Gray Tutu Day

Posted On: 07.12.12

Dad died four years ago today. He died at four-something in the morning which, apparently, is an hour at which many people die, or turf it, as Dad would prefer. I wish I remember the exact time it happened. For whatever reason, I long for this detail.

We’d all been waiting for this moment to come, this final moment. The hospice nurse with the kind face that’s now blurry updated us in smoky whispers that were ostensibly meant to soothe. It will be days, hours, anytime now. We sat around the long, wood dining table in my family’s kitchen, alternately giddy and groggy with the delirium of anticipatory-grief, taking turns tiptoeing up the rust-colored stairs to the second floor to perch on the side of the bed, to hold his hand, to say things. Ironically, we’d just installed a mechanical chair lift so that Dad could go up and down. Now, all the chair did was block the already narrow stairs and remind us of the time we suddenly didn’t have.

As I predicted he would, Dad finally died once we all hugged Mom goodnight and dispersed to our respective and nearby homes. I was fast asleep when the phone rang and I shot up in bed, clutching my pregnant belly, and I knew of course. I answered. It was Mom. Dad died, she said. At least that’s what I think she said. I wish I could remember her exact words. I long for this detail.

I slid out of bed. Dressed quickly. Kissed Husband goodbye. And I walked the short distance to my childhood home. At the corner, I paused. I saw Mom, in her red nightgown, and robe, walking our dogs.

Inside, we gathered around the wood table. And I remember my sisters arriving one by one, stunned and sleepy-looking. And I remember the avalanche of hugs and the coffee pot crackling. I remember how it was dark outside in the garden, but then so quickly light. Day again. I don’t remember what we talked about in those first moments without him. I just remember all of us sitting there, around the table, drinking coffee from mismatched mugs, surrendering. I remember going upstairs, squeezing my pregnant belly by that godawful mechanical chair that was never really used, and seeing him there.


Honestly? I expected to be scared, but there was nothing scary about it. He looked like himself still. The sick version of himself, but himself. He wore an awful putty-colored t-shirt with a whale on it. It was a shirt he always loved and for some reason I remember thinking, I want to remember this shirt and what it looks like and what it says. But I don’t really. I don’t really remember. I long for this detail.

I do remember when the team from the funeral home arrived later in the morning. It was several big men and one blonde girl. They all wore black and appropriately somber faces. And it amazed me, and intrigued me, that this was their job – to arrive in people’s homes, in people’s lives, and take people away. I remember locking eyes with the blonde girl. She was at the end of the hall and waiting at the bottom of the stairs to go up and maybe it was that I met her glance or that I was pathetic in my sadness or maybe it was that I was pregnant, but her eyes started to water, and she looked down, away.

I remember hushed discussions of how they would get him out. Whether they’d be able to bring him down the stairs with that terrible mechanical chair in place, or whether they’d have to go out through the second floor. I don’t remember what they did. I do remember wondering what would happen to his shirt.

I do remember that after they left, the strangers from the funeral home, Husband arrived with my little girl and pastries from Starbucks. My babe was eighteen months at the time and Husband dressed her in a gray tutu and a white tank that morning and when she saw me, she flitted toward me, arms outstretched. And when I saw her, this smiling and oblivious thing, and scooped her up, and she wrapped those little legs around my round belly that held her soon-to-be sister, I knew that somehow I would survive this. I said some words to myself: You will be okay.

You will be okay.

And I am. I am okay. That tiny thing in the gray tutu? She’s off to Kindergarten in the fall. That baby that was snug in my belly, that baby that turned somersaults to Vivaldi as I sobbed through Dad’s funeral at his childhood home, that baby I named after Dad? She is going on four. And there is another girl now, a third girl like me. A creature Dad never knew about, or maybe, somehow, he did?

And there is a life. A life I am leading and loving and struggling with at times. There are many questions and some answers and scores of memories that slice through the fog of good and busy days and remind me of where I have been, and what I have made it through.

The wonderful thing about time is that it softens things. Hard things. Impossible things. I am able, finally, to look back at that day four years ago and see it a bit more clearly, a bit more lovingly even. I am able to see its characters and its colors, its core sadness and its core sweetness. I am able to point to that day and say that was then and this is now.


Today, what strikes me most, and makes me smile, is that all of this happened at home. Dad was lucky enough to turf it in the home he loved, in the home where he and Mom raised the five of us. He was able to fade out fishing in that exquisite stream of odd antiques and beautiful bird prints and family photos and weathered wine guides, near his stacks and stacks of big books and big ideas, near the messy piles of notes he’d scribbled for the book he’d never have time to publish, in that stupid and perfect whale t-shirt that was so him.

Today, I celebrate, and understand now more than ever, that he surrendered – or moved on, or decided, or embraced, I don’t pretend to know – in that quiet pocket of night, or technically morning – when he was next to one person and one person only: the woman he loved complexly and truly, his bride. Mom.

Today is a beautiful brute. A brutal beauty. My mind is a mess, mangled with mourning and meaning, awash in deep love and lingering longing, stuffed with daydreams of little girl tutus and monstrous mechanical chairs, of bitter coffee and a life-changing goodbye.

Today is Gray Tutu Day. And I want you to know, I want me to know, that those words I spoke four years ago were true.

I am okay.

Have you lost anyone close to you or gone through something particularly painful in the recent past? Has time helped? Have your kids helped? How long did it take you to feel “okay” after the loss or experience, or are you still on your way to “okay”?

