That last autumn, Caitlin binged on a cooking show she’d discovered. She usually watched while I cooked dinner, and since the kitchen overlooked the living area of our Pittsburgh condo, I became vaguely aware of a big tent inside of which a bunch of regular-looking people turned out regular-looking pies and biscuits. One day I took a closer look as Caitlin applauded the winner. The winning cake looked so….ordinary.
“I don’t get it?” I said.
The show was WONDERFUL, Caitlin explained. It was cozy, it was comforting. The contestants were all supportive of each other, and she loved how the camera would sometimes pan outside the tent to take in the bucolic setting, how the lens would pause upon some calming thing: a bird, a flower, rain dripping from leaves.
We are on Martha’s Vineyard, and today is Caitlin’s birthday. I’m reminded of another birthday of hers spent here, the year she turned 12. It was the terrible year of lung surgeries and months-long inpatient recoveries. But that summer, we received a two-week respite from the hospital, and the respite was spent here. Those weeks return to me in images that feel other-worldly, suspended in time, magical. Riding the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs, spending hours on State Beach reading The Stone Diaries, a book that would later become a lifelong favorite of Caitlin’s, buying boxes of Murdick’s Fudge. Hearing news of a bombing in Paris that shocked us and caused us to wonder whether life really did unfold for a reason.
Caitlin wrote about that year and its Paris connection in an essay when she was a college sophomore. I’ll let her take over:
Jess and I were looking through old writings to find one of Caitlin’s wise nuggets for a quote on a wall mural she’s creating in Kenya. I found this in an old email she wrote to me. It’s a good practice, and thought I’d share: “I always look back on each year and pick out one thing I learned. Being able to self-reflect and change yourself…what a cool quality.”
Encouraging self-reflection is a big part of the talks that I give. Recently, I’ve had the chance to do some speaking in person, as opposed to Zoom events where I cannot see or sense the audience. The experience of seeing real people, and interacting with them, has been incredibly meaningful. Powerful. Virtual is handy, though, and I will be doing one more Zoom event this summer – tomorrow, Wednesday, July 20 at 7pm ET.
Recently, I had the uncanny experience of sending a friend of Caitlin’s a rare gift – a baby present that Caitlin had purchased in Bruges in 2011, in the event that this friend ever had a little boy. Mieke recently gave birth to a son and what a pleasure, to send that tiny Dutch knitted hat.
I’ve also found a few letters Caitlin addressed but never mailed, and to stamp and send them was like watching my hand reach through the veil.
Two years of COVID. Five years since I last saw Caitlin’s beautiful face. Life has wings and time is a dream.
Little Matches has been out since late April and I’ve been working hard to get people to know it exists, to plant the seeds that will keep this evergreen book alive. 🌲
In honor of Caitlin and this unbelievable, upcoming fifth anniversary of her absence from our world, I’m asking people to holiday-gift a copy of Little Matches to someone who might be in need of healing or inspiration. That “someone” could be a friend, a family member, or, maybe even better: a complete stranger. 📖
It’s been incredibly healing for me to hear how Caitlin’s story affects people. The pre-med student who posts: “Little Matches is the most important reading that I have read in all of college to prepare me for medical school, and to help me fully realize why I want to be a physician. I do not think this was Maryanne’s intention to train future physicians in this way, but she was still able to have this effect on me.” The reader who reaches out through social media: “I was transfixed by Little Matches, and grateful to know of the possibilities that fill our world. Thank you so much for this gift. What I learned has changed me…I just finished the book, and cannot explain all of my thoughts and feelings.” The high school student who messages: “i have never been much of a reader. i actually used to say i hated reading. your book has changed that. it has also allowed me the ability to find the light in such horrific pain.” ❤️
