebook page as if it is a window to another world.One night in Massachusetts, my sister Laurie and I watch the stars. Then she takes me to Marika’s Facebook page. There we find love letters, poems, stunned friends from all over pouring their hearts out to Marika through the internet. One friend touches another through words that ripple outward, beckoning to an aunt and a mother huddled over a laptop like it’s a window to another world. Invisible webs stretch among us all. So this is what Facebook is, I think. I cast her name out into cyberspace: Marika Joy Warden, who are you and where have you been? Words radiate from my fingertips tapping on plastic. My plea rains over all the planet before waves of warmth come back to me.

On the screen, I see familiar names and photos of children I once knew, now grown. For many of them, Marika’s was their first death. For many more, it was the first death of someone their own age. A few had phoned me on her birthday and on Mothers’ Day. They are traveling or still at college. In all corners of the world, they are getting on with their lives.

I am not getting on. I want my daughter back. I will try anything to keep her close. Wear her clothes. Sleep with her stuffed Puppy, and build a nest in my bed for her real dog, Suki. Marika loved sushi, so I take Rachel out for sushi dinners. Over and over, I play the few songs Marika had recorded. Yearning to know what it’s like to sing before a crowd, and how she could keep practicing a song “until it’s right,” I sing. One song. Musician/songwriter Susan Ceili Murphy put the first poem I found of Marika’s, “Atop a Mountain,” to music. I practice until I can get through it without bawling. Then I take it to France with me and sing it under vaulted ceilings in castles and cathedrals, wherever I find an echo. I sing it over hilltops, off the top of my hotel in Nice, in a boat on the Seine. I sing it to twelve goats in a barn in the Loire Valley, as the biggest goat cocks her head and squints skeptically at me. And back in Ithaca, walking Marika’s dog at night in the driveway, I sing the song to the stars. Finally, I sing it at the memorial in the middle of June.

No one in Ithaca, other than my babies, has ever heard me sing. Setting up for the memorial at the Stewart Park Pavilion on Cayuga Lake, I test the mic with the first lines of the song. There is a sudden hush and I realize I’ve grabbed people’s attention.
“You sound just like Marika,” someone says. Pleased about this, I step before the crowd shortly after, take a deep breath, and begin “Atop a Mountain.” It will take many more months to recognize that my singing would not be the way to hold onto my daughter. But at the memorial, I follow Marika’s voice through the song, without a crack until the last note. My heart pounds as I find my seat, and scoop my inherited dog up into my lap.

Her dog. People had wanted to see Suki. So I brought her, but I’m wondering if this was a mistake. She squirms uncharacteristically. Seeing and smelling so many of Marika’s friends, Suki’s searching frantically for her shining girl. Even though I had quickly become her new girl and she’d become my shadow, waiting for me in her nest by the front door whenever I’d leave the house. Having lost one of her girls, she does what she can to keep on top of the other. My song over, I bury my tears in Suki’s fur. She whines, and looks mournfully at the friends as Rachel begins “Changed for Good,” a song from the show, Wicked. Marika had once silenced a crowd at camp with that song. And now, out of Rachel’s mouth comes perfection. Even when she starts sobbing into the mic, and then apologizes. No one blinks when Rachel sings. And then Cassie sings. And Julie sings. Songs for Marika from those of us who rarely open our mouths in public. I imagine Marika watching us from above, dumbstruck.

 

 

 

 

Duetting: Memoir 5

Duetting: Memoir 5 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an illustration for her memoir about the journey with her daughter through the wilds of cancer.Days after the calling hours, I enlist Rachel’s help to go through Marika’s belongings. Rachel wants me to meet her boyfriend. So the next week, still in a daze, I take the two of them out to dinner. Dressed up, made up, and manicured with acrylic French tips, Rachel glows, reminding me of Marika. For a moment I feel like the mother of a daughter again.

“May I see your wine list, please?” I ask the server, intending to order a bottle of wine for the table, the way I do when I go out with my girlfriends or family.
“I’ll have a Long Island Iced Tea,” Rachel says. I try to remember if that’s the drink with five different liquors. Tequila, I think. Vodka. Rum and gin and…. I’m surprised. But she’s of age, so I forget about it. Until she orders a third Iced Tea before our meal of steaks, fries, and giant chocolate chip cookie topped with ice cream is over. Does she always drink like this, I wonder? Did Marika drink like this? At that point, though, I get distracted by car talk. I sell Marika’s car to Rachel’s boyfriend.

Days later, I don’t empty the car or look to see what’s inside. The creaking sound of its door and smell of the strawberry-kiwi air freshener over the dash could release a torrent of memories. Car gone. That’s when I really know for sure Marika isn’t coming back. I spend the next three months running away as fast and as far as I can. I would have run out of my skin if I could have.

