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.”…

Photo by Author

I know there’s nothing I can say or write or expresss that will reach the place where you are right now. I will say that I’m sorry even though I know that sorry isn’t enough. The word is hollow. It’s weightless. It floats away, insubstantial and meaningless.

There’s nothing appropriate or comforting or wise that can possibly address the desolation you’re experiencing. I’m sorry isn’t enough. I know this, but I’ll say it anyway.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry for your loss.

Please know that you’re not alone .You, the mother who can’t sleep because the silence…


Gen X, the cohort of people born between 1965–1980, is aging. We’re known as the cynical generation, but I think it’s more accurate to describe us as the abandoned generation.

Forty years ago, we were getting off the school bus by ourselves, letting ourselves in with the key under the welcome mat, spending hours in front of the TV while we waited for a parent to come home from work, roaming the streets with our friends, and getting into trouble or (in my case) trying desperately to stay out of trouble.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood on…


Ten years ago I worried about turning 40. I stood at the precipice of middle age and wondered what my life would look like when my children, then 7 and 10, were grown.

I anticipated the next decade with something akin to excitement, looking forward to the year my older daughter would graduate college and my younger daughter would be start her last year of high school.

I couldn’t wait to meet them, my almost-grown children, as they entered adulthood and I entered middle age.

Three years after those hopeful ruminations my older daughter, Ana, was diagnosed with cancer. …


Not all children grow up

Ana, age 12 (with her cat Pepper)

The first playdate was the product of an infant/toddler reading hour at my local library in the fall of 2002. I’d been freshly laid off from a dot-com job that had consumed me. My daughter Ana was 18 months old.

I’d been adrift, aimless, caught in the purgatory between unemployment and whatever came next. Suddenly I was in the company of a toddler all day, every day.

And so I found myself in the library at 11 a.m. …


I recently came across a blog post by a guy named Bob Lefsetz, a music industry critic and pundit. In the post, Lefsetz expresses his disdain for services like Patreon and Substack that enable writers and artists to earn money from their work.

Lefsetz’s bio notes that he’s been publishing a newsletter about music industry trends for 25 years. He was featured in the LA Times four years ago, so this guy is not no one. In the LA Times piece, Ethan Varian describes Lefsetz as having “an irreverant and boisterous take on the business of popular music.”

Varian’s piece…

Jacqueline Dooley

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

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