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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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No "Right" Answers

There are many ways of working through the grief process, but there are no set answers. Mainly one should remember the importance of acknowledging grief as a process and never forget that everyone grieves differently. Some parents will want to honor the birthday and death day, and some won't. Regardless, all parents remember.

We must respect what bereaved parents are saying and help them to go forward. We must support them and their memories. Then every year they can celebrate their deceased child's birthday if they choose. When a child dies, memories become even more important because there is precious little to hold on to.

Let me tell you what we do on Kristen's birthday and death day. She is always remembered. If Michel, Kristen's brother, who is 18 months older, is in town, we go out to dinner, and it is a birthday dinner for Kristen. We think about her, we honor her, and we toast her. My husband, Bob, who is not her father and never knew Kristen, always celebrates with us.

Dr. Expert, not a birthday or death day goes by where she is not remembered with flowers, love, and a donation in her name to a children's organization. If Michel is not in town, we still call each other on those days. On Christmas, her stocking is hung with the rest of ours. It always has been. This is important to us.

Kristen was a powerful little girl who in seven short years changed our lives forever. Probably for the better. But do we still miss her? Yes, and we always will. Michel still has stories of Kristen to tell and pictures to show. She has been able to grow up with him in a wonderful way. He is a doctor and more sensitive to the emotional as well as physical pain of his patients because of her death.

"Getting Over It"

Maybe, Dr. Expert, I have misunderstood what you meant by "going forward." A young woman I counseled whose older sister died of cancer ponders this same issue. "What do people mean when they ask if I'm going forward?" she wondered. "I never know how to answer. I'm breathing. I'm not dead. Does that mean I'm going forward? I guess so."

C. S. Lewis wrestled with this same concept in his wonderful book, A Grief Observed, written after the death by cancer of his beloved wife.

Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he'll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has "got over it." But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be biped again.

I salute your caller and thank her for the love and sensitivity she wanted to bring to her bereaved friend. I hope she will listen to her heart and take her friend out for a birthday lunch to honor the daughter who can never be forgotten. I hope she buys her friend a card and writes her remembrance in her own words, as my friend Greg did, and I hope she will do this year after year.

Her bereaved friend, like me, is lucky to have someone like this who shows that she cares. I only wish more bereaved parents had this support. My hope is that through this letter you and others will understand not only the needs of the bereaved, but also the importance of remembering.

If you truly desire to help the bereaved, I know you will ask them what they need, for they will be your greatest teachers.

Sincerely yours,
Carol Kearns, Ph.D.

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