In the spring of 2011, England’s Prince William marries Kate Middleton, the Federal Government threatens to shut down, Osama bin Laden is killed, and New York legalizes same sex marriage. But I’m oblivious, racing to catch planes and scanning the crowds of fellow travelers for Marika’s face. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world or where I land. Finland. France. Anywhere but home. She is no longer there. The presence I felt so strongly the first days after her death dissipated shortly after I brought home her life-sized portrait and began talking to it. Maybe when I return to the house again she’ll be back. Maybe if I set her free, set her belongings free, she will come back to me. So I’m on a mission to toss Marika’s earrings and bracelets into oceans all over the earth. Does this have to make sense? Will anything make sense ever again?

Then suddenly it’s June and I’m back in the States. I wake up in my car one day, lost somewhere between my mother’s home in Western Massachusetts and my sister Laurie’s in the east. And I’m desperate to find a post office so I can mail more of Marika’s jewels to places she’d have visited. She wanted to see Greece and Ireland. She’d have loved Colorado. So I send out bits and pieces of her to friends all over the world. It offers me some vague comfort, like she is still here, like some part of her is just off traveling someplace beyond my reach.

 

That Word: Dead

Not DeadNow. When the landscape is greening up and wildflowers are in bloom, and forsythia and redbud trees spray the streets with vibrant color. When everything is bursting alive, blooming, and blossoming. This is the time to discuss the problem many of us face concerning the use of that four-letter word we all avoid: DEAD.

Dead, as in, my daughter is dead. My father is dead. Dead Children.
As opposed to saying, She is no longer with us, or, He is on the other side. Or, They earned their angel wings. She’s transitioned. Deceased. Extinct. Expired. He kicked the bucket, went to his eternal home. She passed away. He is departed. They are gone.

In his poem Away, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) wrote,
     I cannot say and I will not say
     That he is dead. He is just away!

It seems it’s just too painful to use the word ‘dead’ when speaking about a deceased loved one. People cringe. They say it feels too final, too harsh. Cold. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable. All this distress over the little word ‘dead.’ I didn’t even say ‘corpse’ or ‘cadaver.’

My daughter is not “just away!” Don’t try to tell me she is gone; she regularly pops up in my dreams and I talk to her every day. And my father, dead eight years now, still makes me quiver whenever I spend more than fifty dollars.

It is no crime to be dead. It is no affront to polite conversation to mention that word. If I say ‘dead daughter’ or ‘dead father’ I don’t mean to torture anyone. But because of people’s unease, I recently changed the title of my manuscript (still not ready for querying) from Duets With My Dead Daughter to Duetting. With my Daughter. Who Died.

It’s easier on our delicate psyches to say, or hear, my daughter died. That doesn’t feel like I’m defining her. It simply states something she did. She did a lot of things. She drove me crazy, she lived like she had only an hour left, she changed my life. She died. No one in the world loves my daughter more than I do, but the reality is: Marika is dead. So I’m gonna learn to love that word even if it kills me.

What words do you use to say your loved one is dead? What do you think of my new title?

Walking a Labyrinth

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops multiple images of her sister walking a labyrinth in Tucson, Arizona.You put one foot in front of the other. And you keep going. That’s how you Walk a Labyrinth. That’s kind of what I told my sister as we approached the labyrinth off a desert nature trail in Tucson.

A labyrinth is not a maze. It is an organized design, a circuitous winding path that leads to a center and back. Some say it’s like a map of your life’s journey. They say the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out to the world, to know who you are. Or maybe it’s a path to meet with God. Whatever, labyrinths are supposed to help you find your way.

People walk labyrinths for growth and for healing, to meditate, to clear and expand their focus, to reduce stress, to seek answers, find guidance, or to simply walk in wonder. You can walk a labyrinth in a group ritual or as a private meditation. It can bring rest, order, comfort, and harmony. Like meditating, it’s a process of letting go. You let go of trying to see what’s ahead and simply follow the path.

In a labyrinth you can only go forward. There’s only one path, into the center and out again. Where you are is where you are meant to be. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth. The path is meandering but purposeful. You will arrive. And you will return. Eventually.

There is only one choice to make: to enter the labyrinth or not.

Many lives are more like mazes. A maze is designed to trick you, make you lose your way. There are choices, several paths to choose from. They branch off, twist, and turn. Blind alleys, dead-ends, potholes, unmarked trails that split unexpectedly, stream-crossings over thin ice, snakes suddenly slithering out of nowhere, rough rocky paths….

