Benjamin Dooling, a gifted writer who chronicled his two-year battle with cancer in a blog and recently published his second collection of poems, “Leaning Light,” died Oct. 24 with his family by his side. He was 40.
A native of Waltham, Mass., Dooling lived in Portland for the past five years and was active in the city’s recovery community. He lived at the Foundation House and Oxford House, two residential treatment programs for alcohol and drug addiction. He later worked as a counselor at the Serenity House.
Dooling was an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and dedicated his time to helping other men struggling with alcoholism and addiction.
“The years Ben spent in Maine were the happiest of his life,” his mother, Charlotte Dooling, said Wednesday. “He found his friends. He found his talent. In my eyes, it was almost a rebirth.”
His mother talked openly this week about her son’s earlier years and the challenges he faced in school and in life. She said he had a learning disability. She remembered an essay he wrote in the fifth grade about Martians landing in Fenway Park during a baseball game. She said it was good, but if he were asked to look up a word in the dictionary he became confused. He was placed in a remedial English class in high school, but got a chance to prove himself in honors English.
“He went from a D in remedial to an A in honors,” his mother said. “It was wonderful. I know as a mother that he was a deep thinker and had a writing ability that didn’t show up in the classroom. His imagination and creativity was obvious to me.”
Dooling struggled in math and science in school and turned to drinking in his senior year. He attended Bard College in New York, but dropped out three months later and returned to Massachusetts. He went to school in Brookline and became a disc jockey. He worked at a local station, playing music from the 1950s and 1960s.
“He had an audience that loved him from midnight to 7 a.m.,” his mother said. “I used to stay up with bags under my eyes every now and then to listen. He was wonderful. He was very popular. He used to remember people’s names when they called in.”
During his stint at the radio station, Dooling started using cocaine and his life quickly spun out of control. In his mid 20s, he checked into McLean Hospital, a residential alcohol and drug treatment program in Massachusetts. His recovery led him to the Plymouth House in New Hampshire, then later to Portland, where he lived and worked for the past five years.
Dooling immersed himself in Portland’s sober community. He was an active member of A.A. and helped other men struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction.
“He found a place where he belonged,” his mother said. “He was very much into A.A. He loved the idea that he was getting help and that he could give help sometimes. During this period, I got very happy phone calls from him. He used to say, ‘Mom, I grew up in a town that was stuck on itself and ended up in a wonderful place.’ I knew exactly what he meant. I visited him often.”
At 38 years old, Dooling was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer. He fought his cancer with treatment and through writing, prayer and meditation.
Dooling chronicled his illness through writing and poetry on his website, www.bendooling.com. His second collection of poems, “Leaning Light,” was published the week he died. His mother said someone from the local bookstore hand delivered the book to Dooling before he died.
“It was an amazing testimony to the feelings he had,” his mother said. “He had very strong feelings about certain subjects. He would write about his cancer, describing it so vividly. At the end, his spirituality would come. It was beautiful for him. His dad and I treasure (the book) and it will be on sale very soon.”
Dooling is survived by his parents, Curtis and Charlotte Dooling, and three siblings. He also leaves behind many friends in the Portland area who will come together Saturday to honor and celebrate Dooling’s life.
A memorial service will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at HopeGateWay Methodist Church, 509 Forest Ave.
Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: