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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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My Dearest Krissie,

Since your death on November 13, 1976, I have not worked or seen anyone on the day of your anniversary except Michel or Bob so that I could immerse myself in thoughts of you. I often write letters to you in my journal and think about all that happened on your last day.

In my work with bereaved parents, I've seen how important it is to use this anniversary as an occasion not only for remembering, but also for understanding the meaning of life. How enriched I have felt every year because of your continuing presence! What children teach us, no matter how briefly, grows as we grow.

And I try to remember not just that day but what led up to it, including all the ups and downs you and Michel and I went through after my divorce from your father three years before. We had changed cities, jobs, and schools many times before settling into our cozy little rental house in Ashland. We loved its working fireplace, its separate bedrooms for each of us. And, of course, the most visible member of the family, Barney, our 100-pound dog.

Remembering Barney is always a special treat. You and Michel had always wanted a dog, and from the moment our friends in Seattle introduced me to an affectionate Saint Bernard mix about the size of a small pony, I knew I had to bring him home to you.

Barney adored both you and Michel, but at night he attached himself to you in hopes of sneaking onto your twin bed to cuddle. He couldn't do this with your brother because Michel slept on the top of his bunk bed. When Barney would try to climb up, I would call his name, scowl at him, and point to the floor. He would give me his best sheepish look and reluctantly slink to the carpet next to your bed. He weighed at least 50 pounds more than you, and I feared that if he didn't crush you, he would at the very least knock you out of bed. Krissie, you protested, but I held firm. He had to sleep on the floor. Barney would lie there as the two of you patiently waited for me to leave. When I would later check in on you, I would of course find you sleeping happily together like angels, curled around each other and very content. I never had the heart to send him back to the floor.

I think of Barney because he was the sole member of our family who couldn't go on our long-planned, anxiously awaited children's weekend near the coastal town of Bandon a week before Thanksgiving. We had rented a beach house on the cliffs above the ocean with two other families, and the joke was that if Barney walked in, several people would pop out. So he had to stay home.

As usual, you had packed several of your suitcases for the trip, some full of your favorite scarves and jewelry, some with your collection of rocks from our driveway that were probably going to look exactly like the rocks you would find at the beach, but no matter. These little suitcases went everywhere with us, even if it was a trip to the grocery store.

There were no seatbelts in those days, and I had pulled out the back seats to clear a space for playtime and naps along the way. We looked like a typical '70s family in a secondhand VW bus that had seen better days and nearly threw us into the roof with each bump in the road. I would remember later how talkative you were during the three-hour drive — how Michel tried to divert you with highway games, but you were too excited to get the day started, so you stood behind my shoulder, asking how far we had to go every five minutes.

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