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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life


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The Navy, however, had other plans. A month before this magical weekend, Michel received orders to deploy to Iraq in three weeks — seven days before the wedding. We were stunned by this news because Michel had accepted his position as a "nondeployable" flight surgeon at the North Carolina base. He knew how tentative Jenny's acceptance into the United States was going to be and did not want to leave her stranded on the base after she arrived.

This worst-case scenario changed everything, beginning with the cancellation of our great wedding weekend, but Michel and Jenny were not to be deterred. They called to say a justice of the peace near the Cherry Point, base would marry them within days, and even before Bob and I hung up, I knew no matter what it was going to take, I had to be with my son and his wife on this special day.

Bob dealt with airline reservations while I canceled all my clients and packed a suitcase as quickly as I could. The only route to North Carolina at the last minute was a circuitous one that involved three plane changes, but I made it there the night before the wedding. The next day, Jenny and I went shopping for something for her to wear. Michel had to work that morning, and on his way home from the hospital, he stopped by the florist to buy a beautiful bouquet of star lilies for Jenny. Even though it was a last-minute, no-frills ceremony, they both looked radiant. I was the only family member present, with Michel's flight surgeon buddies the only friends. Afterward, one of the flight surgeons added a moment of levity by sounding a loud air horn he'd brought along. We all laughed, congratulated the happy couple, and celebrated them with a dinner at a romantic Italian restaurant (it was no surprise that Bolivian establishments had not yet reached Cherry Point, North Carolina).

It turned out that Michel and Jenny weren't alone in their race to the altar. Several of the other flight surgeons at the base had received similar orders to Iraq and had arranged for quick justice-of-the-peace ceremonies as well. Jenny's dream wedding would have to wait.

The day after breakfast with the newlyweds, I felt my unease deepen as I returned to the airport to go home to San Francisco. I wished Bob would be flying back with me. There was so much to say. In less than ten days he would join me when I returned to North Carolina to see Michel off to Iraq. I still couldn't believe that my son was going to war. My internal conversation with Kristen, which ran through my mind continuously, took the form that day of asking her to go with Michel if she could. Maybe there was a way, in whatever realm she inhabited now, for Krissie to help keep her brother out of danger.

With little time to see my clients, I was back in the San Francisco airport, this time with Bob, to return to North Carolina. One of the unexpected benefits of the trip was knowing that Michel's dad, John, was going to meet us at the base so that we could all see Michel off. There was no denying how chaotic and stressful (and, for me especially, terrorizing) this time had become for all of us as we tried to absorb the abrupt change of plans from a happy celebration to a devastating departure.

I knew as soon as we got to Michel and Jenny's apartment that John was having his own fears about seeing a second child in danger, even these 30 years after Kristen's death. As he and Bob helped Michel pack, Michel's fatigues and supplies spread around the living room, and soon that beautiful apartment changed from soft natural tones into the colors of camouflage and khaki. As the squadron physician, Michel was in charge of taking a large, Navy-issued chest filled with barbiturates and narcotics along with his personal luggage. Whenever I glanced at this always-locked chest, I was struck by the fact that the pain medications it carried would be necessary for Marines who were healthy now but would be injured in battle. Compounding my distress earlier in the day was seeing my loving, first-do-no-harm son issued a pistol for the first time in his life.

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