Today is one of those tricky and vulnerable days where I’d really love to hear from you, so if at all inclined, please say something. Even a few words will make me smile 🙂

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Oh, and...

Thank you. I try my hardest to make ADR a happy place, but it is also where I come to grapple and grieve and make sense of hard things. Thank you all for reading my words every day, but especially on days like today. It means more than you know. Truly.



102 Comments for: "Gray Tutu Day"
  1. JHL

    What a powerful piece of writing. I am going to forward this to my friend who is about to lose her mother. There is a lot of affection and optimism mixed in with the sadness here. Thank you for sharing this, Aidan.

    And, yes, my kids have gotten me through some awful times.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I debated whether I would respond to comments today. Part of me thought it would be good, and understandable, to refrain from responding. Part of me thought it would honor Dad – a man who was not the biggest fan of modern technology – by spending the time it would take me to write replies doing something in the real world he loved and left too soon. But I’ve given it some thought and the truth is that I want to be here, replying, saying thank you to those of you who take a moment to say a few words, especially on this day.

      And I am so happy to get this particular comment, to learn that you will share this piece with your friend who is on the brink of loss. This is one of the main reasons I feel so good about writing about my own grief and my own life in the wake of loss. My humble hope is that my words will help a bit, and make their way to someone who needs them most.

      Thanks, JHL.

  2. Jan

    I love that you have taken a sad day and added a happy twist to it by calling it “Gray Tutu Day.” Great picture. Time is absolutely the best medicine, I’ve found. Hope this day is full of love and memory.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      The fact that my little girl wore a gray tutu that day is so meaningful, and symbolic, to me. Gray is the perfect color, right? Neither black nor white, not colorful and happy, but neutral and complicated and real. I love gray. And a tutu? It is light and girly and twirly and happy and, really, this is what I want for my little girls, and even for me. What’s so interesting, I think, is that after Husband read my post this morning – the girls slept in (!) and we were having a quiet coffee in the garden – I asked him if he remembered dressing Big Girl in that tutu and he didn’t. And this makes sense. Why would he remember this detail? It just shows me how major that day was for me, how its tiny details are striking for me personally… I am really fascinated by the things I remember and the things I can’t recall… Thank you, Jan.

  3. Anna

    Dear Aiden — Your posts are always real and capture the truth of your emotions, but this one cuts to the core with sadness balanced by beauty and poise. Thank you for being so brave to share yourself with others. It is a true gift, and I’m sure your Dad is proud of you and loving you as the strong, reflective, and hopeful woman he helped raise you to be. And I’m not sure the details you seek mean so much, since you so clearly and lovingly have the bigger picture deep in your heart. Focus on that, and next thing you know, it will be the day after gray tutu day. Thinking of you and supporting from afar…

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks so much, Anna. I was talking to my sister yesterday and we agreed that this anniversary isn’t as sad as it once was. We agreed that we’ve both arrived at a place that is decidedly less shaky and emotional. And I think this is wonderful. And it is because of the increased clarity and decreased devastation that I was able to write this post. Distance, and time, have made that day a story for me. A sad story, yes. A real story. But a beautiful one, too. I really miss Dad, but the realization that I am okay, happy, thriving without him in my world is nothing short of major. Again, thanks for your support. Means a tremendous amount. xox

  4. You are okay, A. You are, though I don’t pretend to know how these kinds of days work or what to say. So, how about a quote? (I know you love them.)

    “It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one…it is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

    Those last words: “you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” Echoing what you wrote today a bit. You have come to another angle of understanding of this, of this beyond huge thing that cannot fully be understood. It’s messy, complex, not clear, but, perhaps your eyes are adjusting to this darkness a bit, as time and Life move along.

    I don’t know. I do know you are right: you are okay.
    Many hugs coming your way, friend.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you for this. The quote is beautiful, and apt. It is so much about readjusting our expectations and thoughts, of looking back and forward and continually in, to see how these stories shake us and make us. I can’t tell you how cool it was to sit down and write about that day four years ago and arrive so organically at that final sentence. I am okay. Much better than okay.

      So appreciate your words always, but today in particular. See you soon, I imagine! xxo

  5. I always hesitate to comment on posts such as this, because words from near-strangers on such personal matters always seem so small. Words at all seem inadequate, and that is saying a lot for we writers! Just know that if I saw you in person today, I would give you a hug, and tell you “Yeah, you are okay. And part of being okay is that you still grieve some, even while you rejoice in life right now.”

    (I might not say exactly that, but that would be the gist of it!)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Louise. I am so glad you did say something and that you said the exact thing you said. Because I think so many of us assume that if we are not close to the person who is grieving, our words don’t mean much. From personal experience, I know this is untrue. Right after I lost my father, I was bombarded with words and condolences and I remember being most blown away by the words from people I didn’t consider to be in my inner circle. That they would make the effort to say something, anything, was beautiful and welcome and a testament to the universality of these things. All of this is to say that words – clumsy, composed, however they come – are appreciated. This is just one of the little things (or big things?) I learned after losing Dad, that it is simply kind and often very much appreciated to just say a little something to a person – whether an intimate or stranger – who is going through something. Translation: Thank you 🙂

  6. Laura

    Aiden, This is beautiful, thank you for sharing this.I’m thinking of you and your family today. A big hug to you all.

