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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

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


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My Dearest Michel,

I recently wrote a letter to Kristen, amazed at what an adult she would be now. As her brother, somehow you have been able to envision her growing up, and that has always impressed me. I can imagine what she might have been like at about ten years of age, but that's it. She has remained a little girl to me. I was thinking about the many nicknames we had for Kristen that began with you. When she was born, you weren't yet able to say your Ks. Instead of saying Krissie, you called her Wissie. It wasn't long before we all did the same. Wissie went into Woo and Wissie Woo and Woo Bug and on and on. I remember a friend of ours giving her a bright orange T-shirt with big royal blue letters of "Woo Bug" on the front. Do you think at age 30 she would let us call her such things?

It's impossible to remember Kristen without thinking of you, Michel. Only 18 months apart, you were always together, but your personalities were quite different. Where she was my child of fantasy, you were my child of reason. You were more inquisitive. I think your first word was, "Why?" Both of you were sensitive as children, and today, Michel, you still are. Your sensitivity is complemented by a great sense of humor. I love how you make me laugh.

Kristen would sometimes be a co-conspirator in your practical jokes. Remember the one with the dead frog? You two had been outside playing with friends and found a tire-flattened, sun-warmed frog on one of the streets. This frog was stiff and dried-out like a piece of leather. You decided it would be funny to surprise me and plotted with Kristen and your friends to stick it in the refrigerator. When you asked for some juice and I walked to the refrigerator, you all started giggling. I remember glancing at your little smirks as I opened the door, and then I came face to face with this dead frog lying on the shelf. Of course I screamed loudly and you all burst out laughing. I really fell for that one!

Growing up came much easier for you than for Krissie. Because she had been born a preemie, her development in general was slower than normal. You were the other extreme, walking and speaking earlier than normal. This is one of the reasons why Kristen depended on you. Although you had your share of teasing and fights, you were at her defense if anyone else challenged.

I remember how seriously you took this big brother role when I was down with the flu. You were only three and a half. When you saw how sick I was, you said, "Mommy, don't worry. I'll take care of you and Wissie." With that, you went running into the kitchen.

Lying in bed, I could hear you pull a chair to the refrigerator to get milk, and then with dread I heard you climb onto the counter to reach the cereal. Moments later, you ran back into my room with a proud smile, carrying a bowl splashing over with cereal and milk. Krissie came trailing behind, spilling milk and cereal everywhere from the bowl you fixed for her. Your dad and I often joked that you'd probably have your own apartment by the time you turned five.

In one of our recent conversations, Michel, you made me aware of how you were the one who was with Kristen the most. You are right. You were with her during the school year, and during the summers you two were with your dad. And when you both visited your grandparents, your dad and I were not always with you. You and Krissie were rarely apart. What an impact her death had on you. Your whole universe changed. You were also the last one to be with her before she died.

I think of this when I remember well-intentioned people telling you that with Krissie gone, you would need to be strong and help me. This must have confused you. In your nine-year-old world, it was hard enough to find your own way through this tragedy, much less be responsible for caring for me. Unfortunately, children are often the forgotten ones in grief.

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