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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Katie Comes In for Treatment

The Employee Assistance Program at Equinox kept a list of psychotherapists specializing in this kind of sudden tragedy and referred Katie to me. TransNational Airlines announced that it would cover the expenses of Katie's treatment and added that no limit would be set on the number of sessions. Even if Katie terminated therapy, she could always come back or ask for a different therapist, or pursue a different course of treatment, if needed.

It took Katie a full month before she called for an appointment, which is a long time to live in agony. But she didn't cancel the first session and wasn't late; her socks matched and the buttons on her shirt were done up correctly — all a good sign. How much easier it would have been to retreat into more numbness and denial, which was still possible.

However, Katie flashed a grin as I opened the door, admired the view of San Francisco Bay from my office window, looked directly at me with fierce dark eyes, and answered questions carefully, honestly. She said that her appetite hadn't returned since leaving Costa Rica, and said frankly, "I can't believe I'm talking about what I'm supposed to be talking about." The idea that Ricky could be alive one moment and dead the next was beyond her. She remembered all too vividly persuading Ricky to fly back without her. "Don't you see, I could have averted the whole thing," she said. "I could have asked Ricky to stay with me in Costa Rica. We had that kind of relationship. If Ricky knew I needed him, he would never have left the condo."

Katie felt so guilty that she couldn't sleep, and even when dozing off, she kept having three recurrent nightmares:

1) Ricky was cheating on her,

2) someone was trying to kill her,

3) doctors in Kyoto had put her in the hospital again, and she would never recover or be "normal."

This was good: Dreams help us sort things out, and bereavement therapy is the place to do it. It's a way of inviting the grief-stricken client to participate a bit more in the exploration of the mind. Katie was curious about the dream that Ricky was having an affair. Throughout their marriage, she never worried that Ricky might stray — in fact, she was touched by the way he was always bringing her flowers and surprises like those hot-off-the-line Equinox running shorts. She agreed to reflect on this matter and to keep a dream journal to record the details of her dreams as soon as she woke up each morning.

Despite her frazzled waking state and many days when she found it impossible to get out of bed, in the first month after Ricky's death, Katie organized and hosted a beautiful memorial service at a quiet bayside park just inside the Golden Gate Bridge called Crissy Field. Ricky's friends and colleagues loved the setting and the program, but Katie confessed to me later that she could barely remember any of it. If truth be told, she had dreaded it all along. Maybe other people needed to say good-bye to Ricky, but she could not let him go. She hated it when people said the plane crash was "an act of God." She still could not look at the ocean, which had been arrogantly rolling in and out at the foot of the bridge, and would not forgive it for taking him. Just the thought of Ricky somewhere in the water, decomposing or being eaten by predators, nearly killed her, she said.

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