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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

I hope you know that Kristen thought you were the best older brother. She adored you and believed you could do anything. So much so that the reason I enrolled you into two different schools was for her to progress on her own. I worried about Krissie not developing confidence. She would often say, "Michel will do it for me." The separation allowed Krissie to blossom.

Remember when she would bring her friends home after school to show you off? This drove you crazy, and you rebelled by putting a "No Girls Allowed" sign on your door. This never stopped her. Kristen would stand just behind the line to your doorway with her little friends, giggling and pointing at you in your room. "See, that's Michel. That's my big brother." What a sad day when that sign came down after she died. Another reminder that she wouldn't be around.

I worried that you would feel guilty. How terrifying it must have been for you to witness her death. How frustrating not to have been able to help. We thank God every day that you were not pulled out with her. The small glimpse by the other girl of Krissie's purple jacket, beneath the water and already distant from you, made an instant rescue attempt unthinkable. You were a good swimmer but no match for the undertow.

If anyone should be guilty, it's me. I wasn't on the beach when all of you were engulfed by the wave. I was also the one who made the decision not to postpone our trip, despite feelings against it that I felt building up for days. You once asked me why I wanted to go anyway. It's a question I've asked myself hundreds of times. Like a dream, the dread that I had been feeling, plus a sharper, odd fear about going that had struck me the night before, were too vague act on. When I tried to back up my apprehension with practical reasons involving school, our car, the dog, nothing made sense.

Speaking of guilt, I will remain forever thankful for your dad's first words when he met us at the beach house the night of Kristen's death. I had called him earlier in the day when the search by the Coast Guard seemed futile. God, how I dreaded making that call! How would I tell your dad that Krissie was dead? How could I tell him that the only hope left was to find her body?

Fortunately, he was in surgery when I called, so I talked to his wife, Suzie, first. I felt relieved that she answered and could cushion the blow for your dad. She had been a good stepmom to you two, and telling her was hard enough. I was in such shock. I couldn't believe I was saying that Kristen had been pulled out to sea. The words tumbled out but seemed surreal. They were my words, but it didn't feel like I was saying them.

I had to make these phone calls, first to your dad and Suzie, then to your grandparents, and I felt pulled strongly in two different directions. One direction was knowing Kristen had died and that I had to do what was necessary. The other was refusing to believe it. Hearing the helicopter overhead, I found myself on automatic pilot when I made called your grandparents. You weren't in the house. Karen had taken you and the other children out for ice cream to get you away from the chaotic scene. My friend Diane stayed behind with me.

In order to reach Bandon, your dad and Suzie had to drive several hours on winding roads down the Oregon coast. The drive was treacherous through the storm, which by then had reached its peak. Your dad later told me it was made bearable only by his hope that Krissie would be rescued and safe by the time they arrived.

Of course, as soon as they reached us at the beach house, his hope dissolved. I'll remember forever that stricken look on his face. Many times before, I had kidded him about his visits being so special to you kids, as if he floated in on a white cloud. We'd laugh about it together, but not this time. When he took in the desperate looks on our faces, I saw a large part of his world vanish before him.

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