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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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

 

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CHAPTER ONE: DEAR DOCTOR EXPERT

Dear Dr. Expert,

I have never before written or even called a talk-show host, but I had to write you. I am a clinical psychologist in San Francisco specializing in grief and loss issues. I became a psychologist after the sudden drowning death of my seven-year-old daughter, Kristen. I promised myself that if I ever made it through this tremendous loss, and I certainly had my doubts, I wanted to help other bereaved parents do the same. That is the purpose of this letter.

A few days ago I was in my office on a break and turned on the three o'clock news. This is something I often do while I check for messages and finish paperwork. When I turned on the radio that day, I caught the last part of your show as you advised a caller whose friend's daughter had died. The caller asked if it was okay to send her friend a birthday card as a remembrance on her daughter's birthday. Your answer was an emphatic "No!"

You went on to say, "We have been through this before with questions from other callers. The bereaved mother should move on with her life. You should not remember her deceased child with a birthday card."

At that point you had my full attention. I was horrified by your response. The caller then asked if she should instead send a note to let her friend know she was at least thinking about her on that day. Your answer was, "Absolutely not. That would be macabre. Your bereaved friend must not dwell on her daughter's birthday. She needs to go forward with her life."

I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Macabre! I wanted to jump through the radio and challenge you on the spot. This woman's friend was going through the worst loss imaginable for any parent, and the advice you were giving her was so wrong. My anger would have been less intense if you were a layperson. Many do not know how to support the bereaved, but you have set yourself up as an expert and therefore should be better informed.

The caller, who at this point sounded a bit shaken from your brazenly unsupportive advice, wasn't giving up. To her credit, she tried another angle and asked if she could take her bereaved friend out for lunch on that day instead. You responded, "Yes, but you and your friend are just to have a friends' lunch. It is not to be a birthday lunch in remembrance of her daughter." You then ended the call but not before telling her once again that her friend needed to move forward.

I stared at the radio in disbelief. I never heard the three o'clock news. Stunned by your words, I couldn't move. I could only wonder, "Who is this Dr. Expert? How can she be a professional and yet so ill-informed? Since when does moving forward mean not remembering?"

Clearly, you've never lost a child, and I am thankful for that. I would never wish that pain on anyone. But for those parents who have, your advice is not only misguided but dangerous as well. Many of the bereaved are already isolated in their grief, and your advice only magnifies that problem, often increasing the need for alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. These parents need help more than ever before, and yet you would take some of the most important support away. Thank goodness my friends believed otherwise! Without their remembrances, I would have had a much more difficult time.

Remembering Kristen

Last week was my daughter's birthday. Kristen died in 1976, so it has been some time since her death. Yet when I went into my office that morning, on my desk was a card left by my colleague Greg. Greg had never met Kristen, but every year both on her birthday and on the anniversary of the day she died, he remembers her with a card, flowers and often both.

Remembering Krissie,
Remembering your little girl.
God bless Krissie
God bless you
Happy Birthday!

Those words first thing in the morning meant everything. Greg didn't try to take away the pain of that day. (And yes, on certain days it still hurts, years later.) He simply and beautifully remembered her.

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