If you’d like to honor Caitlin’s memory and donate a copy of LITTLE MATCHES to a grief support center, I’ve compiled a list of some around the country. Knowing that strangers will be helped by Caitlin’s story helps ease the pain of this anniversary season for all of us who grieve her so much. ✨✨✨
Common Ground Grief Center – 67 Taylor Ave. Manasquan, NJ 08736
Kara Grief Support – 457 Kingsley Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301
EveryStep Grief and Loss Services – 1821 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50265
Tristesse Grief Center – 2502 E. 71st Street Suite A, Tulsa, OK 74136
Wendt Center for Loss and Healing – P.O. Box 45924, Baltimore, MD 21297-5924
Agrace Grief Support Center – 2906 Marketplace Drive, Fitchburg, WI 53719
Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center – 801 Albany St 1st Floor, Suite 1026, Roxbury, MA 02119
GracePoint Grief Center – 650 Ten Rod Rd, North Kingstown, RI 02852
Lost and Found Grief Center – 1555 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield, MO 65804
Dougy Grief Center – PO Box 86852, Portland, OR 97286
Mettle Health Online Holistic Care – 51 E Blithedale Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Our House Grief Support Center – 21860 Burbank Blvd., North Building, Suite 195, Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Halifax Health Grief Center – 1500 S. Daytona Ave., Flagler Beach, FL 32136
Halifax Health Grief Center – 655 North Clyde Morris Boulevard, Daytona Beach, Florida 32114
Halifax Health Grief Center – 5210 S. Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL 32809
Bo’s Place – 10050 Buffalo Speedway, Houston, TX 77054
New Life Hospice – “Living Through Grief” – Lorain County VA Outpatient Clinic, 5255 North Abbe Rd. Sheffield Village, OH 44035
“This is a book about life, including death. For showing us how to hold both, we owe Maryanne and Caitlin a magnificent debt of gratitude. Here is love in ink, and you will feel it. That’s not to say that their story is easy to behold—you will cry—but that’s key to the book’s great achievement: within a connection like theirs, everything has a home. Despair, hope, fear, beauty, decay, out of this world, in this world. It turns out that death poses no threat to love. Read this book to help you know that in your bones.”
—B. J. Miller, M.D., author of A Beginner’s Guide to the End
I am about to head over to Kenya to see, firsthand, The Leo Project and the Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic. I’ll be sharing photos of Jess Danforth’s incredible accomplishments in honor of Kitten, as well as photos of beautiful Africa, on my Instagram account (follow @maryanneohara) and in forthcoming blog posts.
I am wishing every one of you much peace and good health this holiday season. I also want to send out the most heartfelt thank you for the support. Promoting a book during a pandemic, on Zoom, has been lonely. I miss the personal connection — talking to people, sharing experiences. I cannot wait until we can connect during in-person events.
It’s a wondrous thing to create a child, send her out into the world, and see what happens. Caitlin’s life influenced many others and over the years, especially the last few, it’s been heartening to learn how. One friend from her high school days is an artist and a few months ago, told me she had begun working on a painting of Caitlin.
Kat David is humble. Last weekend she sent me the painting. “I hope you like it,” she wrote. Like it? It’s magnificent. I was so enthralled that I decided it needed an unveiling, so this post is the official unveiling of MAGIC CAITLIN.
Kat wrote: I am so glad you like it ❣️ The dandelion is supposed to be how her energy traveled and impacted so many people. The animals staring directly at the viewer are meant to convey some of her intensity. I tried to hide stuff throughout. The hearts were for your husband and his creative work and the book was how you and she share a love of writing and deeper meaning. I’m often reluctant to tell people what something I make means since I want people to see what is significant for them, like I want it to be subjective to the viewer. But in this case, I want you two to know there was deliberate meaning. Your family has magic so I wanted that to be shown. The book – the hearts and Caitlin are connected through touch and contact.
I had to ask Kat to please sign it (! – I said she was humble) and I also asked how she did it, because I knew people would be curious. She writes: Yes, it’s a digital painting. I made it using the procreate app on iPad. I use mostly oil painting brush packs and pastels. Some pencil brush packs.
In other news, the amazing Jess is home taking the Global Health Delivery Intensive program at Harvard’s school of public health, and then scoots back to Kenya where she is overseeing the drilling of a borehole to provide the Nanyuki community with fresh water, and to begin construction on The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic.
Katie is home from Spain for the summer. Her translation career is exploding and her newest, a gorgeous novel by Javier Serena about a fictionalized Roberto Bolaño–esque writer, just received a Publisher’s Weekly starred review. The book is LAST WORDS ON EARTH, coming in September from OPEN LETTER Books.
Sinead got married yesterday and I’m heartbroken we had to cancel our trip but the quarantine rules are still strict – 12 days in a state-mandated fleabag hotel. I won’t publish any photos because I’m sure she wants to be first. Follow her on Instagram: sineaddehora
I saw Andrew in Maine a few weeks ago and it was a wonderful visit.
Medicine Needs Memoir – Our first talk is open to the public and is – surprise – on Caitlin’s birthday. Saturday, July 31 at 5:30ET
Anyone can attend. Click here to sign up: Register
I’ve been getting a lot of wonderful notes from people and they come as instant messages, direct messages on all different platforms, and emails (I have way too many email addresses) – I’ve tried to respond to all but I fear I’ve missed some. My apologies if I have. Getting feedback means the world to me. I’m grateful for every word.
My writer friends and I laugh about the fact that the general public seems to think that once a book is published, it’s a bestseller. I can assure you this is not true. If you’ve been meaning to order LITTLE MATCHES or gift a copy to someone, please be my guest. This book can have a long life but we live in a noisy world and this book needs word-of-mouth. THANK YOU.
This morning, Nick and I were talking about the fact that some people seem to be afraid to read Little Matches when a friend sent me a message:
I hadn’t yet started LITTLE MATCHES because a friend’s son is dying of cancer, and I didn’t think I had the emotional capacity. Last night, however, your book seemed to be calling. I began reading and was hit with wave upon wave of warmth and light. I’m just getting started, but I wanted you to know what comfort LITTLE MATCHES provides.
I have been receiving a lot of messages, and some of them are by people who are surprised to find that Little Matches is comforting and inspiring. Please know that I didn’t write the book to share misery, but to share the beauty and mystery of living and loving.
I think I’ll post a few anonymous snippets of messages I’ve received. And below I will re-publish Caitlin’s wonderful Mother’s Day post of 2015. Her words are reminders that “everybody has some kind of pain, as well as some kind of good in their life, and that none of this is a contest.”
I am certain this book will continue to ignite people’s souls on so many levels as it has done mine. I think love is making yourself known. On that, you have shared yourself and, just as importantly, Caitlin with the world which, to me, is love. It is a selfless act to share all of these stories and many will be the better for reading your words. Caitlin not only was a deep thinker but zippy and full of sparkles!
Just finished Little Matches. Wow. Is it weird that I feel like I’m in an altered state after reading it? Maryanne has a remarkable ability to make me feel like I was somehow part of it all. It seemed so vivid, so familiar. The grief is so tangible, even though I didn’t know Caitlin. I’m still processing, but what’s coming through for me most right now is gratitude that I got to share in the beauty and wonder of Caitlin’s life.
I just finished your book. I follow your blog, but this put it so much more in perspective. Choose faith, today and always. Thank you for that reminder and for framing it not in a religious context, but one that we can all use every day.
Last night I was thinking how glad I am for this book because like – this huge thing happened, Caitlin, and I was a tiny piece of it but it changed my life and my whole outlook on life, and I can’t explain it to people, the bigness of it, of her. And the book just does it. You feel the bigness on every page.
I don’t normally write to authors, but felt compelled to share this story with you, after seeing you last night in conversation about your book. Thank you for sharing your story and your daughter with the world. My work with older people keeps my eye on the brevity of our living, even if we reach 100. I share your conviction and Caitlin’s, loving people and human connection is what matters most, that endures beyond all constructs of space and time. I hope you don’t mind that I shared this with you. Your story and writing are inspiring.