It was only one simple little choice: to enter or not. But I’m always complicating things. The labyrinth in the Tucson desert became a symbol for all the things that skirt the edges of my life in possibility: the desert beckoning me to venture into its mysterious harsh beauty, religion and spirituality, belief in an afterlife, belief in my own self and my potential.

I did not walk the labyrinth. Instead, I stood outside the sacred space, taking pictures of my sister as she stepped serenely through the meandering trail, losing track of direction and the outside world, quieting her mind. One foot in front of the other. Smiling, mostly.

 

Is your walk through life a labyrinth or a maze?

 

 

 

How Does God Give Life to the Dead?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an illuminated cactus plant to illustrate how god, with great mercy, gives life to the dead.“I hear you have some questions about resurrection,” the rabbi I’d been referred to said over the phone.
“No, I’m not asking about bodies rising from the grave, I don’t think – It’s just one question,” I tried to explain, not wanting to take up too much time from this renowned scholar of Jewish law, philosophy, and mysticism.

Days earlier I’d been sitting in a synagogue in Tucson, at a young cousin’s bat mitzvah. A prayer book had been shoved at me and I was skimming through the translations, wondering when the service would end. I was a trespasser. The last time I’d tried talking to god was six years earlier, when my daughter lay dying. After that, I prayed to her instead. Marika’s ghost was less of a stranger to me than god. She should have been there in Tucson, sitting with me, celebrating her cousin’s coming of age. Blinking back tears, I buried my face in the prayer book.
“Turn to page 292,” announced the cantor officiating at the service.

That’s when I came across the line about how god, “with great mercy, gives life to the dead.” It was written in three different places on that page. Whoa. What did that mean? I wondered, as I read it over and scoured the page for clues. The same line appeared several times more as the congregation turned to page 48 and then 10.

Later I asked the cantor, how does god bring life to the dead? And I asked my cousins. Then there was a conversation I was not part of, and afterwards they directed me to the Chabad rabbi back in my hometown. They told him I would call.

“Listen to the voice of your soul,” the rabbi said. I’d never thought in terms of “the soul.” Mostly I write about messages of the heart. Or sometimes of ‘one’s spirit,’ which offers an intriguing other-worldly dimension. But the rabbi spoke exclusively of “the soul.” My soul. My daughter’s. “The soul that continues to live long past the body.” My “soulful need and yearning to connect with something more, with the world beyond.”

“Souls departing the world gain freedom …take on a more vibrant life after leaving the body,” he said. “Your daughter is aware of you.” And then, “The soul gets immeasurable joy from every good deed we do on earth.” What? My daughter’s soul? Or my own?

“Don’t ignore that voice, the voice of the soul… Do things on behalf of that soul. Do good things in her honor.”

The rabbi would be pleased if I learned more about Judaism, to feed my daughter’s soul as well as my own. And I may. But a small voice (mine? or Marika’s?) keeps nudging me, “What about seeing a medium? What about organizing a grievers walking group? and helping elderly gardeners? and telling someone about the cruel treatment of the horses at the stable in Tucson?” Maybe it’s through us, the survivors: We bring life to the dead.

 

What do you make of the idea that god “with great mercy, gives life to the dead”? Really, I’d like to hear. It’s still haunting me.

Expectations

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an incomplete healing mandala of herself and her daughter who died of leukemia.Something has been bothering me. A couple of weeks ago when I blogged about how to handle holiday stress, I posted all over Facebook, “Stay in bed with a hot water bottle…. You don’t have to do the holidays this year.”

“No way. Expectations,” a couple of Facebook friends replied. And it took a while until I remembered my many years of being The One Who Made Joy Happen in our house. Back then I couldn’t have simply turned my back on what was expected of me. I would not have wanted to. There are times in your life when people look up to you, depend on you, trust you. And when you are in that position you do what you can to keep their world intact, and you do it with grace. I apologize to the ones I offended or disappointed. I’m sorry for forgetting how important it is for us to hold our tribe together.

Sometimes you lose track of what others expect of you, or what you expect of yourself. With the loss of my daughter, I lost a lot of my expectations. The biggest one was that children would outlive their parents. There were others:

The expectation that life will return to normal. That there ever was a normal in life.
That grief has an ending point, that at some time we should reach the end of our grief.
That one day you will be the same person you used to be. That one could ever be the same person she was before losing her heart.
That the first year of grieving is the worst. That time heals all wounds.
That if I followed all the rules and did what was right, everything would turn out okay.

That I would always complete my photo-illustration before putting it out on the Internet for all to see.

So much for what we believed.

You were expecting something joyful here? You’ve been so patient, putting up with my moping through the last weeks. There is some good news: We don’t have to worry or fret over any of this. Expectations – I’m pretty sure that’s one of those things our president-elect is working hard to rescind.

 

What expectations have you come to let go of?