Tag Archives: life is a gift

Duetting: Memoir 7

Duetting: Memoir 7  Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a tattoo onto a photo of the face of her daughter who died.The young friends, at their own celebration of Marika’s life directly following the memorial, mull around in tight groups. They touch the photos and memorabilia. They hug and hold each other. Several had gotten tattoos to honor Marika. Images and words etched onto arms and ankles, pigment mixed with blood. Some small part of Marika could be carried forever.

As soon as she was old enough to forego parental blessings, Marika got a cookie-sized Celtic knot tattooed onto her stomach. I’d always questioned my children, “What could you possibly put on your body that you’d want to have there the rest of your life?” Horrified by the idea, I would confront them using the word ‘permanent’ as if a tattoo was a perpetual stain on one’s presence. Not that anything, loved or loathed, could ever be permanent.

In May, two months after Marika’s death, for her birthday, I had her name tattooed on my left shoulder in Celtic letters. Greg, who’d already had a good deal of himself inked with warriors and skulls in homage to his fallen army friends, added a part of Marika’s Celtic knot to his haunting skin-story. Rachel got a Marika tattoo. And Kim. Then Taylor. And Julie. Even Laurie flew to Ithaca to get one from our now almost-family tattoo artist. The thought of our hearts and bodies indelibly etched with Marika was suddenly comforting. Bereaved mothers, other than wanting their beloved children back, want nothing more than to have their child remembered. So I loved those tattooed friends.

But at the end of June, one of Marika’s friends is found dead from an overdose. Several are heavily into drugs and alcohol. Marika had fought for each summer and for every breath in the end. Even though I know addiction is not a choice, I want to grab hold of her friends’ necks and shake them.
“This is it! This is your only life. It’s a time-limited offer. Non-refundable. It is a gift,” I want to shout. “How the hell do you get to throw it away?” I think of the parents, because to lose a child is to lose the center of your world. It is to lose your light and breath. “Look at me,” I wish I could say, “It’s June and I’m still frozen mud in midwinter. Like concrete. I died too. Would you do this to your parents?”

And then there are Marika’s words. Words I can’t ignore now that I’ve found them. She wrote this before she even knew she had cancer. Before there was any doubt of her not living a long full life. What am I supposed to do with these words? They scream to me:

“My words will hopefully live on long after I am gone. That is how I want to live. Forever. Words are immortal.”

Not Cancer

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, holds newborn Marika Warden like she is holding the moon.I am guarding life. I’ve seen it decay and be devoured by cancer. Twice I watched it disappear. So I guard it like it could melt away in a moment.

Once upon a time, to guard life was to sing to my growing belly for months and then hold the warm wriggling creature I birthed like I was holding the moon. Guarding life, I rose each morning earlier than I wanted to feed and carry and keep my beautiful helpless one from ruin. I caught the sun for her, made every day the best day, and collapsed into bed at night to sleep with one ear always awake.

Later, when cancer hit home, to guard life was to wait at her bedside and rub my daughter’s feet. It was to find favorite foods or a puppy, anything to bring sunshine back. In the end, I looked into her unconscious eyes as the nurses peered in with flashlights. They asked the family to leave but I stayed. I watched her take her last breath and felt my heart seize when her pulse stopped. Still I stood guard. I sat there until it sank in that the life was gone out of her.

Then lifeguarding became gathering up the prom dresses, the photos and journals, the bottles of bath gels and body lotions, the twenty pairs of boots, sneakers and sandals. It became learning about the parts of my daughter’s life I hadn’t known about. I looked for ways to keep her close and wondered what would get me to rise all the next mornings of my life.

After Marika died, I had to become my own lifeguard. I kicked myself up and out of bed. First I lived for her. Then I tried to live more like she did: like life was to be loved. Like my own life was worth something.

I guess I didn’t do a great job. My next three years were riddled with accidents, illness, sleepless nights, falls, and broken bones. And now there were worrisome symptoms.

The test results came back one by one. Each phone call from the doctor resulted in new pills, things to avoid, more to take care of, and mostly, gratitude. Iron deficiency. A dangerously low vitamin-D count. Giardea. Lymes disease. Each diagnosis was a blow.

But it wasn’t cancer.

Carrying Grief and Talking About Loss

A Banyan tree in Florida with roots wrapped around its trunk photographed by Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York. “ … I will remember you forever. In this way, because I got to live, you will too,” my daughter, Marika, wrote to her friend who died. She was going to carry Jake with her forever.

My aunt sits like a small island on her couch and listens as my mother tells her, “He’ll always be with you.” My aunt shakes her head No, considering the husband who was with her for over sixty years, the empty seat next to her in temple now, the lonely apartment.

I watch her, wondering if I dare mention that she brings my uncle back to life for me when she tells us about their time together. After my daughter died I needed to talk about her. Having people listen was better than hearing them tell me Marika was watching over me. Can I tell my aunt my daughter is stamped all over my heart and that as long as I live, a small part of her will be kept alive too? Can I say that I will carry and keep Marika with me until the day I myself am carried out of this world?

“You still have you,” is my standard line for someone who tells me she has lost someone or something. But it takes a while to recognize this as something of value. Over time it has become my mantra, “I still have me.” What I really want to tell my grieving aunt is, “Live.” Live because life is a gift. A time-limited offer, it will not last forever. Non-transferable, it cannot be given away to one of the many who fight for each breath and each hour. Live and discover how you’ve grown in his love.

I say little during our visit. Instead, I listen to my aunt’s stories.

And outside her living room, the trees in Florida hug themselves with outstretched roots that wrap around their trunks and cling. Each tree is a small community that holds itself up in a celebration of life.