  7. Liz Czukas

    What a beautiful memory. I’m taken back to the memory of my grandfather’s death, the anniversary of which is just around the corner. You’re so right about the gray tutu moments. Life in the midst of death. In a way, I hope this day is always a sharp one for you, because it will remind you of all the love and the way life rushes on.

    I’m so sorry about your father, and I thank you for sharing your story with us.

    – Liz

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Life in the midst of death. Death in the midst of life. That’s reality. I too hope that this day remains sharp in a way. I hope that even more details come back to me even though they are also hard. It’s strange because I am a bit sad, but much more grateful than sad. To have rich and happy memories of a good man who taught me so much, to have my man and my girls and my sisters and my mom and my friends and all of you guys… It’s really wonderful to realize how much my perspective has changed in these four very short and very long years. I hope the anniversary of your grandfather’s death has a gray tutu core and is sharp and lovely and full of life. Thanks, Liz.

  8. Laura

    I don’t really know what to say, but I am here, reading, listening. Sending you love.

  9. Oh Aidan….I got 3 sentences in and had to stop. 10 days from today will be the 2 year anniversary of my mom succumbing to terminal illness. I am going to return and FULLY read at little one nap time when I can allow myself to take it all in. Thank you for your words.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I am so sorry about your mom. Two years is not that long, huh? It means a lot that you wrote a little something even though you didn’t have a chance to read fully. Thanks, Amanda.

      • I am back and was able to finish. Wow…I am trying to find the words. I could have wrote this, the similarities are unreal. 3:56AM is when Mom passed, you are right the early morning hours seems to be a common theme, but for me, knowing that tiny detail does not make things easier. I have yet to REALLY write about her passing. It is still so raw and fresh to me. After reading your piece here, I phoned my stepdad, who I really need to stop placing that awful STEP word in there because he is now my dad in so many ways, and I was quick to the point: “Has it really been 2 years? Why does it seem like just last week? WHY?” I am not sure what validation I needed from him….maybe just to hear someone else say, “Yes, it really did happen and she is gone.” But then why do I still feel her presence so?

        To know that you are doing “okay” gives me hope that one day I will be okay, maybe I already am okay and just need to embrace that okay-ness. I was reminded today why I fell in love with your blog (That is so cheesy to say, but so true) and return here regularly. It is amazing that we are so different as far as background, environment, culture, location and yet can both share the same human experience like love and loss and birth and renewal in a similar fashion and with similar reactions. Bravo for your writing, your words, your passion, and most importantly for being such a wonderful daughter to that man in the whale shirt and an incredible mommy to those girls in the gray tutu.

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          Yes, all of us lead such different lives. We are in different places and doing different things, but at the end of the day, we are all human beings. And we all have lives and we will all face loss if we haven’t already. It is the keen universality of these things that really blows me away. That it doesn’t matter whether we are in the city or the country, whether we are female or male, young or old, rich or poor or in-between. These are the things of real life. The inescapable and ugly and beautiful and raw and real things.

          It is wonderful to know that my writing has reached you, that it has made you feel something, that it has raised the possibility in my mind that you are, or will be, okay. This? This is reason enough.

          Thank you, Amanda. So much.

  10. Joanne

    I lost my wonderful mom eight months ago and it is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I keep feeling like I should be doing better by now but I am consumed by tears several times a week. I have cried on total strangers at department stores and banks and on the phone when taking caring of mundane tasks like taking her name off a mailing list. I loved her so much and miss the several times a day phone calls. A mom cares about whatever you want to share with her and is always in your corner. It was hard when my dad died, but we had a couple years to prepare for the end and my mom was there to help. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful husband, great brothers and terrific friends who have been supportive throughout this journey of grief. I guess what it boils down to is that I miss her so much. I know you miss your dad Aidan and that your mom still misses him. She is lucky to have you and your sisters and grandchildren to share the memories with. It sounds like you are at a place where the sadness has eased some and I’m glad that time has lifted the grief. I’m sure looking at the girls in the grey tutu is bittersweet but also makes you happy.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Joanne – I didn’t know about your mom and I am so sorry. I can relate to so much of what you say here about feeling like you should be doing better than you actually are, about succumbing to tears, about getting emotional at unpredictable times. And, yes, it is the little things that are sometimes hardest. I remember when I finally deleted my Dad’s office number from my phone and it was excruciating somehow. Eight months is not long. Someone very wise told me that all bets are off in the first year after we lose someone, that it is considered the “acute” grieving period and that we all handle it in our own ways. I remember feeling an immense relief of making it to the first anniversary of Dad’s death because I knew that I had made it through all the seasons, and birthdays, and milestones. I wish you a similar sense of relief in four months.

      Yes, I am in a really good place today. So is my Mom. It amazes me how resilient the human body and mind truly is, how we can make it through such crippling sadness and longing and come out on the other end truly okay and happy. I miss him still, and wildly – Mom does, we all do – but I can say for myself that I am feeling whole again. Whole enough to look back and relive it a bit. Whole enough to think of Dad at his healthiest and best. Whole enough to conjure him and his quirks without welling up.

      Thanks so much for commenting here today. As you know, I often ask myself why I blog… and there are so many reasons, and evolving ones, but this is yet another. To create a connection with a family member whom I might not otherwise connect with about a shared experience. I hope to see you at the wedding in September!

