This morning, I was shaken to learn Heather B. Hamilton (formerly Heather Armstrong) aka Dooce is no longer with us. I learned the news from a post to her Instagram, confirmed by several friends after and then the Associated Press, announcing the tragic news that she died yesterday at the age of 47.
I’m shaken and sad, and my heart goes out to all her family and friends feeling her loss right now, but especially her two children.
We weren’t close friends, but as part of the same old-school blogging cohort, we hung out over the years at conferences and meetups, getting together whenever she was in town.
Heather was the consummate poster, sharp and hilarious, famously sharing her personal life on her blog, finding early fame getting fired (“dooced”) for writing about her coworkers, and later writing extensively about motherhood while raising her two children. She was a well-documented pioneer in how to make a living writing independently online.
Her writing brought her an enormous audience of fans who loved her and her writing, which eventually expanded into three memoirs and mainstream attention. Along the way, her success also attracted a small army of haters who criticized her every move in dedicated forums and blogs. The pressures of living online took a toll on her emotional well-being, and she quit writing several times.
But the last few years were clearly much harder on her. She’d publicly struggled with alcohol addiction and depression for years, eventually leading to an experimental, risky treatment for chronic depression, a series of chemically-induced comas to repeatedly approximate brain death, which she wrote about in her last book.
I last saw Heather on that book tour in May 2019. We talked a bit after the event, and I left feeling unsettled. She kept talking about how much better she felt, but she didn’t seem well.
Then, last August, she posted a bizarre rambling screed that talked about her addiction and a suicide attempt, ending in an upsetting transphobic rant, seemingly in response to her child coming out as non-binary to her. It was pretty awful, alienating many of her friends and fans, myself included. She eventually deleted it all.
I don’t know if she changed her mind about any of it before she died. I hope she did, because that rant seemed out of character from the person I thought I knew. I was hoping to someday read about her successful recovery, a change of heart, an evolution of thinking, a thoughtful apology. Maybe a new book, or maybe just another beautifully-written blog post, one of so many she penned over her 22 years on the web.
Maybe it’s appropriate that she leaves a complicated legacy. Life is hard and messy, sad and angry, dark and beautiful, miserable and hopeful, all at once.
I’ll remember her as the person we invited to open up XOXO 2015. Big-hearted, funny, thoughtful, provocative. She gave me a minor panic attack when she showed me her opening slide, and then I laughed and cried, along with everyone else in Revolution Hall. I’m going to miss her.
So beautifully said, Andy. <3
This is beautiful, Andy. Heather and I spent time together at XOXO. Your event made many good comings together possible. I’m so sorry.
I followed her for many years and found her blog to be witty and thought provoking. So sad she could not control the demons that provoked her. I feel very sad for her family.
Thanks for this, especially for posting her XOXO video from 2015. I’ll miss her too.
Thank you for this! I was feeling quite alone with my pain after I read the news, yesterday afternoon. Ugh. Heather, your words lifted me up many times and made me feel “seen.” We are not better off without you, even if you needed to remove your fingers from the keyboard more than once. Condolences to her friends and family–this is awful.
Thank you for writing this. The news was hard to hear, especially considering the last few years. I met Heather through conference/blogger friends 20 years ago, and kept in contact over the years, including up until the blog post you mention. We ended up agreeing to disagree about our attitudes towards our non-binary children over a bunch of emails. I wish our last conversations had been about something less polarizing, but at least they were of substance. I sincerely hope she’s at peace now, and will miss her.
Thanks for this—really thoughtful. I miss her.
She was there when things were really getting started, and I was too, and then she had her kids at around the same time I did. Like so many people: someone smart and funny struggling with that weird low and high confidence simultaneously thing. I kept an online diary early on too, but ultimately found myself shunning expressing myself to the world, and keeping a very low profile, very private social media presence. Today, I am grateful to my personal anxiety demons for pushing me to do that. She was always there, but ultimately, the thing she was selling was access to her own life, and doing that and not becoming a massive jerk, or that level of being ripped open publically making everyday life alienated and weird seems insanely difficult for anyone who has done it. I missed her rant (which I’m glad of), and I wouldn’t have agreed with it. I am so sad that because she was an online diarist, her own very personal processing of something very difficult for her became public property. Inevitably, I suppose.
Oh Heather. Such a very final action. My feelings are all over the place. I send all my love to everyone in Heather’s family and life.
Thank you for writing this, Andy.
Thank you for posting this video. It’s so great to revisit Heather’s intelligence, humor, sensitivity, bravery, and humanity – all the qualities I and so many of us loved and cheered her on for. I’m walking distance from Rev Hall and I remember being excited that she was in town for XOXO that year. I’d been wishing for a happily ever after…
Thank you for this post. I found Dooce.com in 2002, and enjoyed her sense of humor, particularly the posts about Chuck, so much. She felt like a friend. Heather was an amazing pioneer and influence, and my heart grieves for her family and friends, especially her children. Just heartbreaking.