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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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A New Sense of Purpose

It seemed to me that whatever was pulling Katie toward this memorial got her past the morbid commercialism that might ruin the event and gave her a new kind of emotional toughness. Being so physically close to the crash site was a magnet for many family members, but Katie decided to focus on that other component: If Ricky had "visited" Katie in some realm when she saw the white flowers and Mediterranean blue color filling her bedroom on her first night back in San Francisco, didn't the possibility exist that he might be "directed" to visit her again? You never knew how these things worked, but surely the crash site and the memorial would be a place where Katie would feel open to whatever message in this world or beyond might be waiting for her.

This new sense of purpose brought a change in attitude that made Katie more actively engaged in the many options available to her, even those that were taboo. She was a different person from the widow who could barely get out of bed a year ago. A new certainty had taken hold in her mind about wanting to explore uncharted territory, and it didn't matter if anyone believed in whatever she hoped for or expected on this trip. It only mattered that Katie was taking the responsibility of pursuing her own questions, on her own terrain, in her own time. If anything had become "directed" by now, it was Katie's growing determination of self.

When the day of the memorial came, TransNational Airlines did hire enough security officers to protect the families' privacy and retain the kind of dignity that was essential for a service as public and as emotional as this. Katie was glad that she and her parents had reserved rooms at a different hotel. She did not want to socialize or weep with others, did not want to talk with anyone, or be a part of the ritual. She barely wanted to listen to the program's speakers, so she walked down the beach to a remote spot just within earshot of the public-address system's reach.

Katie's insistence on being alone, I knew, did not come from fear. She was filled with a ferocious need to know what would happen to her bursting heart when she walked along the water and remembered what it had been like to be in love with Ricky. For a year she had tiptoed around that void in her world to concentrate on practical things like paying bills and feeding the dog. Now, she felt, it was time to find Ricky again.

Perhaps because she was apart from the crowds, Katie noticed something bright and out of place far out in the waves. As whitecaps crested on their way to the beach, whatever it was, this thing — perhaps a piece of clothing, a pastel color — appeared to be floating right toward her. After a while, curiosity overcame her and she stood there, waiting for it. The fabric was oddly pink, and as it got closer, she could not believe her eyes: This thing that seemed to have made a beeline for her was a pair of pink shorts — in fact, as Katie pulled it out of the water, she looked at the tag on the waistband and realized that they were Equinox shorts. Not only were they women's Equinox running shorts, and pink at that; they were her size.

Holding the dripping shorts in front of her, Katie remembered all the times that Ricky had brought home a pair of Equinox pants straight from the factory assembly line as a surprise for her. For a brief moment it occurred to her that maybe Ricky had hidden this very pair in a suitcase that fell into the sea, got trapped by a rock or something, and only now broke open at the bottom of the ocean. But that couldn't be, she thought — TransNational Airlines had raked the ocean floor clean of every remnant from Flight 398. Heaven knew she had seen the Box and the Book enough times to prove it.

But a pair of women's Equinox shorts in her size, her color, here at the "official" memorial, washing up on the exact spot where she happened to be standing?

"Do you think it's a sign?" she laughed in our session later, because of course it was. It was a sign from beyond the grave. It was a sign that, just because she noticed, confirmed that Ricky was right there for Katie whenever she needed or wanted him to be. It was a sign that meant as much to Katie as Kristen's drawings had ever meant to me.

Science can dismiss all these interpretations of signs — all, that is, except one: Every discovery from beyond the grave that I have ever heard about from a client, from Elisabeth or from my own experience, has confirmed the existence and the permanence of the love any of us ever felt for the person who died. I don't mean that Katie and Ricky loved each other so much that Ricky "sent" Katie a pair of pink shorts from his side of heaven. I mean the Equinox shorts were a sign that Katie's love knew no bounds, that the connection she felt with Ricky was not restricted by time or event, that her love showed up when she needed it, that it was the stake, the backbone, the beginning of her belief of self that in the end saved her life.

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