Reconstructing Life in the Shadow of Grief

It feels like I’m at the start of an epic quest, but I can’t quite get moving.

Jacqueline Dooley
6 min readMar 4, 2023

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The author’s yard covered in snow — Photo by Jacqueline Dooley

This morning I thought about how much a person’s life can change in fifteen years, while a yard stays very much the same. Take the snow, for example. I was outside slogging through it to get to the bird feeders. I was the first to disturb it (unless you count the birds).

Fifteen years ago, a perfect expanse of snow-covered yard didn’t last long. It was almost instantly trampled by countless bootprints from my girls as they made snowmen, built snow forts, and stayed outside long enough for their noses and cheeks to turn pink.

I don’t ache for those days the same way I once did. Now, I feel like an archeologist as I think about the longevity of a yard — and a life — while carefully brushing snow from the bird feeders.

I’ve grown used to feeding birds while the echo of past mornings tickles the edge of my memory. I think about the objects that were here before the feeders — the old swingset, the tetherball pole, the decrepit picnic table, the red sandbox shaped like a crab. All of that, the stuff of my kids’ childhood, is gone.

I wonder what was here a century ago. This house is 120 years old. The yard, of course, is ancient. My family’s presence here was always going to be temporary. I don’t know why, but that makes me feel better.

I think I’m on the brink of something, like the start of an epic quest, but I can’t quite get moving. It’s like I’m in a snowglobe. The scene is perpetually the same. It’s this house behind an endless curve of glass while the world moves on around me. But someone just handed me a hammer.

Smash it. Smash the damn glass.

But I can’t. Grief keeps me tethered to a version of myself that’s gone forever. I keep thinking that my best self is behind me.

This thought isn’t new. I’ve been turning it over, examining it in my mind for a half dozen years. How funny. Even the realization that I’m old is growing old.

I tend to think of my best self as the years when my kids were young because that’s when I was happiest. That’s when I took it for granted that both of the girls would…

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Jacqueline Dooley

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss