Cranes were our inside joke between the author and her daughter Ana, who died of cancer a year ago. Picture: Courtesy of Jacqueline Dooley

Washington - Twelve months ago, my 15-year-old daughter died, and grief rolled into my life like a thick fog.

Last week, I folded my first crane.

Cranes were our inside joke. Ana learned how to fold them when she was around 11, a skill I greatly admired because I'd never learned. I once asked her to teach me, but she refused. She liked knowing how to do something I didn't. Over the next four years, the cranes became a kind of ritual between us. She'd ask for something - a sleepover, a new sweater, a late-night snack - and I'd hand her a bright square of origami paper. "Sure, but it will cost you one crane."

I kept them all - those precious reminders of our private joke. Sometimes I'll hold one and remember her slender fingers folding it into being. I picture her satisfied expression as she'd hand me the tiny, perfect crane, and it's like she's with me again, just for a moment.

Ana had cancer for almost five years. During the final few months of her life, I was painfully conscious of the lasts (the last day she went to school, her last birthday, the last crane she made me . . .).

I thought I was done counting. I thought that, with her last breath, there would be some relief from the endless agony of watching her slip away. That was before the grief flooded in, washing everything else away.

Suddenly I had something new to count - an endless stream of heartbreaking firsts, each of them with the power to completely undo me.

The first time I saw a body carried out of a house, my house, by a pair of silent undertakers.

The first time I went into her room after she was gone.

The first time I went food shopping, passing by the things she loved: Strawberries, mint tea, goldfish crackers.

READ: Tips on how to deal with grief

The first holiday, birthday, anniversary, week, month, and year - all come and gone without my sweet girl here to see or celebrate any of it.

I took a lot - and I mean a lot - of naps.

Ana has a younger sister, my daughter Emily, who was 12 when Ana died. I tried to keep life as normal as possible for Emily, tried to keep going for her sake even though I wanted nothing more than for my heart to stop. Emily is smart. She saw what I didn't. She retreated to her bed when I retreated to mine. She avoided talking about anything that would make me sad.

Winter was brutal. I stopped walking when the leaves turned brown. I joined a gym with Emily, but we only went a few times. I took refuge in books, wine and food. My body was a sinking stone, but I didn't care. I wanted to sink and never come to the surface again.

I felt completely adrift. We were a family of three when we should've been four. It felt like we were all untethered, each mired in our own separate agony.

You see, I had an idea for the first anniversary of Ana's death. I invited everyone who knew her to fold at least one crane, write #CranesForAna on it, and post a picture to social media. Then I hope they'll leave their crane somewhere for a stranger to find.

I had to learn how to fold a crane to participate in my own initiative. Turns out, it's not that hard. Over the past week, I filled a bag with cranes. On Ana's anniversary, I'll leave them throughout my neighbourhood - at the stores Ana liked and all her special places.