      All my love to R, J, and A 🙂

  11. Sam

    I haven’t had a major loss, as you have, one that completely tilts your universe and forever changes your life into “before” and “after,” but I am humbled and awed at your resilience and perspective. This was a beautiful piece of writing, and a wonderful tribute to your father. Wishing you a day filled with love, family, and the happiest of memories.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Sam. So much. I love the words you use… “tilts your universe…” Such a thoughtful – and compelling – way to put it. Today is off to a good start. Am parked in the sun-drenched window of a favorite coffee shop, watching people and cars scoot by, thinking back, smiling, reading wonderful words like yours. Lunch with my sister is next on the agenda. Have a hunch it’s going to be a good day all around.

  12. maureen

    What a great piece. I have only commented a few times, but the ones about losing your Dad always touch me. I lost my mom 7 years ago. Her “gray tutu” day is June 28th. The strangest thing happened this year, I actually forgot until my friend emailed to see how I was doing. I couldn’t believe it and didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that time could fade so much. But then, just over July 4th, the flood came back. I know why, it was because although she died on June 28th it was that July 4th weekend – a weekend my mother so loved and always hosted throngs of family that I really felt her absence. We spent the weekend in our new beach house entertaining as my mom would have and seven years later, I felt even more raw. I think it was because I was doing exactly what my mom had loved so much and the thought of her missing it was almost too much to bear. As I watched my two girls get sweaty and salty on the beach that I hope will become a part of them over the years, I realized just how much my mother would have loved being a part of this life I have created and the two creatures who look like they stepped out of my own beachy baby pictures. It made me realize once again how grief ebbs and flows…

    Your vivid memories of that day are so similar to mine. My mother was also blessed to die at home surrounded by those she loved. I will never forget those last few days. They were in a way serence and peaceful and yet so ugly all at the same time. I would spend my days holding her hand and talking to her and spend my nights trying to forget with my trusted Chardonnay. One memory still haunts and makes me smile. The day before she died, I was wearing my college sweatshirt. My parents worked hard to put me through school and at times I don’t think I appreciated the extent of the sacrifices they made to send me there. My mom could hardly talk at that point,m but as clear as day, she said “Georgetown, worth every penny.” To this day, it amazes me that my mother chose that as the message she wanted to leave me with. Over time I realized that Georgetown had opened so many doors, including a stint in California that almost broke her heart, but in th end she wanted me to know that she was at peace with all of my decisions and how my life had turned out. I also remember the hospice nurse and the funeral home people and thinking how surreal it was that these people were in my childhood home to take my mom away.

    I hope you have a memory-filled day surrounded by those you love.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. The Georgetown bit gives me chills. So so amazing. Dad said some things in his final days that were really amazing. I think I jotted them down somewhere for fear that I’d forget them, which I have. So much of what you say here resonates with me – the true ebb and flow of grief, the simultaneous serenity and peace and ugliness. And what’s so interesting to me is that if I hadn’t been pregnant, I have no doubt that I would have been swimming in Pinot Grigio four years ago. I am so thankful for Middle Girl for countless reasons of course, but the fact that by being there, in my core, kicking away, she kept me clear is something I think about, and celebrate.

      Thank you for this wonderful comment, Maureen, and for sharing bits of your own story and loss.

  13. This is so beautiful, Aidan, and I sit here reading it in tears. What you describe is nothing less than grace, I think, the way things soften and also become harder, firmer, more crystalline, in memory. xoxo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, you. Yes, you get it – how things become softer, more gossamer (I think of this as your word), but also more crystalline. Today is one of those days I am so grateful for this place and the connections it has afforded me. xxo

  14. C

    It’s so good and interesting to read this because it reminds me that as much as we sisters went through this together, we also didn’t – we have our own distinct memories of the end that shape how Dad’s death has settled in our minds and lives. I too remember getting the call from Mom at 5-something and knowing immediately what it meant. When she told me, I think I cried and chuckled at the same time, because N and I had predicted this – that Dad would turf it on N’s birthday and himself have a chuckle, because their relationship was all about giving each other a hard time and loving it. I leaned over to N in bed and wished him a happy birthday through the tears and got up and threw on some clothes and headed out. I was in such a hurry until I got downstairs, outside, and realized I could walk the 15 or so blocks home, that there was no rush (or had I taken the time to walk and think two weeks earlier when Mom called to say that something had changed in Dad and that I should come over? I can’t quite remember). I do remember saying hi to my doorman as I walked past him at 5:30 am, in sweatpants and flip-flops and no makeup, tears streaming down my face, and wondering what he must think, if he somehow knew that my dad had just died. I don’t think I told him but I remember kind eyes, just as I remember the kindness of the cab driver who bore witness to my finding out nine months earlier when you called. “Dad has cancer,” you said, and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Again through tears I told the driver to turn around as soon as we got to the east side and take me back – back home, where I had started – and as I paid him on the corner and got out, he softly said “I’m sorry.” It somehow seemed significant to have shared that moment with a stranger, and for him to have understood the enormity of the news.

    Anyway, thank you – for forcing me to remember. I said to you yesterday that I didn’t feel all that emotional about today, but as soon as I start to remember, no matter what day it is, I do get emotional and feel it. But it feels good to feel it, to remember, and of course today is a day we should take time to remember, the hard parts and the wonderful parts. Today is a day that the two most important men in my life came and went. Three years ago, just a year after Dad died, it was a day when I wondered if the third major man in my life would arrive (alas, he wanted a few more days in my belly). Today, and most days, the most astounding thing to me is how close I feel Dad still is to my life, and yet he never knew the two creatures who now shape every contour of my existence. I think it is because I see him in them – in Baby Bulldog’s trickster sense of humor, in Baby Sister’s wise and discerning eyes – that this somehow makes sense.