I wanted to write you and let you know I stayed up most of the night reading your gorgeous and heartbreaking and hopeful book, Little Matches. First of all, I wanted to thank you for writing such an amazing book. Your words are so beautiful —and so important. Thank you for sharing them with the world.
At some point when I was little, my mom and I started referring to one another as our “mostly companion.” It probably grew out of the time I was having surgery when I was 11, and was in the hospital a lot. We would get overly tired, stressed, and…really silly. We were absurdly often at our funniest when things were worst. I guess that is common for people in trying health situations, and it’s a nice silver lining. The other day, in the hospital while I tried to eat lunch, my mom put on quite a show of impressions and we were laughing so hard. The game was to do one small word, look or movement from a movie…not a whole line. Her imitation of Salieri yelling “MOZART!!!” from Amadeus was the best…she has an incredible man-voice that she harnesses from deep within. Oh my goodness, maybe you had to be there.
I don’t write much on the blog, but today is the day to do it. For those of you who know us well, I am so close to my mom that it sometimes terrifies me. Maybe it terrifies her too. I know how lucky I am to have a mom like her, and parents like mine, and our situation — my situation — has made our link stronger, and sometimes that’s scary. We both know that there will be a time, hopefully, strangely, where I am well again and we live apart like typical adult mother and daughter, and we will look back on this time with nostalgia. Right now we are suspended, and we do puzzles together and watch Mad Men and she gives me leg massages, and everything, good or bad, is heightened. Everything makes me cry these days, good things more often than bad — so there’s a lot of appreciating that goes on. But its also draining, exhausting. Living in the moment is a good adage, but like anything, there can be too much of it.
My mom is doing everything for me, she has uprooted herself. My dad is living alone in MA when he is not here, and I know its hard for him in a way I can’t imagine. Andrew is back and forth as well. Here since December though, non-stop, has been my mom. She cooks, does the laundry, listens to me, sits with me in the ER, in the hospital…she even feeds Henry homemade food that she makes herself. Here in Pittsburgh, where she knew no one, she has made friends and found interesting things to do, always finding something to be enthusiastic about. Even writing this now is making me want to be more like her, and I feel even more thankful just putting it into words.
She has somehow found time to write everyday, and has since July 1st, circling the date in red when she is done — she has remarkable follow-through with things. It has taken me over 2 months to gain 4 pounds, and I WOULD NOT have been able to do it without her. When you get evaluated for transplant, part of the evaluation is making sure you have a good support system, because it is so vital to how well you do. This might seem hard to grasp to a healthy person who thinks that ultimately, you can get through anything on your own if you really have to. I am telling you – haha – you can’t. You need people, and I wouldn’t be here without her.
I am also aware on a day like today how hard it must be for some people, who have to be painfully reminded each May that they don’t, for whatever reason, have that relationship. It reminds me again that everybody has some kind of pain, as well as some kind of good in their life, and that none of this is a contest. As hard as it is being sick and being here, my mostly companion and I are having some laughs. There’s probably a lot of people out there with great lungs, and no mummy. Everybody is just trying.
As it usually is when you love someone so much you can’t put it into words, everything I have written here feels inadequate. But most of you already know what a great mummy she is, I am just here to tell you …that she is even better than that, and that I love her so so so much.
I asked some of Caitlin’s friends if they would want to write up a little something that I could put on my website. Here, Kenley describes Caitlin as only a lifelong best friend from childhood can.
Someone recently asked me how I thought Caitlin might feel about Little Matchesbeing out in the world. I know how she would feel. Her face on a few thousand book covers? Her picture in a few million copies of People Magazine? The girl who wore short skirts to chapel would love all that, for sure. Even more, the soulful Caitlin would love the fact that I’m hearing from people who’ve “stayed up all night reading it” and who are feeling comforted and better about life because of it. It is my dearest wish that Little Matches will inspire readers to think deeply about life and purpose and what’s really important at the end of the day, and it seems it is doing just that.
