Tag Archives: my daughter died

Altered Horizons 37


Altered Horizons 37 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a landscape fabricated from the back of a dog as she ponders the death of pets inherited by bereaved parents.


At Barton Valley Farm, dogs followed the photography students as we traipsed through the fields. I was trying to focus on the horses but this dog kept creeping into my view. I don’t know what kind of dog it was but it was very friendly and had great hair.

My own dog, Suki, is so old that the county clerk phoned me this year before mailing out the annual dog license renewal, “Is Suki still with us?”

Surprised by the call, I told her the dog I inherited from my daughter eleven years ago was indeed still here.

“Well, bless her little heart,” the clerk replied. And I do. Every day. Because I’ve seen, from others whose inherited dogs die, that when this dog goes it could be like losing my daughter all over again.


Altered Horizons 37


Life with a Dead Daughter: When People Forget or Don’t Know

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, tells about her life with her dead daughter, when people forget or don't know her daughter died.“How’s your girl doing?” asked an old friend at a public event last week. Dumbfounded, I stopped breathing and stared at him. He couldn’t mean My Girl, as in my daughter who died. Was he maybe inquiring about my BFF inherited dog? Or the young woman who helps me in the garden? No—he really was asking about my daughter—whose funeral and memorial he had, himself, attended eight years ago.
“Uh, well, you know she d—,” I stopped myself.

It had been years since I’d run into someone who didn’t know of Marika’s death, where I’d have to awkwardly inform them of her demise. I hate having to spill this to clueless folks who, as a result, will feel queasy around me forever after. Sometimes people who know my story avoid me, like maybe they’re scared I’ll fall apart howling. Spotting old friends at weddings and funerals, I’ve learned to wait and let them approach me rather than descend upon them. And I never mention my daughter unless they do, even though I’m itching to talk about her. Such is life with a dead daughter. I feel I have to protect people. I leave them plenty of time and space to make the first move. If they’re brave enough.

But this guy had known my daughter died.

“How’s your girl?” He asked again, with warm smiling eyes.
“Well, um—I’m keeping her close in my heart,” I tell the poor fellow, trying to simultaneously show him I’m okay, and he’s okay for not remembering, and remind him that Marika is dead. It was the best response I could come up with in my shock.

He cocked his head, and I repeated in a steady calm voice, “I keep her very close in my heart,” emphasizing ‘heart.’ He winced, and smacked his face. And I thought he would shrivel up and sink through the floor in mortification of forgetting. I told him it was all cool, and thanked him for thinking of Marika. He broke free of me shortly after.

“What is Marika like?” one of my hiker friends asked, the very next day, upon seeing the tattoo of Marika’s name on my bare arm.
“Thank you for using the present tense, since I think of my daughter as still being here in many ways,” I said, not entirely sure she understood that Marika is dead. Then I merrily answered her, rambling on and on about my favorite subject to talk about.


When’s the last time you invited a bereaved parent to talk about her beloved child?




Life Saving Dog

Marika Warden of Ithaca, New York, with Suki the Havanese life-saving dog, photographed by Ray Possen“Robin, Marika needs a dog. Her life depends on getting this puppy,” my sister said, speaking of my daughter in the same tone as the doctors who insisted Marika’s life depended on getting a bone marrow transplant. So in the fall of 2009, in the middle of our struggles with cancer, we got a jolly new Havanese puppy. She became the lifesaver we all needed. We couldn’t help but laugh as Suki climbed to the tops of couches, to the shoulders of anyone sitting on the couches, and atop Marika’s bed where she slept happily among the stuffed animals or under Marika’s chin.

In the end, Suki could not save the life of my daughter. But after, nudging me up from bed and out of the house each day, and snuggling with me at night, Suki saved mine.

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops loving hands all around Suki, her inherited Havanese dog.I would go so far as to recommend that anyone who has lost a loved one should get a dog. I would say Suki is my best friend. I would do anything for my beloved, inherited, life-saving dog. So why did I tell people all week, as we waited for the dog oncologist appointment, I would not let Suki get chemo or radiation?
“If she has cancer, I won’t put her through all that pain and discomfort,” I told them. But I told myself I couldn’t afford it. In fact, as soon as I learned there was a chance of cancer, I had set a limit on what I would invest on my precious friend. Knowing people who’d spent thousands of dollars on their dogs with cancer, I didn’t know of a single cancer-surviving dog. I wasn’t going to take a chance on losing my dog and my money.

