Losing Lulu: Coping with the Loss of a Child

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Still Living in Spirit

In the days that followed the funeral, which passed in a kind of numb agony, Gretchan would go down to the beach, watch the sun rise and write about her daughter. One morning it came to her: Their beach lot would become a memorial garden. Warren found her out there digging furiously and joined her. For two weeks, in 90-degree weather, they worked day and night. Finally, Lulu's Rainbow Garden was finished. A sign at the entrance reads, "ANGELS AND BUTTERFLIES WELCOME."

In those first months, the parents found it difficult to eat or sleep. They were, says Gretchan, "like the walking dead." Once she lost her keys but found them later in the refrigerator. While the boys were at school she'd curl up on Lulu's floor, in a ball, for hours, not even able to move. For weeks Warren would go to the cemetery at night, lie down on Lulu's grave and pray she'd somehow return. There were other times when he was so overcome with grief that he couldn't move, even to get out of a chair. He sold his beloved boat; it was too powerful a reminder of Lulu.

The Pynes had three years to file a lawsuit against Bob's Sub & Cone, which they did shortly before the deadline, in July 2004. There are no industry-wide safety standards regarding bike rack stability. A spokeswoman for one California company, Creative Pipe, in Palm Desert, said their bike racks are manufactured with drilled holes so that they can be either bolted down or staked in the ground, but it's the user's responsibility to do so, and no local code requires this. A lawyer for Bob's Sub & Cone declined comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

After Lulu's death, the Pynes did all the things the books say to do. They went for grief counseling. Warren and Gretchan joined a bereavement group but did not find comfort in other people's pain. The boys had their own group. Gretchan briefly tried an antidepressant but found it made her groggy. Acupuncture helped. She saw a spiritual counselor, who, she said, helped her come to believe that Lulu's "energy, her presence, her spirit is still alive."

Warren, a fitness buff, began working out maniacally. His counselor told him to focus his pain and anger as he was lifting weights, and then release it. Once a stranger at the gym remarked, "You're working out so intensely, are you trying to kill yourself?"

But the couple had two good reasons for getting out of bed each morning: Drew and Dylon. Though the boys don't talk about Lulu's death, they do like to talk about Lulu, about how they would push her on her Big Wheel or their skateboards. About her love of Cheetos and how she ate Parmesan cheese by the handful. About how she'd dress up in a tutu and grab their plastic gun: The warrior princess, they called her.

Though each boy wants his own bedroom, they would not dream of taking over Lulu's, the only other one in the house. Her sheets have not been changed since she left that day for the beach; her pajamas are tucked under the pillow. "I can still smell her on them," says Gretchan, holding the flannel nightgown to her nose. "When she had a fever, she smelled like burnt cotton candy."

Continued on page 5:  "There's Nothing More to Fear"

 

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