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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 SEVEN: DEAR ELISABETH

Elisabeth, you helped me to understand how much energy I had been using to keep the anger at bay. I'm sure that's why I had been feeling tired all the time, even after a good night's sleep. I promised myself that I would find a positive way to release anger in the future, no matter what the cause.

Looking back, I remember feeling grateful that instead of giving me answers, you opened me up to feelings that were powerful and foreign. Through your extensive experiences with the bereaved, you knew how to create a safe place for me to feel my confusion and fear. You also let me do it in my own time frame.

This was completely different from my experience with a therapist prior to our meeting. My attempt to see "Dr. Smith" had been a disaster. I think I overwhelmed him with the intensity of my emotions over losing Krissie. The more desperate I grew, the more uncomfortable he became. I knew I needed help, but he kept trying to calm me down, and the effect was to inhibit me when I was trying to express what I was feeling. We almost switched positions — I felt he was distancing himself from me, and, not wanting this distance, I tried to make things easier on him. That clearly wasn't working!

I also needed someone who could normalize the grief process for me, and you did this as well. I thought at times that I was truly going crazy. How could I feel what I was feeling and still be functioning? I needed someone to give me the hope of a tomorrow. I had caught a glimpse of that hope from another bereaved mother, but I needed to pursue that promise with a professional. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by my responsibility as a single parent to care for Michel. He was going through many frightening emotions and needed me. I had to get myself together to be there for him. I just wasn't sure how.

Elisabeth, I remember one day when I was swallowed up by despair, and you gave me a pendant in the shape of an ankh, an Egyptian hieroglyphic that symbolized everlasting life. You told me to wear it for strength. I must have worn it for years. A short time later, my brother gave me a small gold ankh ring that I wear to this day. I can never repay you for all you gave me, but maybe in some ways, Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare can. This book is a tribute to you, because if it weren't for your guidance, I wouldn't have survived to write it.

Besides hope and safety to go into my most painful feelings, you gave me another way to look at the world. You were the first one to teach me that there are no coincidences. You showed me the powerful transition between life and death, and how it can be expressed in many ways beyond waking consciousness. For children, it may be in the symbolic language of their drawings, as was true in Kristen's case. In adults, it can be in dreams and even everyday language, when they may not understand the full meaning of what they say. I have seen this happen many times in my own practice as a psychologist. Looking at the bigger picture has helped me to help others acknowledge what Jung calls the "synchronicity" of events in their lives. I marvel at the healing power in people's stories when seeing them through a broad view of life.

But it was the way other people gave me strength in that workshop that made me realize the importance of human connection. No matter the cause, pain is pain, and it hurts. When I watched others who were overcome by fear and anger turn to face their horrors by pounding on that log, I thought, if they can do it, I can, too. Later, I knew that I wanted to extend this same hope to others. In the earliest, worst stage of grief, I had made a promise to myself that if I ever got through this, I would try to help parents going through the same thing. Now, realizing how much I had learned from the group experience of your workshop, I decided to put what I had learned to work.

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