My Six-Year Grief Road Map

Year six without my daughter begins with a too-warm winter and my commitment to make the most of spring.

Jacqueline Dooley
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readMar 22


Painting of a girl standing at the end of a long hallway with her eyes downcast, clutching her arms. There is a row of six gravestones on the ceiling above her head. Lighting is blue and red giving the image a threating and morose vibe.
Illustration by Emily Dooley

Year 1

The first year is hard to recall with clarity except for the moment she died. She is in her own bed. I sit beside her and wish, with my whole heart, that I can die in her place. Is that such a strange thing to wish for? I am her mother, after all.

I walk around with an ache that squeezes my chest and takes my strength away. I am looking for her, searching for signs in every corner of the physical world for the baby who had grown into the child who had spent a few glorious years as a teenager until she vanished completely.

Well, not completely. Her ashes are in a handmade ceramic urn with a hummingbird painted on it.

I search and weep and gaze at the sky trying to make sense of the gaping hole in my life. I find some comfort in walks and poetry and birds, but there is no solace for me. I fold cranes and I collect feathers and I learn how to attract hummingbirds to my yard.

I don’t work much. I want (fervently and selfishly) to die by some natural or unexpected cause — cancer, infection, the random miscalculation of a careless driver. I hate the world — and myself — for continuing to move forward without my sweet girl.

Year 2

It’s like the throbbing, intractable pain of surgery that hits you when the anesthesia wears off. Except the pain is in my mind and my heart and my raw, aching soul.

The early confusion begins to lift and life crashes back into focus. But the ache in my chest remains as the full reality of her absence hits me. This year marks my return to some kind of “normal” rhythm — to clients and deadlines and an attempt to reconnect with the world of living things.

I fall back into the daily practice of writing. I try to keep my younger daughter, Emily, from getting lost in her own grief. I will ultimately fail miserably at this, but I’ll get to that soon enough.

I make the birds my own. They fill my mind, distracting me from grief. I watch them for hours — on trails and in the yard and perched on carefully landscaped hedges in…



Jacqueline Dooley
Human Parts

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