Ann Marie Houghtailing
2 min readMay 1, 2022


I was a child
But not for very long
Just nine glorious years

My sister died
and the universe shifted

My gentle, single mother
who had always made me
the center of her world

I was replaced
by grief in one swift blow

The day she made the animal sound
a mother makes when she loses a child

Grief moved in
Grief was a ravenous brute
feasting night and day

In the twitch of a humming bird’s wing
I became an adult

Death is a rite of passage
The beginning and the end

To be parentified
is to lose your innocence
and taste cruelty
like a dirty penny you hold in your mouth

I learned to swallow
oceans of tears without drowning

My mother did
her very best
to stay on this planet

The death of my sister grew me up

I would forever be
my own caretaker

In the rare moments anyone tried to help me
I ran like a hunted rabbit

I could not trust such tenderness,
knowing it could be torn from me
with wild violence

I had learned not to disturb
my mother’s bleeding heart
with my own needs

There was simply
no room

I learned to need less
and less
Until I needed nothing
I asked for nothing

And always, always
made space for others’
pain and struggle and sorrow
Forever and ever
until I became

“Strong” means
you never inconvenience anyone
with your needs

“Strong” means
you do not evoke sympathy
that’s reserved for those
not as “strong”

Strong is a little girl
dressed in a power suit
aching to be fragile
hungry for the taste of comfort
starving for a moment
of unabashed, glorious, savage,



Ann Marie Houghtailing

Ann marie Houghtailing is the co founder of Story Imprinting, a communications firm that teaches clients the art and science of storytelling.