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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Dearest Elisabeth,

As you've known for more than 30 years now, I believe you saved my life after Kristen's death. You were the one who gave me hope, strength, and an understanding of grief. Writing Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare was your idea, and as soon as I began, I remembered that sense of meeting destiny that came over me the first time we met.

It was only a month after Kristen died, and I was not in good shape. You were lecturing in Medford, Oregon, just a few minutes' drive away from Ashland, where Michel and I lived. Friends had arranged for me to go and also to meet with you privately after the lecture. The prospect of speaking with you was frightening to me. You were Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the famous expert on death and dying. I feared you would give me answers that would force me to accept Kristen's death. I wasn't ready for that.

I was interested in what you would have to say about your work in the field of death and dying, but a part of me felt terrified. One side of my consciousness believed Kristen was dead, and another side refused to believe it. I wanted to turn back time. As impossible as that was, to me it didn't feel as absurd as going forward without Krissie in my life.

The auditorium was packed when we arrived. Self-consciously I hid among my friends as we searched for seats. The speaker who introduced you praised your groundbreaking research with the dying. Everyone applauded, but I squirmed. I doubted I would ever make it through this speech, since I couldn't even read a book on death and dying. I found myself looking for the nearest exit.

But then you were there, a small, frail figure walking onto the stage. Was this the woman I was afraid of? You surely didn't seem intimidating. In fact, you were a tiny presence as you stood before the audience in your Birkenstock sandals and simple dress — so tiny that when you walked behind the lectern, you disappeared. The organizer brought over a hand-held microphone, which you took with a smile, and then quite unexpectedly perched yourself on the edge of a table, casually swinging your legs as you began to lecture in a soft Swiss accent.

I was mesmerized. Everyone was. In this auditorium of hundreds, you could have heard a pin drop. You had the whole audience in the palm of your hand as you related one astounding and emotionally moving experience after the other. Your talk went on for much of the afternoon, and though intrigued, I was no less sad than I had been when we first arrived. No one close to me had ever died of cancer or had a terminal illness. What you were saying held my interest, but it didn't touch my pain.

We were to take a break for dinner and return in the evening for the second part of your talk. Leaving the auditorium, I was relieved to have made it through your presentation without falling apart. I actually looked forward to the rest of the evening and started to think of all the questions I would ask you at our scheduled meeting.

But your second talk that night was a different story. The entire focus was on children and dying. You spoke of terminally ill children whose drawings had been analyzed and seemed to foretell the children's deaths. You also talked about your research and experiences with the afterlife. I hung on your every word.

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