    For me, as for you, this will always be a day as much about life as it is about a death. Dad would be happy about that.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Ok, cue the tears. So interesting because writing my own words about the day was oddly emotion-free. It felt like telling a story, weaving details remembered and longed for. It was a happy thing to do, to look back, to connect dots, to remember. But reading your words? They make me more raw, and I am really, profoundly, thankful for this, C. It amazes me, and intrigues me, and baffles me, that we were there together on that day and that we came away with different memories. I love what you have to say about your doorman and that taxi driver, that they saw you, and in some small way, shared your grief with you. And what you say about Dad departing on the day your man arrived in this world? I’d never thought of it that way and it is nothing short of poetic. Life and death. Death and life. Both. And. All of it.

      I hope you guys had a wonderful time celebrating N’s birthday last night and that today hasn’t been totally overtaken for him. I am so excited to see you in just a bit for lunch where we can look at each other and talk about all of this – about this day and the other days and our little ones and Dad and how he lives on, because he truly does, in all of us.

      Love you. Love you. Love you. Times eleven.

  15. Anna


    Wow. I am sitting here crying at my desk. What you just posted about the day your dad died–it’s incredible. I knew him and all of you and spent a great deal of time in your house growing up, and so I can picture the stairs, the dining room table, the bedroom… but what you were able to convey to all of those readers who didn’t know him, who don’t know you, who can’t picture the house…wow is really all I can say. This piece of writing is really remarkable. The details that you can remember and their importance; the details that you can’t remember and their importance. Since my dad was diagnosed with cancer I have often thought about what I will say/write when he dies. I jot down notes from time to time. I carry his death with me every day, even though he is still living. I hope that when the time comes I’ll be able to speak as eloquently, powerfully and descriptively as you were able to. Sending you a big hug.


    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley


      Do you remember that day when I called you and told you my dad had cancer? I do. I was sitting in the window seat of my old place and I remember how my voice was quaking and quiet and how I asked you to tell me what you knew. I remember you being calm, and warm. I remember feeling much better after the call. I remember you being there for me – as much as I let you, I was in retrospect wildly private – during the 9 months in which he declined, and I remember you being there for me at the memorial services, and after. And, here, again, you are there for me. It means the world. Because you are one of my oldest, and best, friends.

      As I sat down to write this, I asked who I was writing this for and I didn’t come to a neat and tidy answer. I wrote this for me of course, to make some sense of what I have been through, to remember that day, and Dad. I wrote this for my girls – so they can read my words one day, and get some sense of the Pots they never had the chance to know. But I am also writing this for you and people like you. People who will lose people they love. We all will. This is life.

      I guess I felt compelled to say that as sad and scary as all of this is and can be, it will be okay. With time, with thought, with words, with friends (like you), it will be okay. More than okay.

      And when it happens, whatever it is or looks like for you, know that I will be there.

      On a decidedly lighter note, it means the world to me that our girls will be Tigers together for the long-haul. xoxo

      • Anna

        Yes, I remember and I think of it often. I was in my apartment on East 72nd on the 28th floor and the sun was shining (that’s how I recall it). And then you called and gave me the news and the sun suddently wasn’t shining anymore–or at least it felt that way. When I asked “who” and you said “my dad” your voice shook. And I felt it because I had just been there. We will all have to call each other with terrible news at some point. If only phone calls could have only good news attached.

        I’m glad you felt that I was there for you–it’s hard to know what to do and how to act in these situations. Sadly, you weren’t the first (or the last) of my closest friends to lose a parent, and what to do/say doesn’t seem to get any clearer each time it happens.

        I guess all we can do is try to shift our thoughts to the positive, if possible; not all the time because it’s important to sometimes feel awful and sad and angry and betrayed. But the image of our girls growing up together like we did certainly does make me smile!

        • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

          I know. I am hearing too many of these stories. Again and again. And it is hard every single time. And you are right – even having “experience” with these things doesn’t make them easier; I never really know what to say either, but I do try to say something. And, yes, it’s up to us to be disciplined about focusing, or trying to focus, on the really wonderful things – like two tiny girls heading off to a wonderful school their mommies attended long ago 🙂

  16. Brettne

    Such a beautiful, wrenching post. Thinking of you today.

  17. Aidan, This was beautiful and I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my only aunt in the early morning hours of New Years Day this year, to ovarian cancer. I was home from grad school and was able to spend the majority of her last two weeks visiting her, as well as stay at her house for the last 24 hours. Like you, I sat with her body and then saw the funeral home pick her up with love and respect.
    I’m not sure losing a loved one will ever be “okay.” I know I revisit those last 24 hours more than I’d like to admit. It was my first time being with death – real life dying – up close. The dying process is so holy, so sacred, and it takes time to process. I think it gets less brutally painful.
    I remember returning to school a week and a half later and being in B&N, picking up a book on ovarian cancer, thinking I’d send it to her….and then realizing I had no use for it. I wanted to throw it across the store.
    I wear a ring of hers and bracelets she gave me before she died, and the grief is still present in their jangling on my arm, with every twist of the ring. I keep her numbers in my cell phone – for what, I’m not sure. Grief comes and goes like the tide, for lack of a better comparison. Some days it’s too dangerous to go outside, for fear it will swallow you whole. But eventually it recedes, and only laps at your ankles. But it’s always there, I think.
    I’m still waiting for the tide to go back out.
    Much love and positive thoughts to you today. Your father sounds lucky to have such a loving family.

