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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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I know now that one reason you have helped so many people is that you were always doing your own work, always checking in on your emotions and doing the kind of inner inquiry you had us do in workshops. You believed that we were all in this together and even fined us a quarter if we addressed you as Dr. Kübler-Ross rather than the more familiar Elisabeth. And of course we all admired the way you were willing to stick your neck out where no one else dared. Before alternative medicine became as common as it is now, you were experimenting with different healing methods, from crystals to meditation. You were never criticized for these explorations as much as you were for your openness to talk about the spirit guides who seemed to accompany you everywhere and whom you fondly called "spooks." You even joked about what people were saying when you talked about dead patients who appeared to you. "Poor Kübler-Ross is slipping, has lost her marbles," you laughed.

We loved you, Elisabeth, because you were willing to speak about all this in your matter-of-fact way. Had you been a minister instead of a psychiatrist, you would not have been as criticized. You took medicine beyond science, and for this you suffered a barrage of criticism, even at the beginning. You have known pain and the many lessons of letting go. You sacrificed greatly for what you believed.

I met with you many times after that first summer — one time we visited a psychic I thought you would like, until you corrected her! Over the years, the only thing that came close to slowing you down was the series of strokes you suffered. I was sorry to see it, because I knew there was much you wanted to do. However, even from the wheelchair, you finished two more books. I find that amazing!

It was not long before your death that, 20 years after you encouraged me — or I should say you ordered me — to write this book, I called to tell you I had finished a rough draft. You said, "I never thought I would live to see the day."

That made me laugh, but there were many times when I felt the same. I never thought I'd see the end. There was a time when I couldn't find a beginning. I tried many ways to begin writing about the most powerful experience of my life but found I couldn't. I always discovered another beginning. How curious. This struggle symbolized of the purpose of this book: a struggle for a new beginning after what I had thought was the end.

I never imagined I would be able to pay you back for all you had given me. I had my chance after your first major stroke, when you asked me if I could come to Arizona to help you. I was honored to do so. It isn't often that one gets the chance to repay someone who has saved her life. I remember one night when I was helping you to bed and was adjusting the oxygen tube for your nose. You reached for my hand and said, "Now we're even." I laughed. Yours was a tiny request by comparison.

During my visit, you asked me about the book, and I showed you my latest manuscript. After reading for a while in silence, you asked if I minded your frank criticism, and I said, "No, I've never known you to be anything but frank." I was sitting next to you in the living room, writing down the ingredients to your famous sugar cookie recipe. I turned the page so that I could take notes on our frank talk.

You said, "You have taken a story that's black, and you've made it pink and blue. You need to go back and write the nightmare. You don't sound like a mother whose child has died. You sound like a psychologist."

I was taking down this feedback when you asked, "What are you writing?" I looked at my paper, read what I had written, and said, "I'm writing about sugar cookies and a nightmare."

"Sugar cookies and a nightmare," you said. "That's the story of my life and the title of your book!" We both beamed, and I went back to the drawing board.

Thank you, Elisabeth

With all my love,

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