Tag Archives: life is short

How Long is a Lifetime?

How Long is a Lifetime?Over the last week, in addition to Notre Dame, so much seemed to be falling apart or perishing. In my world, more friends died. My house was invaded with ants and stinkbugs. A mouse got trapped in the kitchen sink. Two unopened containers of yogurt expired. My car’s rear brakes wore out completely and had to be replaced. My back went out.

And early one morning when the dog was squealing her gotta-go-potty noises, I tried to let her outside and discovered the knob on the front door wouldn’t unlock the deadbolt. The back door had quit working just two weeks earlier. Horrified that I couldn’t exit the house north or south, I phoned a locksmith.
“It’s lived the end of its life,” George at Ace Security said about the doorknob. Not exactly the message I needed to hear, being thoroughly invested in the challenges of living forever and trying to keep life going for my household and various ailing friends. Plus, being obsessed with loss and death, the idea that even inanimate objects can have lifespans really bugged me.

“How old is that doorknob anyway?” George asked, certain I had an ancient house with parts that had never been replaced.“Only twenty years old,” I answered, suddenly realizing my daughter was only twenty when she got to the end of her life.

So. How long is a lifetime? In Google it says that in the tiny country of Monaco, people live an average of 89 years. The average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 with women living 5 years longer than men. Greenland sharks live 400 years. A friend is rehoming her 11-year-old macaw that will live another 40 to 70 years with multiple new owners. The mayfly only lives 24 hours. A typical lifetime for a car is 10 to 15 years although I usually sell mine after 6, and I hear 20-year-old Toyota Corollas still cruise the road. A home can last hundreds of years with diligent maintenance and timely renovations. The plastic bags I hoard in my closets take 10 to 1000 years to decompose, but if you bring a pint of rum raisin ice cream to my house it’ll be gone in nanoseconds.

Notre Dame was over 800 years old.

It was the week the daffodils finally started popping. Fresh, young flowers that will be gone before this new week is over. I can see them waving in the wind, just outside the aging front door which is falling apart even further as it awaits new parts. Twenty years. Seems too short for a lifetime, even for a doorknob.

What lasts forever? Or almost forever? What is the oldest thing you still own? Who is or was the oldest living relative in your family?

A Last Time for Everything

A Last Time for EverythingWhy isn’t there some sort of class or required reading that warns you, early on, about the nature of life? About loving. And losing. Longing. Living anyway. Something should teach us to pay attention because there’s going to be an end one day: A last kiss. Last words spoken. A last time you’re all together. A smile that disappears off the planet. A last night before the life you believed was yours gets devoured by the first morning of a completely different existence. All the precious bits and pieces of who you are, and what you thought you owned and controlled, are subject to change at any moment. Nobody warns you about this. Then one day you get clobbered. There ought to be something that gently whacks you over the head, an alert that everything, all of it, is only temporary.

My sister’s birthday brought my Mom and me, both of my sisters, a long-lost-then-found-again childhood friend, and another dear friend-of-the-birthday-girl together this weekend. We drank lots of wine and ditched our diets in celebration. And I kept wondering how many birthdays, how many summers, how much more of the good stuff could we possibly have coming to us?

This summer I’ve been showing up at my mother’s house almost every weekend. There, I can be a daughter again, a daughter helping out and being doted on by her mom. That was a role I needed to escape decades ago. But now I’m drawn back to it. Someday, I know, I will no longer be able to slip into my daughterliness any time I want.

For the birthday weekend, I was once again part of a set of three daughters living under one roof. We whispered and plotted out of earshot of our Mom, pretending we were kids once more like before colleges, husbands, and babies scattered us off into our different lives. I can’t count on always having sisters getting together for birthdays.

It’s great to be alive; it sucks that we’re alive for such a brief while. I go back and forth between being grateful and miserable about this, and continue to party like there’ll always be a next time. So cheers to the birthday girl, to Mom, to sisters and friends. Let’s toast to life! It’s beautiful. Sad. And gone before you get to know it.

Does anyone else go around marking in your mind all the sweet moments, thinking, this may be the last time?

Photographs and Memories

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a nightblooming cactus plant, epipyllum oxypetalum, Queen of the Night.The Queen of the Night glistened in the dark. It was late, past my bedtime. But she was so beautiful. Magnificent. People pointed and smiled, milling around her with flashlights.
“The cactus is blooming.” That was the message on my cell phone. What? Why would I care about some cactus, I’d wondered. Then I learned: Epiphyllum Oxypetalum. They bloom rarely, and only at night. And by the first light of day the flower would wilt and die.

The plant had only a few blossoms. In the dark, I photographed it up and down. I would immortalize it, post it on Facebook and Twitter, print it up BIG on premium archival paper, adhere it onto gatorboard with a polycarbonate laminate finish and polished German silver frame. This was my new way of memorializing things.

