Today is My Daughter’s Should-Be 22nd Birthday

I want to feed Ana’s 15-year-old face into the magical AI image generator and demand that it show me what she would look like now.

Jacqueline Dooley
6 min readMay 16

Painting of Ana by Chloe Mosbacher

Yesterday I turned to my husband and asked if he thought there was an AI tool that could age someone in a photograph. He’d started answering before thinking about why a question like that had occurred to me.

“You probably have to pay for a tool like that,” Jim began. He’d been fascinated with AI art generation tools lately, experimenting with making landscapes, warped animals, and almost-human figures. He knew more about the tools than I did. “The free tools won’t cut it if you want something decent,” he’d continued. But then he stopped speaking and gave me a hard look, realization dawning.

“Don’t do it,” he said. “It’s not real.”

I nodded, looked at my feet, and tried to let go over the overwhelming urge I had to upload a photo of my daughter, Ana at age 15 — the age she’ll never outgrow.

Ana should’ve (would’ve, could’ve) turned 22 today, if not for the cancer. She was born on May 16th, 2001 — a perfectly ordinary Wednesday for most people. At 8:08 pm, on that normal weekday when people were getting their kids ready for bed and cleaning up the dinner dishes and curling up with a good book, Ana made me a mother.

She had my feet and Jim’s hands. Her eyes were an unlikely shade of slate blue (Jim and I have brown eyes). She was walking before her first birthday, getting into trouble by rushing forward at full speed without bothering to look where she was going. I could go on and on about the child she was, but that time feels so far away now.

She was supposed to turn 22 today. I was supposed to have the rest of my life with her. There was supposed to be more time.

Some of Ana’s peers are graduating from college this month. I keep seeing them on Facebook, standing with a smiling parent in the warm spring sunlight. They look impossibly bright and hopeful in the unique way that only a young, healthy, newly fledged adult can look.

“Mazel Tov,” I whisper at my screen, staring at the photos of the once-children that I briefly knew. Here…

Jacqueline Dooley

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