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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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We stayed in her bedroom for a long time. Michel, I think we didn't want to give up the feeling of closeness to her. Kristen's private world was decorated in her distinct style. Her bed was filled with dolls and stuffed animals. Her bulletin board held her important messages and drawings, and her little suitcases were filled with her many treasures.

Remember the ugly big red plastic poinsettia she had taped to her door? She was so funny with her rule that you couldn't enter her room until you first smelled it. To her it was beautiful. We laughed at this and at finding the grocery bags full of her rock collections. These precious rocks were mostly gravel that she had scooped out of the driveway, but very special to her.

Kristen's room was a way to continue to touch her. We needed that. As long as her world was still there, she was too. You asked me if we could leave her room the way it was, and I said, "You bet." We needed all the comfort we could get, and her room gave us a little.

When we were leaving her room, I spotted the multicolored beaded necklace she had painstakingly made a couple of weeks before. I picked it up and slipped it around my neck, where it remained for months, hidden under my clothes. I wore her necklace everywhere, and frequently caught myself fingering it. Yes, everything became precious — the only way we could touch her. You found your own things of hers to treasure.

The next morning, lying in bed half listening to my thoughts and half listening to the radio, I heard in horror Kristen's drowning being announced. How could something so personally devastating be broadcast as public information? I was shocked that they didn't have to ask my permission. By that evening, her death was all over the newspapers as well. Kristen's tragedy was becoming too real too fast. Our private pain had become public property, and I resented it.

Michel, you didn't want any part of this change. You didn't want to miss school, and you didn't want me to talk with your teacher. I knew this was your denial. By continuing on as usual, maybe it could be. As much as I wanted this for you, our loss was already public. You couldn't be protected.

Your first day back was difficult from the beginning. Already things were different because you and Kristen had always left for school together. Your grandparents and I had offered to drive you, but in your typically independent way, you insisted on going by yourself. You would go the way you had always gone.

Unbeknownst to you, however, I had called the school to tell them what had happened. They had already heard and had been waiting for my call. They said they would watch you carefully. I met with Kristen's teacher and the principal later that day, who said, "We're just so sorry. We all loved Kristen." Before I arrived, Kristen's teacher had talked to her classmates.

They understood that the procedure of withdrawing Kristen from school was hard. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. How could I be doing this? She was only in second grade. They told me not to worry. I could pick her things up later when I was ready. I left feeling greatly relieved.

Well, Sweetie, even though you didn't want me to talk to your teacher, I had to. I wanted her to tell me about any changes in your behavior. I also wanted her to be aware of your fear of others learning about Kristen's death. We decided it was important that she talk to your class right away. Even though initially this would be difficult, in the long run it would be easier than your classmates confronting you individually. We also decided it would be better for your teacher to talk to the class without me there.

Many of your classmates knew about Kristen's death and wanted to talk. Your teacher said she tried to answer all their questions. Most of the kids had no experience with death.

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