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 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, about 600 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…


The World Trade Center Burning on 9/11 — Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was at work on the morning of September 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I was sitting in my office in Kingston, New York, a town located about 90 miles north of Manhattan, when a colleague told me about it. I’d initially assumed it was a small plane that had flown into the building by mistake.

Eighteen minutes later a second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. …


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

Photo by David Gonzales from Pexels

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.”…


(And His Volunteer Army)

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Last Wednesday, at exactly 11:10 am, I watched a pharmacist place a bandaid on my 16-year-old daughter’s arm. He stuck it neatly beneath the bunched up sleeve of her bulky sweater.

“There you go, sweetie,” he said gently. “Next time wear a t-shirt.” He smiled beneath his mask, deposited the needle in a red bin, and turned to the next teenager waiting to be stuck with the Pfizer vaccine.

Dr. Neal Smoller is a holistic pharmacist. He owns Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in Woodstock, NY. For the past four months, Smoller has been on a…


Pixabay

First, scope out a quiet neighborhood where your teenager can practice driving with minimal distractions. The road should be wide enough that she doesn’t feel squeezed by oncoming traffic. Take note of potential obstacles — pedestrians, cyclists, off-leash dogs, that sort of thing.

Quiet locales with meandering cross streets are perfect. They’ll remind her of where she grew up, so she can begin to make a positive connection with leaving you forever.

Once you’ve settled on the perfect neighborhood, pull over and take a deep slow breath. Gaze at an elaborate wooden swingset in someone’s backyard and wonder what the…


pixabay

I didn’t know much about Rush Limbaugh before February 17. That day, like most days, I popped onto Twitter to see what was trending and discovered his name at the top of the list, alongside the hashtags #rotinhell and #goodriddance. A bit of scrolling revealed that Limbaugh had died earlier that day from stage 4 lung cancer.

It didn’t surprise me to see the visceral outpouring of loathing for Limbaugh. I’m liberal. My collective pod of family and friends despised the guy, as did I. …


pixabay

My daughter’s psychiatrist starts every session with the same question.

“How are you feeling?”

She directs the question to my daughter, but invariably glances at me.

I’m not sure why I’m required to be present at these appointments. I assume it’s so I can weigh in on my daughter’s mental health. Most of the time I am completely silent. I sit helplessly beside my struggling teenager while she explains that getting out of bed isn’t as excruciatingly difficult as it was a month ago.

“I don’t think about dying anymore,” my daughter replies. Her smooth brow furrows. …


Photo by Author

I noticed the first Cardinal a few months after my daughter died. It was a male, shockingly red. It landed in one of our dead ash trees (the tree that fell, with an explosive crash, this past September).

When I saw the bird, I thought, “She’s sending me a sign.”

Death came with me everywhere that year. It lingered at the threshold of the doorways she used to walk through in this house where she grew up.

I lingered too, wandering through the house, feeling barely alive, looking for signs — feathers, coins, heart-shaped stones.

I made my husband drive…

Jacqueline Dooley

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

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