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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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She said she noticed that at one point when they were talking, you put your head down on your desk. I knew, Sweetie, that this was to hide your tears. Unfortunately, for nine-year-old boys, it is difficult to cry and not be labeled a crybaby. My heart ached for you, my little boy struggling painfully with his grief — a grief that had now invaded the protectiveness of your classroom.

Do you remember telling me later how glad you were that your teacher had spoken to the class? You told me you were sad at first, but it had to have been a relief. Now that Kristen's death was out in the open, your fear of being exposed was over. You wouldn't have to answer your classmates' questions by yourself.

Our phone and doorbell rang constantly. Food, including full meals, arrived daily. Even though your dad and I had large families, most of whom had come, no one felt like cooking. In my state of mind, the simplest task was a major undertaking. I remember sitting in a daze watching people come and go. I welcomed the commotion. I wasn't ready to mourn.

You weren't either, Michel. When it came time for Krissie's funeral, you begged your dad and me not to take you. You wanted to stay in school. We knew you didn't want any part of this horrible reality. You didn't want Krissie to be dead. None of us did. But Krissie was dead. Even without her body, your dad and I felt we needed this ceremony, and you needed to be there. This was something we had to do together.

The church was filled with people, but to me the only person who mattered was you. You were my focus, and I felt your agony as you sat beside me. I watched every breath you took and every tear that fell. It was then that I promised myself I would get through this for you. You were my reason to go on. You deserved the best life I could possibly give you. Most of the time you sat quietly with your head buried in your hands. I wished I could have squeezed you until I squeezed out all the pain.

Michel, do you remember how calm the ocean was when we returned there after leaving the church? It was much more peaceful than the day Krissie drowned. Do you think she planned it that way for her farewell ceremony? Just the same, we were all feeling pretty tentative about being back there.

I remember my fear when walking down the beach with you. Before reaching the others, your dad took us aside and hugged us. Along with other words of comfort, he said, "I'm not sure how, but somehow we will make it through this." His words gave me an added strength to be back at Bandon. I think you were comforted also.

In the following months, I was aware that your grief was mostly private. I worried about what you had done with your pain. You didn't talk about your sadness. Instead, I would find signs of how much you missed Krissie. When I would check your pants pockets before doing a wash, little things of hers were often there, such as a favorite charm bracelet or a small toy. Other items of Kristen's started to appear in your room and on your nightstand. I realized that for the same reason I had slipped Kristen's hand-beaded necklace around my neck, you found comfort in gathering her things close.

At meals Kristen was more visibly missed than at other times during the day. Maybe it was her empty chair or the fact that there were only two of us now. You often filled this gap by bringing a picture of her to the table to put by your plate. Sometimes you would use her animal placemat instead of your own. I rarely commented.

I felt the saddest for you when one day I returned from my classes and found you in Kristen's room kneeling in front of her dollhouse. You knew this was her prized possession, built especially for her by a family friend. He had constructed the outside and I had finished the inside, making furniture and curtains and decorating the rooms. Kristen had spent hours at play with this house, her fantasies, and dolls. You had often teased her about this world of make-believe.

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