    • Amy

      Jaime, I read your comment and just had to reply because your words are so absolutely true: “Grief comes and goes like the tide, for lack of a better comparison. Some days it’s too dangerous to go outside, for fear it will swallow you whole.” I still feeling that way about my mother’s death. One of the aspects that I’ve found the hardest, similar to what you experienced in B&N, is the surprising nature of grief. One moment, you think it’s a good day and grief isn’t going to get you, and then, bam!, the next minute, you see something or hear something or smell something, and you’re transported back in time to a memory that was just sitting there beneath the surface and your day won’t be the same. Yes. “Some days it’s too dangerous to go outside, for fear it will swallow you whole.” Lovely words. Words that paint an image that I know all too well.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      This is so beautiful, Jaime. I so love the details you share here – about the book, about the bracelet. And I so love the tide metaphor; so unbelievably powerful and apt. I am so sorry about your loss. Yes, it is always there, but it gets better. I promise. I don’t know how, or pretend to know how it works, but it gets better. And it will for you. I am so heartened to know that you are here reading my words. And your words? They are wonderful and resonate so deeply with me – and many others, I’m sure. Thank you. So much.

  18. Kristen

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful emotions. The loss of a loved one is always with us and a memory of those lost can brush against us in the most remarkable moments. But it is memories that keep those we have lost with us. My hope for you today – that you may share many memories of your father with your family and friends.

    p.s. Sister C’s words are wonderfully amazing too. Thank you both for sharing.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I agree that C’s words are amazing. As I told her over lunch, I think there is something so important about hearing another person’s account because we can almost sanitize our own story and make it neat and pretty and okay, but then hearing another version, another smattering of details, really stirs up some profound emotion. Thanks so much, Kristen.

  19. I haven’t got anything big or significant to say apart from that I’m wishing that this day gets easier but not less poignant for you with time. Just wanted to let you know I’m here and thinking of you on a tough day.

  20. Jacqueline

    Powerful and beautiful. My thoughts are with you and your family on this difficult day. I know the hugs and laughter of your girls will help this day seem a bit better.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you so much, Jacqueline. Yes, the girls are making this day okay, and good. They have a way of doing that every day (that is, when they aren’t testing my limits which of course RARELY happens. Ha.)

  21. beautiful writing, aidan

    and i cried through the whole thing!

    several years ago, i lost my mom to cancer
    she was my best friend and i still miss her profoundly

    i can closely relate to so many of your feelings and observations

    especially that desire to remember the details . . .

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you so much, April. It is so good to know that I am far from alone in experiencing the loss of a beloved parent. Intellectually, I know this, that there are SO many of us who have gone through this, but there is something really magical and humbling about reading actual words from actual people (like you) who have been there and so get it. Thank you. And I’m sorry about your mom. I know what it feels like to have that kind of hole in the fabric of your life, even if it does get smaller with time.

  22. Jess

    This is so beautiful. So visceral. I feel like I was there, the blonde girl who looked away with tears in her eyes. What a tribute to your Dad. Sending you and your family lots of love today. xoxo

  23. Amy

    Oh, Aidan! I’m so sorry for your loss. Your words are absolutely, breath-takingly beautiful, and I’m sure that your father was (is!) proud of you! Your words that say you are okay give me hope and inspiration that one day, I will be okay too. I lost my mother 1 1/2 years ago in a very sudden and unexpected way even though her health was not ideal. I guess that I always expected that she would pass away from one of her health issues, possibly after battling an illness, maybe at home. I didn’t expect death in an ambulance on a ride between hospitals without any of us near her. Somehow I expected a middle-of-the-night phone call, but I imagined that it would more likely come from my mother, not my father. I expected one of my parents, at some far off time, to tell me that the other had died. I didn’t expect to race to the hospital, knowing only that my mother faced surgery, to have a stranger tell me that my mother died before even having a chance at survival. No matter what, I didn’t expect the days that followed. The unbelievable grief. That my cat would die shortly afterward, and also unexpectedly. That my sister and I would grow apart. That my father was about to be diagnosed with cancer. That my father’s grief would turn to a depression and anxiety from which he still hasn’t recovered. That my husband would leave me…with a baby. That I would be angry, oh, so angry, with my mother for leaving me. That, 1 1/2 years later, I’m not okay. But I feel like I’m trying to get there. Actively trying versus my father, who just wants to be with his bride. My story is different, but, oh, Aidan, I so understand. Love to you on this Gray Tutu Day.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Amy, thank you. For reading my words and leaving these, your own. I am so sorry to hear about all of the things that have transpired in the wake of your mother’s death. I can’t begin to imagine what you have gone through, and continue to go through, but I detect a real optimism here and feel that if you want to be okay, you really will be. So much of this, I think, is about being real with ourselves about what has happened, and allowing ourselves to try to move on, to start fresh. I know, I know, far easier said than done, but I have become a big believer in resiliency and I think we can all make it through most anything. Your story is different, yes, but there are so many universals, aren’t there? Thanks so much, Amy.

  24. Your words resonated with me on so many levels. Thinking of you and yours. I often think of the pendulum, from sorrow to happiness and back again. xoxo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      The pendulum – yes. Sorrow to happiness to sorrow to happiness. Makes so much sense to me. And, I know, to you. Thank you, Rudri.

