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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Philippe Aries, in The Hour of Our Death, points out that the essential characteristic of death as it appears in La Chanson de Roland is that the death, even if sudden or accidental, "gives advance warning of its arrival."

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

During the years I was in practice, I grew accustomed to hearing bereaved clients worry about how "reasonable" they were going to sound, even to me.

"This is so weird, I haven't told anyone," they might say. Or, "Something strange happened that you'll never believe." Most of the people I treated knew nothing of my experience with Kristen and how weird things had been for me. They were reassured, though, when I replied that "sounding reasonable" was about the last thing we were here to do.

So I was not surprised when stories about paranormal phenomena began emerging with unusual frequency. Here are six examples:

Kim and Harry

Kim, a 45-year-old homemaker, told me that one night, her husband, Harry, took her aside in the kitchen to say what a wonderful and capable mother she had always been to their two young children. It was good to know, he said, that if anything ever happened to him, she would be there to take care of the kids. The next day, an elderly man driving an SUV ran a red light and crashed into the family car. Harry was the lone driver and died instantly.

Kim waited a long time to bring this up in our sessions because, looking back, she didn't know what to make of Harry's declaration in the kitchen. She remembered wondering why he had said it, and feeling surprised by his reference to impending death, but dinner was waiting and she wanted to call the children to the table. Now the memory haunted her. Harry had loved Kim but was "a remote kind of man" who took her work as mother and wife for granted. He "almost never" talked about feelings, let alone said how grateful he might have been for Kim's role in his life. Yet there it was: One night he made a point of saying he was glad to know that he could rely on Kim in case "anything happened," and the next day an automobile killed him. That seemed more than a coincidence, she felt. Maybe it was a sign.

Margaret and Jack

Margaret, a 34-year-old teacher, felt the same way when her brother, Jack, fell to his death while repairing the roof of his house. As children, Margaret and Jack hadn't been raised with religious beliefs, nor had Jack ever mentioned thoughts about spirituality or God. He was a season-ticket holder to the San Francisco Giants and liked to joke that if anything, he attended "the church of baseball."

But after the funeral, when Margaret cleaned out the top drawer in Jack's nightstand, she was startled to find a well-thumbed Bible in which Jack had underlined a number of passages on death and dying. This was so uncharacteristic of her brother that Margaret wondered if maybe Jack had known something, or sensed something, about his life coming to an end. The timing of it all unnerved her. Jack had been a confirmed atheist, she said. The thought of his consulting the Bible about death one day and dying the next was just too strange to believe.

Winifred and Nanette

Winifred told me about finding a drawing in her daughter Nanette's effects after Nanette was killed while riding with her boyfriend, Jason, in his blue Ferrari. The drawing depicted Nanette and Jason floating above a blue sports car. "It's as though she knew," Winifred said, showing the drawing to me. Even after my experience with Kristen's drawings, I was amazed by the accuracy of this premonition. The picture had been drawn as if Nanette had known exactly how and when the accident would happen.

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