When the doctor in the emergency room asked Dad, “How long has your daughter been drinking?”, it broke his heart and it made him mad. “You don’t know this girl,” he said. “You don’t know my daughter.”

After Jilly died on July 3, 2014, Dad and I talked on the phone nearly every day for weeks. I swear we were going through the stages of grief together—on the phone—crying and laughing and trying to understand, which was the hardest part.

We talked through the facts, though we knew nothing could have been different. Jilly had been fourteen when our mom died; she was sixteen when Dad married a wonderful woman who had four teenagers. Jill was thrust into a new blended family at a critical time. “She got lost,” I told Dad, “but it was nobody’s fault.”

My sister and I weren’t alike except when we cooked together, danced to Motown, or shared stories about the father we adored. But as we got older, we started talking about the hard stuff: my cancer, her lousy husband, her drinking, her anxiety and mine. Jilly knew all my secrets and I knew hers.

At the very end of June, Dad called to tell me that Jill had collapsed. She was unconscious, hooked up to every kind of machine in the I.C.U. She had stopped drinking to raise her boy, but he was gone from the house now, Jill had lost her job, and she had chronic arthritis pain from falls and broken bones. She drank to self-medicate.

I arrived at the hospital the next day and our family huddled. As gently as possible, I explained how Jill felt about all these heroic interventions. “She wanted a big tattoo on her chest: DO NOT RESUSCITATE. Believe me, she would hate this; she would not want this.

It was the last thing I could do for my little sister and I had to do it. All her organs were in failure; there was no hope.

And so after a sad few days (trust me when I say this process is not easy), and after my nephew and I sang to her—the only time her eyes raced back and forth—Jill’s only child asked to be left alone with his mother. The complete life support was stopped and our girl died.

Now Christmas is here. Dad will turn ninety on Christmas Day. Jill and I had a plan for a lively party. We were working up a song. We had menus. Now I’m working on menus with my husband, which is great but isn’t the same.

What will we do? Dad is taking the train up to Portland to be with us. I’ve arranged to sing with some neighborhood kids. I’ll introduce Dad to the tree we’ve named Jill, a small beautiful Japanese Maple, planted in October.

Jilly loved life. She was a comic; she was an imperfect human being and everybody loved her. Dad and I know this all too well. So it’s simple really: we’ll celebrate her life. We’ll sing.

Susan Troccolo








Susan Troccolo

Susan Troccolo retired from the business world and is now a community volunteer, gardener, writer, and bluegrass guitar player. She lives with Patrick, her husband of thirty-five years and Fly, the "Grace Kelly of Border Collies" in Portland, Oregon. Susan is the author of "Growing Down Stories", personal essays of living life with humor and grace. She has several essays in the "Chocolate for a Woman's Soul" series (Simon and Schuster), work in VoiceCatcher and the Portland Women's Journal. She loves blogging, especially humor pieces, at Culinate.com (First Person and Our Table) and at Lighthearted Travel.com. Susan is a survivor of cancer, once in 1992 and again in 2008, experiences which have informed her life and her work. In 1998, Susan received training to work with drug-addicted babies in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for two years and also became certified to facilitate creative writing workshops through "Write Around Portland" where she also served as a board member for four years. The Write Around Portland ten-week intensives included workshops for teens who had lost a parent, women with metastatic breast cancer and people in a burn unit. In 2010, Susan was trained to facilitate the "Chronic Disease Self-Management Program" (CDSMP), an evidence-based program developed by Stanford University. In that capacity, she works primarily with people in mid-life and with seniors. The classes assist individuals with the many challenges and ongoing difficult emotions of having a chronic condition, like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or heart disease. Susan's happiest creative achievement was the creation of a thirty-minute documentary on the life of Anna Lea Lelli, her mentor in the study of Dante's Divine Comedy in the original Italian, while living and studying for four years in Rome. This documentary aired on public television in 1992. Throughout the losses in her life, Susan believes that making grief and loss conscious are as much a birthright as our joys. "Do not fear the darkness, for in it rests the light."

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