Hundreds of new books flood this noisy world every Tuesday and Little Matches has been out for two weeks now. People Magazine is wonderful and I’m grateful for it, but a new issue will replace it any day. I REALLY need to spread the word about this book, so I’d be incredibly grateful if everyone who reads this post shared it with at least one other person who might benefit from reading Little Matches.
Events are still virtual and I’m happy to be able to do them, but it is strange to have no idea who is out there, and then to be sitting alone at my desk when they are done. Thanks to all who’ve tuned in so far, and let me know that they did. I will be talking with Jessica Keener at Belmont Books on Thursday night at 7pmET. Click right here to register and join us.
Here are the links to current articles – People mag, TIME mag, and LitHub
I’D LOVE TO SEND A SIGNED AND STAMPED BOOKPLATETO ANYONE WHO DONATES TO
THE CAITLIN O’HARA COMMUNITY HEALTH CLINIC
No donation is too small to help Jess build The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic in Kenya. She now has 501c3 status and has partnered with Build Health International to design the clinic. She has purchased land adjacent to the current community resource center, conducted topography reports and structural engineering assessments and will break ground this month. Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard have signed on as strategic partners.
As a thank-you,I would love to send a bookplate that is signed by me and stamped with Caitlin’s “kitten” signature to anyone who would like to make a donation to this incredibly worthy cause. (You can email me at maryanneharaAuthor@gmail.com)
Hello to every wonderful human who has been with me here since December, 2016.
Your support sustained me, and encouraged me to write LITTLE MATCHES. And now… it is here. It is my greatest wish that it will inspire every reader to think deeply about life, and purpose, and about what’s really important at the end of the day.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who will read it, gift it, and celebrate it. With this book, Caitlin gets all of her 9 lives. ❤️
And can I just say….? That Little Matches is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever held in my hands. Truly. The cover imagery glows and reflects light.
You are more than welcome to share this email, and news of LITTLE MATCHES, far and wide…. THANK YOU.
When you open your hardcover, you will see this beautiful montage.
After tomorrow night’s virtual Brookline Booksmith event, I will go to the store to sign and personalize books purchased through the event. In addition to my signature, I’ve had a stamp made of Caitlin’s tongue-in-cheek Kitten scribble signature.
I’m also planning to sign books at other local stores, and will be doing more local events at Belmont Books (MA), PRINT (Portland, ME), and Titcomb’s (Cape Cod). You can check my appearances calendar for more information. Events are being added all the time. Maryanne’s LITTLE MATCHES TALKS
VIRTUAL LAUNCH CELEBRATION– Wednesday, 7pmET
The virtual launch is tomorrow night. I do so hope that some of your faces will be out there, even if I can’t see them. As I mentioned in my last post, I would love it if attending guests would light a little candle in honor of Caitlin, their own loved ones, themselves–anyone who needs some honoring.
I will be in conversation with the brilliant and engaging Lily King.
TIME Magazine just published this essay I wrote about the value and beauty of legacy work — people’s stories.
I will be offering a few virtual legacy workshops at the end of May. Details will be available on my website.
“I want to reassure you I don’t take myself too seriously. I do take life seriously though, I’ll be honest … because it’s a seriously wild business.“
BREAKING NEWS FROM KENYA
JESS is delighted to announce that The Leo Project has partnered with Build Health International to design The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic. Below is the finalized rendering of the clinic which will be situated adjacent to the existing Resource Center. They have purchased additional land, conducted topography reports and structural engineering assessments and, later this month, they are slated to break ground. Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard have signed on as strategic partners.
Secondly, The Leo Project has achieved 501c3 status! They applied last May and finally received IRS approval. Tax-deductible donations can now be made directly to The Leo Project.