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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Most everyone felt self-conscious doing this strange exercise in front of the others, but we discovered very soon that the pounding carried us into a pool of anger and sadness we hadn't known existed or that had been buried long ago. Anger at having cancer, anger at having a loved one die, anger at having been raped or sexually abused as a child, or anger at being abandoned or embarrassed by a drug- or alcohol-addicted parent. Pain that was long buried would surface. No one was exempt from the pain that filled the room.

As you worked with each of us, the "observers" and those who "didn't know why they were there" soon found out. When tears filled their eyes from the sidelines of the circle, you reminded them that they could not feel someone else's pain. They could empathize, but they had to look at what their tears were telling them. The pain was theirs and not others'. Once they identified the source of their pain, it could be dealt with and released.

When my turn came, I knew that anger and sadness were locked up inside me, but even as I came toward you in the middle of the circle, I didn't know what to do. Elisabeth, you knew intuitively that the source of my pain was not only Kristen's death but also the mutilation of her body that had occurred during the ten days she drifted in the ocean. I had not dealt with any of that. After my futile conversation with the sheriff about wanting to see Kristen one last time when her body washed up on the shore, I had tucked my pain into my denial and tried not to think of it again. I struggled nightly with nightmares of her mutilation, but resisted thoughts of it during the day.

But as you spoke softly to me when we were together in the circle, I knew you were right. I hadn't accepted the violence of her death. I was haunted by constant thoughts of what Krissie had experienced when the wave hit. How much had she suffered? What was she thinking when she was pulled out by the undertow, holding her breath for as long as possible? I imagined Krissie screaming for me as she used to do whenever she hurt. I knew she had to have felt as abandoned by me as I felt by God.

With great respect and caution, you helped me open up to those feelings. In a moment, we were kneeling side by side as you very lightly guided me toward the molten center of the rage and grief that had frozen inside me when the sheriff called to say that Krissie's body had been found but I couldn't see her. I had the car keys in hand and was running for the door when he said that Krissie's body was too mutilated for even her mother to see. Elisabeth, you helped me feel the helplessness and anger that had overwhelmed me when the sheriff stopped me in my tracks. You helped me focus on the sense of betrayal and isolation that would engulf me later when, time and time again, I remembered being denied the last chance to tell my precious daughter good-bye.

It didn't take long for the anger to come up in full force. Elisabeth, if it hadn't been for you, I would never have allowed myself to go over the edge. Everything seemed to unfreeze and explode at the same time. I picked up the hose and began pounding the log as hard as I could.

My anger at God was especially real. You even brought out the feelings of that day when I thought God was laughing at me. My fury at God's cruelty for letting Kristen suffer was soon clear to me, but even worse was the way God brought her body back long enough to dangle the promise that I could hold her again, then plucked that hope out of the air. For several minutes, which seemed like hours, I pounded and pounded while screaming out my frustration. My anger started with God and went to the sheriff, but I ended up angry at everything. Not only was I angry for Kristen's suffering; I was angry at the whole world. Why did Krissie have to die?

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