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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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Five months after Kristen's death was her birthday. There was no way I could let this day go by, but I wasn't sure what to do. Your birthdays had always been fun to celebrate. We had to do something. Maybe it was time to do something at your school.

I called the school and talked about planting a tree in Kristen's memory. They thought this would be a great idea, and we made plans for a memorial service on her birthday to include the classes attended by both of you. A living memorial in her world, your school, made sense.

I called the nursery and told them I wanted the most beautiful baby blue spruce tree they had. When I explained what it was for, the manager guaranteed he would give me his best tree. He said he'd find one that looked like a little girl. We then ordered a bronze plaque as a memorial marker. It is a lovely tree, isn't it? When I saw it last fall, it had grown into a striking "young woman tree," with graceful limbs dancing in the wind.

Your teachers and the principal helped plan the ceremony. Your grandmother came down to be with us on Krissie's birthday. I asked our musician friends, Brian and Nancy, to sing, and Phil, the minister who conducted her memorial at the ocean, to do the ceremony at the school. Brian and Nancy sang Kristen's favorite songs, and your class and Krissie's planned a special program. Nancy also sang the song I loved that she wrote right after Kristen's death.

My Song for Kristen
I picked up a shell,
I put it to my ear,
The tears of my sorrow
Were the only sounds I could hear.
With sharing there were flowers,
The ones that you would bring.
It's your memory that I think of
It's to you this song I sing.
You loved the ocean
You loved a rose
You loved the springtime
All the secrets that it told.
You loved your mother
Your brother and your friends.
Who could have told me
What you loved would bring your end.
Castles and fairy tales
To you they seemed so real.
Little child of beauty
the emotions you made me feel.
Your smile was like a candle
It shone with so much life.
There are questions in my mind,
Answers that don't seem right.
So I'll take this song I'm singing
Take this song I'm bringing
I'll Kristen the sea
And with your name,
Kristen the ocean with all my pain.
I'll wave good-bye to morning,
Wave good-bye to the sea,
Wave good-bye, say good-bye,
To a part of me.

Do you remember that song? It's been a long time. But even now the words capture our time with her. You and I both thought the ceremony turned out to be beautiful.

The tree was planted in the center courtyard of the school. As the songs were sung, you children one by one helped to plant the tree by tossing a scoop of dirt around the base.

I was standing next to the tree, and to my surprise, after the children threw in their scoop of dirt, they each came up and gave me a big hug. I was deeply moved. Kristen's classmates had made a poster for me on which each child had written a remembrance. Do you remember when Kristen's best friend, Tracy, tried to read it but got too sad? Instead, one of the other classmates read it for her.

The ceremony ended with all of us singing Kristen's favorite song, "It's a Small World After All." You and I thought it was a great way to celebrate her birthday. It has been comforting to watch her tree grow tall and beautiful over the years. A bright moment in our long journey through grief!

When your grandmother returned home, she wrote a poem about Kristen's day.

April 19
This day that was
Has come and gone.
In its place,
A tree grows strong.
Its leafy arms
Gracefully sway
As gentle breezes
Through them play.
The sun beams down
Its warmth to give,
And the rains,
The will to live.
So it is ...
And life goes on.
A tree now stands
Where this day has gone.

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