The oncologist appointment was followed by long hours of waiting and not being able to focus on work. Finally the doctor called with the results of the fine-needle aspiration biopsy. On the floor with Suki in my lap, I hugged the phone. I hugged Suki, closed my eyes, and buried my face into the soft fur on her head. Hanging up, I cried. Then I stood, lifting Suki, and danced with her in my arms. No cancer.

Happy Birthday to my joyful Suki who turned six on Saturday.

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 to Say When Someone Dies

What to Say When Someone Dies - Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, hovers over computer screen showing her daughter, Marika Warden, who died of leukemia at the age of 20.The email said, “I lost my daughter Emily two years ago when she was 22.”
It came from a stranger, through Twitter. The public nature of social media sites makes responding with condolences so awkward. For a long while I sat with fingers poised over the keyboard, watching the blank space where my message would be printed.

“My husband died” and “My dog Bones was my best friend” and “My brother passed last week” are messages I get that make me want to dive into my computer, zoom through cyberspace to grab hold of these fellow grievers, and hug. If I could be there I would sit next to them in silence, ready to listen or to simply share the sad space around us.

After “I’m sorry,” I don’t have a stock set of lines for communicating to others who grieve. So much depends on the circumstances and on my relationship to the heartbroken person. But any response is better than no response. And even replying to a stranger, there are basic things to consider: like how to acknowledge the pain and let this person know I care. It has to be honest and heartfelt. It’s all about being supportive. It’s about the one who is left, not the one who died. And it’s not about my own experience, no matter how similar that may be.

It only takes a line or two: I am sorry. I am thinking of you. I will keep Emily in my thoughts today. I am here for you if you need me. I am wishing you peace. These are some of the things I might say or write. If I have a connection or memory to the one this person loves I will share it. And I will use the name of the loved one who died. When my own daughter died, hearing others’ stories about her and the sound of her name gave me comfort.

And maybe there’s a gentle way to let the person who is grieving know I’m available to listen. This is tricky through Twitter although Compassionate Friends does it all the time on Facebook. Reading the email I wondered, how did her daughter die? I wanted to ask but knew it was not appropriate.
But I decided I could ask, “How did Emily live?”

How did the one you are missing live?
Please visit my Garden of Loved Lives on HOME page. It’s starting to grow.

Where’s the Joy in Life?

Where's the Joy in Life? Robin botie of Ithaca, New York, gets kissed by Suki the life-saving dog Botie inherited from her daughter who died of leukemia,Marika Warden.“Where’s your toy, Suki?” I ask every night as my dog and I make our bedtime tour of the house to collect Green Ball, her favorite toy. The dog I inherited from my daughter who died is my lifesaver now. When I think I’m drowning, Suki shows me the playground our world is. Our nightly routine is to find her toy and settle into bed, and then she rolls over so I can give her a belly-rub as I recount the best parts of the day. Before turning out the light, I tell her what we can look forward to when we wake.

The first ten days of August had been full. I performed my book reading, went to a hikers’ picnic and the theater, ate several dinners out, and spent a weekend away at Lake George. Suki and I hiked with friends almost every day. Each morning we saw a great blue heron take off from the pond. At night we watched the moon reflected in the pond as frogs sang. I tried to videotape the full moon and the frog-song but Suki whined wanting my attention and I laughed too hard to hold the camera.

Then came August 11th. There was little planned for that week other than medical tests. On the calendar was written: CT scan, mammogram, eat only clear liquids, call lab for test results. It rained, the driveway flooded. The credit card bill came due. I learned that since I had lyme disease I could no longer donate blood. The great blue heron disappeared along with the resident duck. Rodents noisily clawed their way through the house’s rafters. Robin Williams died. Lauren Bacall died. The days were spent waiting for doctors’ calls, not daring to make plans that would need to be cancelled. Another diagnosis, a rare disorder, my doctors couldn’t answer my questions, it wasn’t cancer but I couldn’t be grateful.

For seven nights I sank into bed scared.

“Where’s the joy, Suki?” I asked last night, sobbing to my sweet inherited dog as we settled into bed. Suki looked straight at me, picked up the Green Ball, and merrily squeaked it in my face.