Grief is a sacred journey

Lost and Found in My Own Backyard

Robin Botie

I met Robin Botie in the oncology ward kitchen at Strong Hospital in Rochester in 2008. We leaned our weary bodies against Formica counters and whispered our sad tales while warming food in the microwave for the ones we hoped to save. I loved Robin’s thick brown hair and warm sorrowful eyes. I learned that she lived close to my home in the Finger Lakes.

We shared this horrifying world of cancer, but my husband Vic was 67 and had lived a fortunate life. Robin’s daughter Marika was 18 and every cancer treatment threw her body into crisis. If Vic’s lymphoma felt unfair, Marika’s put my world into perspective.

After Vic died, I lost touch with Robin, but a year and a half ago, a friend sent me Marika’s obituary. Then, I heard that Robin was writing a book about her experience. We met in bereavement groups, joined the same memoir writing group, and both signed on with Jill Swenson of Swenson Book Development. Moved by Robin’s powerful writing and our shared experience, I invited her for a walk in my woods

Strolling through falling leaves on a glorious October day, we headed toward my neighbor’s woods as I’d done a hundred times. I focused on Robin and the interaction between Marika’s dog Suki and my dog Willow. When it was time to return home, I couldn’t find the right trail. I knew the general direction, but yellow leaves coated the forest floor and obscured the tractor tire prints and horse piles that usually marked my neighbor’s ungroomed trails. Laying out three parallel sticks at each small fork in the path, I quickly proved that we were circling.

I was lost. Not hopelessly dangerously lost, but muddled and defeated and mad at myself for not paying attention. I checked my cell phone and it had one bar, so I knew I could call for help. But I didn’t want to. Instead, I anxiously searched for the trail back home, wanting to give up, sit in the leaves, and cry.

“I’m OK,” Robin said cheerfully. “This reminds me of a poem called ‘Lost.’ Do you know it?”

I shook my head no.

“It’s beautiful here,” Robin said. “I’m having a wonderful time.”

I sighed and looked around. It was beautiful and I had my cell phone. Relax, I told myself. So, you’re a little lost. What’s new about that? 

We walked south through my neighbor’s land on a wide clear trail to a dirt road at the edge of the woods and took the long way home along familiar roads. We ate homemade minestrone soup, laughed about our adventure, did a tick search on our dogs, and agreed to walk another time.

A few days later, Robin sent this poem by David Wagoner called “Lost”:

          Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
          Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
          And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
          Must ask permission to know it and be known.
          The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
          I have made this place around you.
          If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
          No two trees are the same to Raven.
          No two branches are the same to Wren.
          If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
          You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
          Where you are. You must let it find you.

***

For other posts about finding healing on my land, see “Small Goodbyes” and “Coming Home.” Visit Robin Botie’s blog, “In the Wake of Marika,” for beautiful stories about love and loss.

26 Comments
  1. Oh Elaine. Your beautiful story (beautifully told) takes my breath away. Thank you for the precious gift of you. ♥

    • Thank you, Marty, for reading, responding, and affirming my post about being lost and found. Your loving appreciation encourages me to keep writing and reaching out. Next week, I speak at the annual Ithaca Hospicare memorial service. I’m the only nonclerical person taking part and feel honored to be asked to read something I’ve written for the evening. To steady my nerves, I’ll think of you and all the good work you do for those who grieve.

  2. Wonderful description of how grief brought the two of you together in Strong Memorial Hospital. That you got lost in the woods only to find this beautiful poem, serendipity.

    • Thanks, Jill. Grief brings me me a whole new life and perspective, even as I miss the old one. Thanks for being one of my new possibilities.

  3. Elaine, Thank you for sharing this vulnerable story of precious loss, frazzled lost, and opening to now. I am touched by the deep connections you have made through grief.

    • Thank you for your response, Lourdes. I thank Robin Botie for the terrific poem and her teaching attitude about being lost in my woods. I overreacted because of my wider sense of being lost, but her acceptance and appreciation for the day brought me to my senses.