  25. A beautiful post, Aidan. May 10th was four years since my dad passed away. Not one day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. When I first found your blog , I was drawn to you and your love of family that we share. I was cheering you on hoping that you will be okay, and that I will find my way again. I am glad to hear you say you are okay. Lately I am feeling more like my old self before loss broke my heart . My thoughts are with you and your family today. Hugs.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      So so wonderful to hear that you are feeling more like yourself, Ayala. I really think it is important that we share these stories of making it through and thriving, you know? It’s really wonderful to have a friend in the virtureal world who has faced such a similar loss at such a similar time and is similarly approaching, and feeling, okay. I love this. Thanks, Ayala.

  26. Tessa S.

    Oh Aidan, marking these days is so hard. I’ve done quite a few and it’s tough. What I’ve found is that, over time, the very raw, painful suffering eases off, but, as the years pass, one becomes even more determined to ‘not forget’. I always try to contact friends and family on these memorial days – it doesn’t matter how long ago they suffered the loss. Time heals the ‘rawness’ but you never, never get over the loss. It also seems important to talk a lot about those who are no longer with us. In a few days time we will be remembering my best friend’s eldest (of three) daughters who died, aged 8, from leukemia. This year she would’ve turned 32. It seems necessary to go back to that time, to dredge up all the details, good and bad – and, yes, like you, we have very different recollections of events. It’s tough to do but seems, in a way, so very necessary and this is what you were doing in your awesome blog post. I’m with you, sister. Hope your day is going well.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks so much, Tessa. Yes, I think it is important to talk about those we have lost. I think that’s one of the many reasons I write about Dad on my blog. I do this in an effort to remember him, to understand who he was and how he has influenced me, how to forge on in the world without him. I agree with you that these things are never really gotten over, but the sting does thankfully subside a bit. I really appreciate your words always, but particularly today.

  27. Aidan, your words remind me of my father-in-law’s passing 5 years ago. He died unexpectedly in a hospital but yet was surrounded by family.

    The details of your story are what got me. The day Roger died will always be engrained in my mind. But my husband remembers such details that didn’t even register with me. Mostly details of later in the day when everyone emotionally numb.

    And yes, you are ok.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Erica. Yes, it amazes me how many tiny things I remember that others probably do not. I think this is probably because I made an effort to memorize things, to soak up those final moments and the moments in the wake of saying goodbye.

  28. Aidan, this is such a beautiful tribute to your father and while I was reading it, I thought about how fortunate he was to die at home with his wife by his side. I just want you to know that I’m sending you a big hug today! xxoo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks so much, Karen. I didn’t really think about the home angle of this until this week, of how lucky Dad was to see out his days at home, how lucky he was to wear that silly whale shirt and not a hospital gown. Husband actually pointed out this bit to me this morning and I appreciate this realization. Thank you for your kind words.

  29. G

    Hi Aidan,

    Just wanted to let you know that I am here, reading your words and thinking about you and your family.

  30. Rosie


    So strong and brave of you to share a very sad and poignant memory. It was a blessing that your dad died at home and that you and your family had each other for comfort and support.

    I lost my dearest friend in the world thirteen years ago to colon cancer. I wasn’t there the day she died, but I cling to every little detail of our last visit together…the torrential rain that never let up, the way her hospital room smelled, the generosity she showed me by introducing me to her nurses as her best friend….all of these things are precious to me…and while I am ok, just as you are ok…I still remember, still have regrets, and still wish I could see her one more time.

    And…I realize that the sadness that I still feel is a testament to our relationship, just as your “gray tutu day” beautifully honors your father and all that he meant to you.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Rosie. For reading my words today and leaving your own. I love the details you share – about the fierce rain, the smell of the hospital room, the way she spoke of you to the person who cared for her. Beautiful. Yes, I agree with you that the sadness and longing that lingers is, above all, proof of the love that existed and endures.

  31. Monica

    Like I mention in my last comment on your previous post, yesterday I had a wisdom tooth extracted. Last night was a long night, for some reason everytime we are going through a tough time the morning seems so far away. Those are the times I miss my mom the most. A good friend of mine pointed out to me that made me smile, “it’s during these times that she is with me the most.” I agree, our loved ones who have gone before us remain forever in our hearts. 🙂

    Eternal rest grant unto them oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May there souls and those of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I agree that it is the time of missing, of longing, of remembering that those we have lost are most with us. So true. Thanks so much, Monica.

  32. This left me breathless. Love to you on this painful day.

  33. Aidan,

    Perhaps this is a strange thing to say, but not having experienced this kind of loss, reading your post makes me think, “I hope it happens this way for me.” That’s odd, right?

    I know it has taken you years to reflect on your dad’s death with the self-possession and calmness that you convey here today. But there is a peace in it that I find assuring – the quiet goodnights to your mother, the expected-but-still-startling phone call, the middle-of-the-night walk to your home, the hand holding, the red nightgown, the whale t-shirt, the gray tutu. I know there are details that you long for. But in spite of their absence you seem to have a nearly perfect memory of the Gray Tutu Day. Not perfect in its completeness, but perfect in its wholeness. That is what I hope for.

    The other thing I want to say? From a purely literary perspective, I think this post is the finest piece of writing you’ve ever published here. Stunning. Truly.

