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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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

 

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CHAPTER SIX: DEAR MICHEL

Michel, driving that road again brought back the drive to the ocean that fateful day with you and Krissie. Those were our last few hours together, when I had thought we had a lifetime. I had thought we were driving to a weekend full of fun. I had no idea.

When we arrived back at Bandon, it was already dark. I couldn't see the ocean, but I heard the unavoidable sound of pounding waves. I wondered if I had made a big mistake by returning. That night, I lay awake consumed by fear and wondering what you and the others were thinking. Do you remember? Were you afraid as well?

But the next morning was sunny. This was the anniversary of the day Krissie died. The day our lives changed forever. Funny that I should feel better that day than the night before.

We started the day by going to a small local church, went back to the cabin, ate breakfast, and walked out on the beach. Barney went with us, and we had a surprisingly happy time romping on the beach. There were quiet moments as well that were often broken by laughter.

Our plan was to go to the spot where Kristen died at the same time of day it happened. We wanted to have a quiet, meditative memorial service for her where we would each reflect on Krissie in our own way.

As the time drew near, the sky clouded over. At 3:30, the time she was swept out, the sunny day turned dark. So did I. Although we didn't talk, I know you and the others felt the same as we climbed down the rocks to the beach. The ocean had turned rough. Frightened by the similarity of this now-gloomy day, you didn't want to be there. We stopped on the rocks away from the waves with your dad, Suzie, and Bob. I held you tight while you talked about your fear. You said, "Mommy, this is just like it was when Krissie died."

We huddled on a big rock and watched the waves churn below us. I asked if you were afraid that you might drown, too, or were you mostly thinking about Krissie? You told me that you were just sad. Holding you, I told you I was sad, too, but knew we would be okay. Michel, I really meant it. There was a time when I wanted so much to tell you that but had my doubts. I no longer had any.

The rhythm of the waves as they moved in and out below us felt analogous to the waves of grief I had experienced since Kristen's death. That past year had been a long and tedious growing process. At times, the waves of grief pounded with a force that threatened to pull me under forever. At other times, I was free.

Sitting on that rock, I was aware of these internal waves, but they didn't engulf me. I was as distanced from the grief as I was from the waves surging below. It was symbolic of all we had been through in the year prior. Kristen was gone forever and nothing would bring her back. But now, rather than drowning with her as I once thought I might, I felt encouraged. We would have days of sadness ahead — many more. But we were making it. We were both survivors.

The waves swirled around the rocks and scavenged for anything on the beach. I thought of many things as I watched them. I thought of the seashells I had collected over the years from my walks along beaches. Tiny, fragile shells I found completely intact, lying in the sand, survivors of the breakers. Yet Kristen had not survived.

At one time, I had watched similar waves, thinking about how they washed and cleansed our beaches, keeping the coast beautiful. From time to time, they would even deposit deep-sea treasures for those lucky enough to find them. It would take me a long time before I saw waves in this way again.

Sitting next to you on that rock, I discovered for the first time that I was no longer watching the waves come in, but instead I was watching them go out, taking my precious treasure away. Sometimes this still happens.

We sat, able to be still with our thoughts and feelings. I began to feel a strength come back and could sense this happening for you as well. We had needed to return for that moment alone. We were reclaiming ourselves.

That was the last time I went to Bandon. I never want to go again. You might, but I won't. I got what I needed on that return visit. After that weekend, I returned to Elisabeth's center, and you went back to Ashland. I had been at the center for a few months, and in going through my grief for Kristen, I realized that I was grieving my absence from you as well. I talked to Elisabeth and told her I needed to be closer to you. I had visited you a couple of times by then, but it wasn't nearly enough.

When I left the center to return to San Francisco, you were firmly secured in your new home with your dad, Suzie, and your new brother, Patrick. They had moved next door to your best friend, and another good friend lived a block away. You didn't need any more changes. Besides, Kristen had left a big hole in your life, and I did not want to interfere with your new relationship with your baby brother.

I also realized that I could not live that close to you and not have you. I could not imagine living in Ashland without seeing you every day and tucking you in at night. Since Kristen's death, it would be hard enough to be in Ashland at all. I decided it was better to stay close to you from a distance, and returned to California to live.

I have no idea if this was the right decision. Looking back, I think it was. It was the most painful one for me. But the pain was well worth it if you felt secure. I missed you dearly. Seeing you every month and calling you frequently wasn't at all what I wanted. I thought about you always, but I wanted more than that. I wanted you.

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