  4. I cannot tell you how many times my “Internet friends” touch me with their missives. Marty and I had a similar response to the poem you shared. I LOVE it and will add it to my collection of written expressions that have moved me and may resonate with others I share with …

    Blessings this day ~ Lynne

    • Fantastic, Lynne. Share away. It is a terrific poem and deserves to be on your daily posts. If you have other “internet friends” who write about grief and loss, please share them with me. I like to see what others are writing. Thanks for your ongoing good work and blessings back your way, Elaine

  5. Once again, another piece that is simple, beautiful, sad, deep and thought provoking.
    I am reminded of Ram Das, Be Here Now. How else?

    • Yes, how else? Why do I forget every other minute? You don’t have to answer that, but I do. Just keep herding the wandering thoughts back home. Thanks dear friend from far away.

  6. Re: the Lauren post above and your response, try herding sheep. Then find soft grass under a spreading oak in the dappling. Put down your crook. The sheep take care of themselves.
    Then there’s call to action, ’cause we have mars, right? What does He do with the thought stream? I think remembering that the heart is in it all the way . . . maybe especially when we don’t feel it . .
    Nothing’s for sure . . .

    • Thanks for your reflections and good advice. My sheep tend to morph into goats that push over the fence and devour the garden, but I’ll keep imagining. I herded sheep as a child on my grandparent’s farm in MO. Gentle creatures.

  7. I so respect how deep you go dear friend.You are a true warrior. Pema Chodron talks about warriorship..”warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw. It is soft and gentle. You have renounced putting on a new suit of armor. You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin. You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone and marrow to the world.” thanks for this constant teaching from you dear Elaine.

    • Thank you, Eve. I copied this quote you sent from Pema Chodron. I need to remind myself to renounce a new suit of armor. It’s so easy to slip into safe patterns and I appreciate being reminded that there is another way.

  8. Elaine, this story hit me deeply. How many ways can we be lost? And yet, we’re HERE.

    I was in a grieving group with Robin and read all her postings as well. I will pass on the wonderful poem she shared with you.

    I think I have been slipping into safe patterns, but they don’t work.

    Thanks again for your writing.

  9. I’m awed Elaine. You’ve captured that amazing time we had in the woods. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to get lost and found with you next week. Please look for my blog on Tuesday about this same adventure from my point of view. Cheers!
    Robin
    Robinbotie.com

    • That’s great, Robin. I look forward to reading what you write about our adventure. Next time, I will make sure we don’t get lost. Bring your camera and I’ll take you to visit my favorite large trees.

  10. Beautiful….

  11. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you. I am always uplifted by your words. You are a gem among gems.

    • Thank you, Marla. I’m honored by your supportive words.
      I’ve looked for your articles posted at Feminine Collective, but they aren’t up at FC now. Is it possible to find some of these articles posted other places? My email is elaine@elainemansfield.com if you’d like to respond privately instead of here.

  12. Lovely, poignant post, written before we “met” officially!

    • Ah, new to you, Marian. I’ve never forgotten that day, the poem, and the lesson from the forest.
      As you’ve noticed, every other week, I find an old blog posted in my first year or two of blogging when I had few readers. It makes me happy to give them a second chance.

  13. “Relax, I told myself. So, you’re a little lost. What’s new about that?”

    Oh, Elaine… both humorous and wise. I need to remember these words for when I’m feeling particularly ‘lost.’

    I’m slowly coming back from a self-imposed break, and I look forward to catching up on your blog. This is a lovely story, an example of how so many things in life come full
    circle.

    Sending love across the miles…

    • Thank you, Ann. The poem is amazing, isn’t it? I was so fortunate to be “lost” with a grieving friend who knew that poem, but now I’m careful when I walk in my neighbor’s woods this time of year when falling leaves obscure the trail. The rest of the year, the trail is obvious. Fortunately, I have many trails on my own land, all well marked.

      I’m glad you gave yourself a break. I’m doing that by writing a new blog every other week, but when people ask me to give an interview or presentation, my heart and mouth say yes. Even though I’m tired and hearing grows worse. I think my break will come beginning in mid November when the gigs slow down. Meanwhile, I can tell you and you’ll understand. I passed the memory loss test at my doctor’s office with flying colors. I could even laugh and say, “I think you used those same words last year. The unforgettable ‘blue, dog, bus.'” And I knew how to tell time and draw a clock. You know you’re aging when they begin doing these memory tests as part of the yearly physical.

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