This Is Us

Losing My Daughter Changed Who I Am

The old me is gone, and I’m learning to let the light back in

Jacqueline Dooley
Published in
5 min readFeb 10, 2021

--

Photo of a sunset taken from behind glass with rain drops on it. There are three trees in the foreground, silhouetted by the sun.
Photo: Jacqueline Dooley

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 a busy self-employed mother of two little girls. I had painfully specific goals that 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 to create the perfect life — and future — for my girls and me. Maybe I thought focusing on a distant horizon, on a nebulous prize won on some far-off day, made me a wise mother, a good mother. An all-knowing, all-sacrificing, everything’s-going-to-be-okay mother.

I thought I could keep them safe and happy if I stuck to a schedule. The changing seasons were a race — one to the next to the next. I focused on the have-to-dos and forgot-to-dos and too-much-to-dos. The miracle of an unremarkable life was lost to me in my eagerness to keep the gears of my schedule turning. I squandered the gift of normalcy with perpetual distraction. It was a stressful and relentless and wonderful time.

Life had meaning because life made sense. Life made sense because life had meaning. The old me would’ve explained it better, but the old me is gone.

When my daughter died, I fell off the edge of the world. I became the look-away, don’t-meet-her-eyes, so-sorry-for-your-loss, I-can’t-imagine mother.

I don’t want to be this person. It wasn’t part of the plan. I want my daughter to be alive. Obviously. But I don’t want to be my former (clueless) self either. I was asleep in that old life, dreaming a fiction I’d created for myself. It was a dream I relied on until it failed me.

I wish I hadn’t worried so much. I wish I’d watched the birds with the girls when they were little, noticed them each season, sat with them without expectations or assumptions. I wish I hadn’t turned the pages of the calendar recklessly, as if there would always be another page to turn. I…

--

--

Jacqueline Dooley
Human Parts

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