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Carol's Columns

Lunch With Michelle

In the many years that I counseled bereaved parents in my private practice and in my work with Compassionate Friends, I had never met another mother with a similar situation to mine. But today I had lunch with Michelle Miller. Michelle's experience was uncannily like my own. We both had little girls who were pulled out to sea by a rogue wave. Her little Carolyn was 8 and my little Kristen was 7. They both had brothers with them who were slightly older and fortunately survived being hit by the wave. We were both single mothers. Michelle has two older sons, with the youngest close in age to Carolyn as my son Michel was to Kristen. Our lunch lasted 5 hours.

Michelle and I found a kindred connection in our unique situations. We both wondered what our daughters were thinking in their last moments. Were they calling for us as they held their breath, in the undertow? How long was your daughter in the water? The intense cold. Hypothermia. We had both heard stories of people in near drowning situations and had hung onto their descriptions of a sense of peace.

Do you think Kristen and Carolyn felt such peace? What do you think they felt? Coast Guard helicopters searched for their bodies. Carolyn was found that day. Kristen was not. How about your son? Does he go to the ocean? Do you? Both of our sons are quiet about their experiences and don't often share openly. Time stood still as we layered one experience over the other. A question, another thought, a nod of recognition. A knowing. What do you feel when you watch the waves? Do they come in or go out? Through smiles and tears we shared a journey that only the two of us could.

Kristen and Carolyn. Both children of Aries. The months of their deaths are near each other. Their death years far apart. Kristen died over 30 years ago and Carolyn in 2001. The dates are irrelevant. Time was irrelevant. Our hearts were torn open in the same way, by the same rogue wave. We both taught our children a love of the outdoors. We loved to hike, kayak, and explore, but nature turned on us that day. Our beautiful Pacific. We both had to find a way to befriend the ocean once again. We each found our own way.

When Michelle left, I thought about our little Kristen and Carolyn and knew they were smiling. Their mommies had connected. Neither of us had shared with another as we shared today. I'm invited to her house to have lunch, sit in the sun and walk to Corte Madera Creek to see The Compassionate Friends memorial stones with our little girls' names. Michelle heard of another mother whose five-year-old daughter was pulled out near the same place as Carolyn about one week later. We are going to try to find her. This is the essence of Compassionate Friends.