    Love to you and your whole family today.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      What an incredibly thoughtful comment, Gale. Your words about how you would almost wish for this kind of goodbye strike me, and profoundly, in such a good way. In so many ways, it was a beautiful departure. It was so sad of course, heartbreakingly sad, but it was also simple and peaceful and rich. The dichotomy you draw between completeness and wholeness is so powerful; I’ve never thought of it this way, that being complete can be very different than being whole… So interesting, and true. And your words about my writing? Of course they make me smile. Thank you, Gale, for your support and friendship today and always. xox

  34. Anne

    What an incredibly honest, matter-of-fact, yet poetic piece of writing. I don’t feel like I have much to say that would come close to matching the beauty of your words, so I’ll just say…I’m glad you’re okay. Thinking of you today.

  35. Emily

    I remember specifically after my family’s most significant death experience thinking, “we are going to be ok”. I am glad you are there. What a beautiful post. Sending lots of good thoughts your way today.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Emily. Yes, I am here in this odd and tricky, but very good place. It’s taken some time, but I am here. It feels really wonderful to write there. I know there is more work to do, more to process, but I am feeling really good about things.

  36. Jacquelyn

    A, I am thinking of you, your sisters and mom today. I always admire your strength, authenticity and incredible ability to write(!) but especially when it comes to your Dad. Hugs.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Jacquelyn. Means so so much to see your words here today. It was so wonderful to see you guys last week at the Cape. I feel like the week kind of blurred by; I wish we had a bit more time to catch up. Hope you guys and the pup are doing well and staying cool. xox, A

  37. I haven’t lost a parent but I have buried a friend who was more like a brother and grandparents who meant the world to me.

    My grandparents were “easier” because that fit my idea of the cycle of life, but it was awful having to bury ‘D.’

    We were 29 years old and I will never forget him or the things that took place prior to his death and his funeral.

    I blog about these moments too. I do it because it helps to solidify some memories and to make sense of it all.

    Next month will mark 14 years since we lost him. Most of the time I am ok with it, but every now and then it catches me off guard.

    But one thing I remember is the day I woke up and realized that it didn’t feel like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I missed him, but the pain was different.

    It bothered me, I felt guilty and then I didn’t. I didn’t because the change didn’t mean that I loved him any less only that I had put in time to feel the loss.

    After that I knew I would miss him but I wasn’t obligated to walk around carrying that load. He wouldn’t have wanted me to either.

    Don’t know if this helped but I hope that your gray tutu day had some bright spots too.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      This did help, and does help, Jack. So, thank you. I think what it does – as so many of the beautiful comments here do – is remind me of the stark universality of these things, that loss is loss, and it is brutal and impossibly so, but that the pain does fade some with time. And this fading can itself, as you say, cause its own pain and guilt, but that’s all part of the game, I guess. I am sorry about the loss of your friend. I know it was years ago, but I also know that these things never fully get better, nor should they. I so appreciate your words, Jack. Today (well, yesterday) and always.

  38. Heather


    Having never lost a parent or truthfully never lost anyone particularily close to me, this post truly made me able to empathize with those that have. Your father must have been such a beautiful human being and it seems you were truly blessed to be able to have such a wonderful relationship with him. And judging from your posts (your blog is the FIRST thing I read everyday even though this is the first time I’m commented) you are giving your own girls the same wonderful parenting that you received.

    I am sorry for you loss but thankful that it has made you a strong enough person to be able to share your experience to provide comfort to others who also need it.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you so incredibly much, Heather. Your words are kind, and make me happy during this okay, but also tricky time. Your loyalty and support? They mean a ton. xox

  39. Beautiful post, Aidan. Thanks – as always – for sharing.

  40. This is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing your grief and your memories.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Emma. I debated whether to share so much, such a personal level of detail, but decided that it would only help me clarify things and might indeed reach others who need it. xox

  41. Aidan,

    This was such a heartbreaking, yet beautiful and ultimately hopeful post. Thank you for sharing this private moment so beautifully with all of us. I’m sure these words are helping more people than you are even aware of…oh the power of the written word to soothe and heal the heart.

    Thanks, Aidan!


  42. AG

    I know this is a day late but had to comment. This was a beautiful post. It really made me reflect on the actual days I have found out that loved ones have passed away. I have not lost a parent but all of my grandparents and other family members as well. Tiny details that seem so insignificant but were very significant in that moment as I digested everything going on and the way life would be forever different…and after reading Sister C’s words I thought it’s fascinating how many people can share the same experience yet hold different memories of it.

    Wanted to send a virtual hug today because I think you are doing better than okay and your father is looking down smiling at all that you are doing, the people you are touching and the person you are in this world.

  43. Monica Selby (@monicajselby)

    I don’t have an experience of quite this significance yet, and I didn’t read this post until today. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to your dad and those memories.

  44. Kathryn

    Hey – just reading this. Have been off social media for a few days, and am so sorry I missed this day, missed acknowledging you, as you did me. Interesting that our fathers both died in July. I remember almost every detail of that day, but find myself longing for certain remembrances too. Anyway, am with you in spirit, as you know.xo

  45. Katherine

    This post was so beautifully written. I can’t relate to much of it at all — I haven’t lost a family member, but I also don’t have a family member I’m close to. I don’t relate to family generally. And yet I can feel all the love and loss and closeness because you created it so vividly. I now feel likeI do know what it would be like to be in a family going through such loss. Your mother walking the family dogs in her red nightgown and robe. It’s fantastically portrayed. Don’t be afraid about writing the dark stuff — you have a great voice for it.

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