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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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To my vast relief, only moments later, a helicopter soared over us from behind the cliff and started banking to the left so that the pilot could search every craggy crevice in the rocks ahead. The sheriff arrived, and my insides churned like the propeller blade as he told me about hypothermia and why you would not be able to survive exposure in that cold water for more than two to three hours. The helicopter roared back and forth, and my desperate hope of finding you alive lingered in that sound, although I know deep down what the sheriff was thinking: It was too late. Where were you, Krissie? What were you going through? You had to have been so frightened.

I worried about Michel and rushed back to the beach house, where everyone was as quiet as the emptiness outside. I sat down with Michel and forced myself to tell him the truth: that you would probably not survive, that you might already be dead. I was trying so hard to see if Michel could absorb this blow that I don't think I heard my own words. I watched him taking it all in but refusing to believe me at the same time. I couldn't blame him. I refused to believe it myself.

We three mothers decided the children needed to get away from the terrible tension in the room, so one of the moms volunteered to take everybody out for ice cream. The other mom — my best friend Diane — stayed with me. I was grateful that Michel went along. I didn't want him to hear my voice falter when I telephoned your father and grandparents. These were the hardest calls I would ever make in my life. I didn't want to, Krissie. I couldn't give up on you. I wanted to search for you again and again. The sound of the helicopter comforted me a little while I was on the phone, but when the kids came back, and the sheriff arrived to take their statements, darkness seemed to descend with a clunk. The helicopter took one last stab at the rocks and pulled away, taking with it any hope of seeing you alive again.

One thing that didn't stop was the roar of the crashing waves below us. The brief storm had churned up the ocean, making it unusually loud that night. Krissie, the sound was terrifying. The ocean had come alive. The monster had chewed its way through the tunnel and was now clawing at the front door of the beach house. Hadn't it just swallowed you? What more did it want? Throughout the night the relentless thundering of the waves was a reminder that you were now theirs, or its. With each pounding of the surf, I felt you being pulled farther and farther from me.

In contrast to the ocean, the beach house was quiet. An eerie kind of quiet, one of disbelief. Krissie, we were all stunned into silence. A friend played softly on his guitar as the children gathered around. Michel was especially quiet as he sat with the other children near the fire. How different from the peaceful moment around the fire in our home just a few nights before. I worried about what Michel was thinking. In the stillness, together yet alone, each in our own way was lost in thought, sifting through the pieces of the day. One of the dads took a last walk on the deserted beach.

It was impossible to sleep. Krissie, you were out there somewhere in the cold and dark. I felt I should be rescuing you — should have rescued you in the first place — not lying in a warm bed. These hopeless, helpless emotions made me feel so alone. You had to be feeling the same. I thought the night would never end. I lay soaked in tears that seemed to flow from my soul into a stream of memories — memories that carried me back to the faceless sea, the ocean that stole you. Krissie, mothers are supposed to make everything okay and keep their children safe. But you, my precious little girl, were out in the storm, terrified, alone, and waiting for me to rescue you. The only way to shake this image of you so desperately forsaken was to accept that you were dead. That I was not ready to believe.

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