My old Omi Rosie used to tell me to take pictures in my mind if there was something beautiful or special I wanted to remember. No camera. Just in my head. So over the years I gathered “snapshots” in my head…. Like my first real kiss, on a summer night, the guy had a full set of braces that cut into my lips making them swell as we sat under stars, on a dock that rocked over a fishy-smelling black lake that lapped loudly…. And later, newly arrived at college, walking on the quad over fallen ginkgo leaves, yellow and stinking like dog-poo, my arms ached weighted down with just-bought textbooks and I told myself to remember this beginning of the adventure that was my own, not my family’s…. Later still, my newborn son’s eyes that could turn into any color…. “Snapshots” in my mind. That always worked for me. Because most of my life I hated cameras. “They keep me away from what’s going on. Why would I want to put a box between myself and what I want to remember?” I’d say. That was before my daughter died. The daughter who loved photos.

The night I visited the Queen of the Night I couldn’t sleep. I drove back, through thick fog early the next morning before sunrise, to see the plant once more. And I thought of the other beautiful, short life I’d witnessed at its end. Five years ago. On the morning I knew would be my daughter’s last day, I filled my eyes with her face, to plant a “snapshot” in my head, to always remember. And that image, indelible in my mind, is infinitely more breathtaking than this photograph I took of the Queen of the Night in her last glory, just as the sun came up.


What do you do to always remember something beautiful, important, loved? Do photographs work for you? Or do memories?

Love Your Sister

Love Your Sister, Robin Botie, photoshopper in Ithaca, New York, photographs her sisters' reflections.“I’m your sister too.” Those were the last words my sister Wendy said to me. Months ago.

Then, this past Saturday evening, driving back from the Memoir Workshop given by Margaret and Marion Roach Smith, I thought of my own sister. Not the one who’s The Doctor in Massachusetts, who I always write about and photograph. No. The other one. Wendy, The Beautiful sister who lives in Florida. The one I, The Artist sister, got mad at and stopped talking to.

At Saturday’s workshop, I had sat between the two Roach sisters for hours with my head turning right and left like at a tennis match. Each sister easily bounced off and supported what the other said and together they fed the participants great information as well as a hearty lunch. How did they do that? I asked myself afterwards. And then I remembered Wendy.

We only see each other once or twice a year during family reunions. So I was mad she cancelled out for this year. She’s the sister who, when we get together, gets up early to walk with me before breakfast. And whenever we go shopping, whatever she tries on looks so good on her that I buy it for myself.

She reads my blogs, follows me on Facebook, and has always “been there” for me. She dropped everything and flew to New York when my daughter died. But I have not “been there” for her.

Ten years younger, she is the baby but I’m the one who was never big enough to forgive her for drawing on my books with a red crayon when she was five years old. Maybe I still haven’t forgiven her for all the attention she got when she was born.

The thing is sisters should stick together. The stories I hear of families going for years without talking terrify me. I don’t want to be like that. Life is too short.
So I’m sorry, Wendy. I will try to be a better sister. This one’s for you.

What Mothers Do

What Mothers Do ; Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a stuffed puppy on a Long Point, Ontario beach on Lake Erie with trumpeter swans in the distance.Mothers love to talk about their children. But if I talk about my daughter who died, someone might flinch or tell me to get over it. And next time she spots me in Wegmans maybe she’ll duck away into a different aisle. We will no longer exchange information about what our daughters are doing. Still sometimes I long to feel like Marika’s mom again. So I go to retreats for bereaved mothers.

To me Canada was always the cold wilderness way up north, a foreign country with foreign currency and crazy speeds on the QEW. A terrorist attack in Canada was all over the news two days before the retreat. I was nervous. But I’d already survived The Worst Thing. I propped my daughter’s stuffed puppy in the passenger seat and drove five hours to Long Point, Ontario, on the northern shore of lake Erie.

The Canadian mothers were a hardy bunch. Some traveled longer than I did to get there. Bighearted, bitter, tough, tender, broken and mending. Some clung to their faith. Some questioned it. Some had given their family members the finger when told to get over their grief. Nighttime pacers with tissues in pockets, acutely aware of time passing, looking for signs from the children who died, … immediately we were a group.

Together at one long table we ate hearty homemade soups. Our hostess gave us gift-bags and brought in practitioners for sessions in yoga, Integrated Energy Therapy, paraffin wax massages, and aromatherapy. We wore our children’s clothes. Some of us searched for trumpeter swans. We exchanged information about psychic mediums. We held sacred stones and envisioned angels with blessings. We held hands, encircling a table where candlelight brushed our faces and the faces in our children’s photos. We took turns talking about our precious sons and daughters and shared our personal nightmares.

When we thought we were all talked out, we sat around a windblown campfire listening to the sounds of waves.
“Do you believe this? Do you recognize yourself?” one mother laughed in the glow of the fire. Then we all doubled over in our chairs, holding our bellies, whooping with laughter, “Just look at all the things we do to feel better.”
My Canadian sisters. They are my heroes. I was not so far from home. And I was right at home, in the middle of these strong mothers who have learned from their beloved children that life is short, that we need to love it more. We need to love ourselves and each other more.