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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.”…

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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. …

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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…

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Photo by Author

“ No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.”

— Wendell Berry

A long time ago, I didn’t have the patience to sit and watch birds.

I was the busy, self-employed mother of two little girls. I had painfully specific goals and stressfully explicit expectations. I wanted to achieve.

I recall (hazily and from a distance) the constant sense of urgency and frustration, the touch of desperation, the need for respite, and the willingness to give every ounce of free time to that former version of myself.

Maybe I was trying…

This Is Us

Four years later, it brings me joy to imagine the young woman Ana would be now

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Photo: Joelynne Johnson/Getty Images

My daughter Ana was tiny, partly because of genetics and partly because she got sick right before she hit puberty. She stood just over five feet tall and weighed between 105 and 110 pounds. Her bones were small and birdlike, her features delicate. She reminded me of a porcelain doll.

Little girls, especially shy ones, can sometimes disappear in a world filled with bigger, louder people.

But Ana was determined to be seen and heard. …

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At the height of her popularity, Erma Bombeck’s column, At Wit’s End appeared in more than 900 newspapers and was read by an audience of 30 million people. Her pieces were funny and poignant. They shed light on the day-to-day drudgery of being a housewife at a time when the national conversation about gender roles was shifting.

She started writing her column in the late sixties and she quickly became a household name, achieving tremendous success throughout the seventies and eighties.

She would go on to write fifteen books, some of which were collections of her many essays. I read…

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My road bike is eleven years old. I bought it at a tiny bike shop in Kingston, NY. At about $1200, the bike remains the most expensive piece of exercise gear I’ve ever purchased. That year, I also purchased a magnetic indoor trainer so I could ride my bike indoors during the winter. I can clamp the rear axle of my bike into the trainer which holds the bike upright and applies pressure on the wheel, allowing me to ride in place.

I accumulated these items and a bunch of other equipment in 2011 and 2012 — the peak of…

Jacqueline Dooley

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

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