Tag Archives: Ithaca New York

Duetting: Memoir 10

Duetting: Memoir 10 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops layers of a word cloud to illustrate the stae of her home at the time of her daughter's cancer diagnosis.Our home is Ithaca, New York. It’s a small town, a perpetually young town between Cornell University and Ithaca College. Bumper stickers proclaim, “Ithaca is Gorges.” It’s true. At the south end of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes, Ithaca teems with frothing waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. Fractured rock continually crashes down these steep craggy gorges, occasionally smashing and rearranging the landscape.

To grow up in Ithaca is to be intimately familiar with Purity Ice Cream, the Stewart Park Carousel, swimming at Buttermilk Falls, and picking out pets at our local no-kill SPCA shelter. Teenagers in Ithaca attend the Winter ChiliFest, the Ithaca Festival, and the nearby Grass Roots Festival, yearly events that draw thousands to the region. Many teens dare to party on Cornell’s beer-flooded Slope Day, and sneak down to swim illegally at Second Dam, a popular swimming hole. They know their way around the ethnic eateries of Collegetown. Ithaca is environmentally, politically, socially, alternatively, and healthfully conscious. Bumper stickers peg Ithaca as “Ten Square Miles Surrounded by Reality.” It suits me. It’s the special place on earth where I fit in.

In 1976, I followed my first husband here when he landed a teaching job at Cornell. We bought land in the countryside and built a palatial home with a pond. There, I started Silk Oak, a small silkscreen-printing design business. I finally learned to drive. Too busy with our careers, we did not have children. After ten years we split, and I got most of the land. I built a small house and another pond. A few years later I married my plumber, the God of Heat and Hot Water. We made the house bigger, and had Greg and Marika. Then I gave away my 20-year-old home business so I could be with the children, to take them swimming, on vacations, to birthday parties and summer camps. No longer in need of the space for Silk Oak, we sold the house and built a third, smaller house with a third, smaller pond on the same land. And when that marriage fell apart, I paid a lot of money to have my second husband’s name erased from the piece of paper that said the house and the pond and the land once belonged to us both. But I couldn’t erase him completely. He was still the father of my two children.

I don’t believe you can own land, the land you live on, pay taxes on, and love. I believe the land owns you. The land I call home claimed me long ago. Here, high in the hills surrounding Ithaca, it feels secluded from the world but is only a five-minute drop down the hill to town. The green hills, the gravelly soil that tries to contain the ponds, the wind which causes frequent power outages. The woods and the abundant wildlife. The valley, and its view of Ithaca College where at each year’s end the dormitory windows are lit up to display the changing digits of the New Year. This land holds me when I’m home. It calls when I’m away. Wherever I travel, my inner GPS is set to the hill west of Ithaca, to Go Home.

To go home in the spring of 2008 was to follow the long driveway from the turn off State Highway 79, just over the crest of the hill after EcoVillage, our local intentional community. Home was the wreck we abandoned each weekday morning, fleeing to our schools. Marika’s was Ithaca High School where she was a senior; mine was Lehman Alternative Community School where, after years of subbing once the kids got older, I’d been hired as a special education teacher. Home was the sweet mess we gratefully returned to late each afternoon, to scurry away into our individual corners until dinnertime, our time together.

It was just Marika and myself then. My son Greg was in the army, always far away in Iraq or at Fort Lewis in Washington State. And there was Laurie. Our ever-present encyclopedia and sounding board, Laurie was always lodged in the phone, the landline. And in the message machine that still held a twelve-day-old recording of her singing Happy Birthday to Marika in her calm low voice, drawing out the final line. We always counted on Laurie for either a short version or a lengthy, but engaging, exposition of the truth. She always gave you choices. She could explain quantum physics in terms a preschooler would understand. She planted cannonballs in your gut, spouting twenty reasons to go see a primary caregiver about your searing pelvic pain. She made you cringe in horror describing the fish-flesh texture of tissue invaded by lymphoma. Or she could get you to relax in grateful relief, telling you the pain you were sure was ovarian cancer was most likely gas.

“Laur, is leukemia related to cancer?” I asked on that first night.
“What’s gonna happen to me?” Marika asked at the same time. Over the phone, sandwiched between Marika’s and my ears, Laurie said,
“Don’t you know anyone who has leukemia?” like everyone on earth has at least a dozen friends walking around hijacked by their white blood cells. Marika, in a squeaky voice on the verge of crying, said,
“Yeah. He died.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Compassionate Friends: A New Chapter in Ithaca, New York

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, uses Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to show a stand of trees representing the new Ithaca chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a worldwide child loss grief support group helping bereaved families grow and heal.“Pretend you’re trees. Open your arms wide like branches reaching out,” I said to the tiny group of people posing before my camera. They stood there, smiling at me, with outstretched arms. We were gathered for the first meeting of The Compassionate Friends of Ithaca, New York, a child loss support group. “Look up at the sky,” I directed, thinking they looked like children waving in the wind.

I was designing artwork for our brochure, for a Facebook page, and our new website. Since my daughter Marika died, it has not been easy to ask for assistance. It had taken me four years to even want to be part of a grief support group. So last week, when I needed people to pose, I had hesitated sending out the email, “I need help.” But now, here were these new friends of mine, swaying with arms held high like they could catch the sun. Or catch a child falling from heaven. They were eager to be helping me. I was so touched.

The Compassionate Friends is a worldwide support group for people who have lost a child or grandchild or sibling. All the people running Compassionate Friends groups are people who have lost children of all ages, from many different causes. Bereaved parents are a diverse group from all walks of life and all races. They understand what parents go through, and hold regular monthly meetings where they reach out to each other, sharing their pain and the love they have for their children. Together they grieve and heal and grow.

In Ithaca, our new TCF chapter meets the first Thursday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 at Hospicare on 172 E King Road. If you are a bereaved parent nearby, or you know of someone who is and would benefit from opportunities to connect and learn together, I invite you to contact us at [email protected] or (607) 387-5711.

The morning after that first TCF Ithaca meeting I came across this illustration of a stand of pine trees I’d made for a friend. Immediately I connected the picture to what I was trying to portray by lining the parents up with outstretched arms. A stand of trees is a community of trees having a definite distinguishing characteristic, a particular uniformity, which makes it stand out from other nearby trees. The Compassionate Friends is my stand. These folks “get” who I am now. In a society that puts limits on grieving, and is uncomfortable discussing death or deceased loved ones, I have found a place to go where I can still be Marika’s Mom. In this journey called life, we all just want our children’s lives to matter, to be remembered. Hence, our Credo: We need not walk alone.  We are The Compassionate Friends.

 

Do you know someone who is grieving? Are you grieving?