On learning to appreciate the spaces I can’t see.

Illustration by Author

Before March 22, 2017, I didn’t think much about what I couldn’t see, smell, touch, or directly experience. I knew there were spaces I couldn’t reach — deep ocean caverns, high mountain peaks, and museum basements (the crawl space underneath the front steps where a cat once gave birth to five mewling kittens).

But those spaces, while real, existed beyond my reach, as did anything remotely metaphysical. The world in front of me was simply too distracting to dwell on what I couldn’t see.

The days and weeks and seasons carried…

This Is Us

On having faith, and giving permission to let go

Illustration of a large bird spreading its wings. Light blue, yellow, and brown lines (with the dark blue background showing through) form ornate patterns on its feathers. Behind it float blue circles of various sizes that look like doilies.
Illustration by Jacqueline Dooley

“How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.”
— Henry Scott Holland

Dear Mom,

The light is different here. If you saw how this place shines, I think you’d stop worrying about me. The light connects the landscape to every part of itself. It moves. It sparkles.

It links the souls together like pearls knotted in an endless strand. You know how pearls hold iridescence inside all those layers of shell? Well, if you look into the center of a pearl, you’ll get a taste of the light that surrounds me. Go do that now…

Illustration by Jacqueline Dooley

According to the American Cancer Society, adolescents, aged 15 to 19, die from cancer each year.

In 2017, my daughter, Ana, was one of them.

Ana was sick for four and a half years. During most of that time, even as her cancer progressed, I didn’t think that she was going to die from her disease.

I thought that she would beat it. I thought that her tenacious will to live would help her overcome the odds, and that scientists or doctors would invent something miraculous to shrink her tumors and restore her health.

When it eventually became…

It took me 19 years to love my house and now I may lose it.

Photo by from

I don’t know when the ash trees died. By my estimate, it was at least eight years ago, maybe longer. That means we let them stand, dead, for nearly a decade because we could not afford to remove them.

This past spring, I finally called the town to see if there was anything they could do. Two of the trees were precariously balanced near the road. I could scarcely afford to have them both removed, but luckily I didn’t have to come up with the…

Drawing by Ana Dooley

An email from my daughter’s school arrived in my inbox at 1:19 pm on October 1st that took my breath away. It was an unsigned announcement notifying parents that, due to severe budget cuts, all students in the district must resume in-person classes on November 9th.

This contradicted what we’d been told (repeatedly) since September. Namely, that her high school would remain completely virtual for the entirety of the 2020–2021 school year.

I’d tried to process the information without panicking and, after reading the email several times, found a link at the very bottom that read, simply, “Remote Instruction Continuation.”…

Ana at age 14 — Photo by author

In the early days after , I didn’t see her anywhere, so I held onto my grief as tightly as possible. The deep ache in my heart, the endless emptiness of the spaces where she used to be, the longing — all of it hurt, but it was the only thing about Ana that was real.

It was too hard to stay in that place of deep pain, no matter how much it seemed to keep me connected to Ana.

After the first months rolled by, I climbed out of the darkest corner of despair because I knew, even…

Come walk with me and look at mushrooms in the forest.

White mushroom with amber goo — Photo by author

I love taking walks along the wooded trails near my home in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley. There’s something soul-nourishing about forest bathing, the practice of immersing yourself in the forest and slowing down. A 3 or 4 mile walk through the forest has become my favored (and only) form of exercise.

I always bring my camera on my walks. At first, it was because I’d hoped to capture photos of birds. But unless you’re at the forest’s edge or near a water source, it’s hard to capture pictures of…

After this year, September will just be September.

On her first day as a high school senior, my daughter wore a thrifted denim skirt with a black blouse. Her eyes were bright and her hair a wild tangle of pink curls that she’d had no time to tame before we were in the car and on our way.

She was wearing her sister’s black leather Docs, but with her own touch — hot pink laces to match her hair.

She’d been kind to me in the driveway, allowing me a few quick snapshots in her first-day outfit. She’d even let…

Lived Through This

I’m obsessed with all the numbers that mark the time that Ana was alive.

Ana, age 14 — Photo by Chloe Mosbacher (Ana’s cousin)

There are 3,289 members in a Facebook group that exists for parents who have lost children to cancer.

Each member represents a child who died from a disease that is underfunded and misunderstood, a child whose photo is decorated with a gold ribbon (or not). It’s the symbol that reminds us it’s September and that it’s once again time to let people know about the terrible reality of childhood cancer.

None of the 3,289 parents in this sad Facebook group need ribbons or numbers or the color gold to remember our children. What we need is for you to remember.

Please get the fucking shot.

Across the US, a day are being admitted to hospitals with Covid. Not all of them are going home.

Some states are worse than others. Pediatric hospitalizations are highest in states where vaccination and mask wearing have been politicized to the point of absurdity — Alabama, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

In Alabama, were being supported on ventilators as of Thursday, August 18 and 113 were suffering from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (), a condition that’s been linked to COVID-19 and can be serious, even deadly. Earlier this month, a…

Jacqueline Dooley

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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