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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's Dream

Then her dream journal work seemed to trigger something new. "You won't believe this," she said almost in a whisper one day, "but a few weeks before the crash, I had this awful dream three nights in a row. We both discounted it at the time because we didn't want it to mean anything. But now I think that dream was a sign."

The dream began with Ricky and Katie asleep in their bed just after they moved into the new house. A shattering noise woke them, and they sat up just in time to see the roof caving in on top of them. Then Katie burst awake for real. The first time it happened, she didn't tell Ricky about it because she associated the dream with fears that she might never become pregnant. When the dream returned a second and third time, she described it to him. Ricky took it seriously at first, but after a week went by and the dream didn't come back, they shrugged it off. "New house jitters," they thought. "Fallopian tube fallacies," they joked.

But now it seemed to Katie that the roof caving in on top of them was a portent of Flight 398 crashing into the ocean. How could it not be? All their hopes about that house and what it stood for had been demolished, right along with Ricky's possessions and Ricky's body. The only thing worth saving — the camera and its photos of "normal" times — had been miraculously retrieved after the plane crashed, and from the depths of the ocean, completely intact. Surely this, too, was a sign: It was as if something — Ricky's essence, Katie thought — understood that she needed to review everything they had planned before she could move on.

Bombeck's Column

Katie remembered another oddity: A week before the crash, Ricky's brother, who never liked advice columns, and certainly never sent newspaper clippings about "improving your life" to Ricky, mailed a column by humorist Erma Bombeck titled "If I Had My Life to Live Over." Bombeck wrote the column after finding out she was dying of cancer. It included tips that Ricky would never have thought of, such as not worrying about grass stains while playing with children on the lawn and not "wishing away nine months of pregnancy" because having a baby was "the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle." Ricky had not been a follower of Erma Bombecks and had glanced bemusedly at the column, wondering what this "women's only" advice had to do with him. After the crash, Katie reread it compulsively. Surely it was more than a coincidence that Ricky's brother had clipped this column about this subject and sent it to this man before this plane — not the plane that Ricky was supposed to take but another one he chose at the last moment — hurtled into the ocean from 30,000 feet.

Wall-to-Wall Flowers

And finally there was a third curiosity, though this happened after the crash, on her first night back from Costa Rica. Katie was tossing around in a fitful kind of sleep when suddenly the room filled with the most wondrous blue light. This wasn't a dream, she said, and it wasn't just any blue light, either — it was Ricky's favorite color, Mediterranean blue, which he had admired on the tiled architecture one finds throughout Costa Rica. As Katie looked around the bedroom, she saw big, creamy white flowers with lots of petals and thick stems falling from the ceiling, piling up on the bed, toppling off the dressers, and carpeting the floor. She remembered how plentiful these flowers had been in the jungles where she had hiked with Ricky above Los Planes, the Costa Rican village where they had stayed, far up in a Mediterranean blue sky. The flowers now seemed to have taken up residence in the bedroom as though this were their natural home.

Katie remembered sitting up in bed, feeling vastly relieved. For the first time since Ricky's death, she was at peace. Ricky was with her at this time. She couldn't see him or feel him, but he wanted her to know that he was okay and not to worry. A thought occurred to Katie — "Ricky was such a good person in life that if he isn't in a good place now, no one is." Then she drifted off to sleep.

Katie might have chalked up all three events as unconnected and isolated if there hadn't been a fourth, and that was imagining Ricky at the airport in Costa Rica "changing plans at the last minute to be on that flight," the doomed 398. This one image stopped Katie from viewing each incident as peculiar. She felt compelled to connect the dots and began to see everything — the dreams, the Erma Bombeck list, the flower-filled blue bedroom — as a sign. Most of all, she looked at that last-minute switch in airline reservations and came to a startling — even for her — conclusion: "I think," she said with a finality I hadn't heard in her voice before, "that Ricky's death was directed."

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