The year I turned eleven was a big one for me. 1985. For starters, I got my period. I also pop-kissed a boy on the mouth at Camp Timber Ridge. And my sister Wendy and I found six kittens in our garbage cans that we adopted and cared for in our garage without my mother knowing about it until a hurricane flooded their secret home, and we had to come clean about our litter of garbage pail babies. I think my biggest daily concern was my budding boobs, my Saturday morning babysitting gig, my current crush, and my lame wardrobe.
Eleven was quite different for Ana Dooley. Couldn’t have been more different.
Ana and my daughter Claire had been classmates since we relocated to Upstate New York from Hoboken, New Jersey in 2008. They were friendly but not close friends, and I was the same with Ana’s mother, Jaqueline Dooley. We went to school events where Ana and Claire sang silly songs like “Purple People Eater,” on the school’s stage and we reacted with wild applause. We chatted and left each other with well-meant sentiments like, “Call me,” and, “We should totally get together sometime!” We all just thought time would go on and on and on.
In 2012, Ana was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer, and all of us, but especially Jackie, were forever changed. After a four-year battle, Ana died at fifteen. I still fall to tears when I think of her because I never allowed myself to believe she would really go. Jackie and I became close friends over her illness. She died on my 41st birthday.
Since Ana’s diagnosis, Jackie, a consummate and incredible writer, has written dozens of essays on life, death, grief, dealing and healing, and she published a beautiful, middle-grade, fantasy novel called, Doorways To Arkomo: Book One of the Spirit Oak’s Gift.
Jackie writes courageous, creative, often funny essays on how to go on living despite the worst possible pain. Somehow, her words have the power to ease my soul.
And check out her middle grade novel here: