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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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When you read poems written by parents whose children had died, I thought you were speaking directly to me. These poems and stories expressed what I felt but had been unable to say, even to myself. My remnants of denial were slowly being chipped away by the painful words of these grieving parents. They were me, I was them, and Kristen really was dead. Their pain ripped through my protective cushion — my armor. I dropped my shield and wept, feeling defeated.

That evening, I was made aware of the only road forward. A journey of fear. A journey filled with more questions than answers. Where was Krissie? Was she okay? How would we go on without her? How could I give Michel the comfort and hope he needed? Would we ever be happy again? Like these parents, I had to reluctantly face the unchosen reality of my new existence. I had to find a way to heal.

I knew that my inability to protect Kristen destroyed any hope I had that I could protect Michel. He had to be feeling vulnerable as well. My whole concept of parenthood had been shattered by Kristen's death. I realized then that no matter how much we try to protect our children, none of us can protect them from death.

After the lecture, waiting to speak with you amid a crowd of people, I was a wreck. Do you remember how I tried to say something but completely fell apart? I had many questions, but words would not come. Taking my hands in yours, you gently pulled me to the side of the room, away from the crowd. Tears had washed away my last traces of denial. Elisabeth, you were soaked in my tears, but you held me patiently until I could speak.

Once I had feared Kristen would not survive. Later I feared her body would be found, and we would have to accept that she was dead. Now a new fear surfaced, a fear that we, Michel and I, would not survive without her. This journey of fear was very real, and you seemed to know exactly how I felt. I noticed that you, too, had tears in your eyes. Your compassion helped ease my pain. When you asked if Kristen had left any recent drawings behind, and if you could see them, I was more deeply moved than I could ever express. Your belief that children know when they are going to die, and that they often express this knowledge symbolically in drawings, gave me hope that perhaps my daughter, so cruelly taken from me, and so suddenly, had left some kind of message behind.

Then you asked quietly, "Carol, what have you done with your anger?"

Surprised by the question, I said, "I don't feel any anger. I just feel sad and frightened. I don't know how to make it through this. I don't know how I can help Michel."

You replied, "Unless you wanted this to happen, you will probably feel anger at some time."

That too surprised me. "I think I'm afraid to get angry now. I feel vulnerable. There are so many things I don't understand. Besides, I was raised Catholic, and that means accepting God's will. But I don't know if I can ever accept this."

You smiled and said, "It's okay to get angry with God. He might be running the show, but you don't have to like it. Besides, he can take it!"

We both laughed.

Since childhood, I found it difficult to get angry because I had been taught that it wasn't nice to be mad. As a little girl, I was sent to my room for getting angry, so this wasn't an emotion that came easily. Besides, what good would it do? Kristen was dead. She wasn't coming back, and I would need what little energy I had to continue on and help Michel.

I didn't realize how paralyzing anger can be. Anger is such a powerful emotion that it literally weighs a person down, but I didn't know this until I attended one of your workshops a few months after we met.

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