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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Merrill and Tina

A similar case occurred when Merrill, a mother of five, dreamed that one of her children would die in "some kind of accident." She woke up thinking it would be her oldest son, Earl, who had a tendency to live on the edge. He was still in high school but kept coming home very late and had been drinking at parties. The dream seemed so real and frightened Merrill so much that she consulted a psychiatrist, who told her not to take it literally. A dream is usually just a dream, he said. The death in Merrill's dream could be symbolic of something else that was "dying" in her life — a relationship, a houseplant, a job, a pet, an expectation. Dreams are best interpreted after the fact, he added.

Merrill nevertheless watched her son's comings and goings closely, pleading with him not to drink and drive. Then news came that her 11-year-old daughter, Tina, an experienced and gifted equestrian, had taken a "light fall" off her favorite horse. She had survived a number of accidents without mishap, but this time her head hit a rock, and by the time Merrill got to the hospital, Tina was brain-dead. Eventually she had to be removed from life support.

I had to admit, as IÕd done many times before, that if a dream of mine seemed to predict the death of one of my kids, I would do exactly what these mothers did — I would beg that child to quit whatever life-risking activity was about to take place in order to stop death in its tracks. But by now I knew another thought would come to mind: When death approaches, something very big happens, and I don't mean the end of life. Some great force opens up for us, and we connect with each other as never before — more deeply, more powerfully, more spiritually. As Elisabeth used to say, "Believe what your soul is telling you," and we must.

So I took these clients' stories seriously. After all, I had had my own share of unexplained events surrounding Kristen's death. Besides her drawings and Brian's song, I would never understand the sudden fear that overcame me the night before our drive to the beach, nor my sudden revulsion at the tunneled-rock formation through which Kristen was dragged an hour later. Then there was the postcard from Whiskey Run. I'll never know why I was drawn to that one postcard over all of the others, unless somehow my hand was being directed to a visual clue of where Kristen would emerge from the sea.

Two of my paintings still astound me: When pregnant with Kristen, I painted an ocean scene — dark with rock formations and one large wave in the center — that looks remarkably like that stretch of water where she was pulled out to sea at Bandon seven years later. I had never seen Bandon before our "children's weekend," when she died.

Another painting, which I completed when Kristen was about three years old, depicts the silhouette of a little girl of seven or eight who sits in a chair, waiting. People who see it today point out the blackness of the silhouette and the disappearing face behind a bonnet and swear I must have painted this picture as an homage to my daughter after the wave swept her away. But I had painted it four years before Krissie died.

I once talked with Elisabeth about the dramatic behavioral changes in Kristen prior to her death. I had been puzzled by my daughter's uncharacteristic clinginess, her increasing desire to visit cemeteries, her abrupt fear of fire, and her persistent curiosity and questions about death. Kristen had had similar conversations with the mother of one of her friends. The mother and I both thought Krissie's near fixation on the subject was strange, but Elisabeth didn't. She'd worked with death long enough to have heard comparable stories.

Kristen and I communicated with each other in a different realm as her death approached, and this forever after meant everything to me. And even better than that, this power is available to everyone — a dream or premonition is not the only way in. The signs that my clients speak of are everywhere; all it takes is to notice them.

I believe that the uncanny coincidences my clients kept remembering were vehicles in which the dying left messages for the living — and that very often, grief is the only time we can hear these messages.

This was not true at first — though later it was blindingly true — of Katie, a 34-year-old woman whose grief encountered one twist after another when her husband died. While her sanity and endurance were tested many times, Katie got stronger as life got tougher. She endured the very message about death and dying that I believe she was destined to bring to all of us. I examine Katie's story in the next chapter.

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