“It’s part of why the idea of souls makes sense to me. This place is just like a ropes course for souls. A learning center. It never changes and the collective body of humans can never sustain their progress too too much or else there is not enough to challenge the souls. Imagine all the people living life in peace ✌️ John Lennon – well that wouldn’t really work if you believe we need to be challenged to grow.” —Caitlin O’Hara
Over the course of writing my book these past two years, I asked the question that a lot of grieving people ask: “Does consciousness survive death?” It’s a question with no definitive answers, but what has really stood out to me is just how much research has been done by people of science.
One book that impressed me was “Surviving Death,” by investigative journalist Leslie Kean, a book that is dense with in-depth examinations of claims of various phenomena and includes 400 end-notes. Leslie also wrote the New York Times bestseller, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.” (Earlier this summer, you might have read that New York Times story about navy pilots and their observations of flying phenomena they could not identify. Leslie was one of the co-authors of the article.)
This past summer, I was working on final revisions of my book. One late night in June, I sent a little prayer into the universe before I closed my eyes. “Caitlin/ guides/ whoever” I said, “if you’re really out there, please send me a sign that I’m on the right path with this book.”
In the morning, I checked my email and this was the first thing I saw.
I didn’t remember signing up to receive notifications from Laura Lynne Jackson, and had never before received one, but I knew who she was–a certified, highly respected medium who is so in-demand that she closed her waiting list once it became years long.
I’d read Laura Lynne’s first book, an autobiography called “The Light Between Us,” and found it to be well-written, intelligent, enlightening, and comforting. Now she had a new book out called “Signs.”
I went down an internet rabbit hole that week, and saw that both Leslie and Laura were going to be part of a panel exploring the science of consciousness and the afterlife at the Omega Institute in upstate NY in September.
The panel piqued my interest. It would include two scientists I’d read about: Julie Beischel, Ph.D, and Mark Boccuzzi–a husband-and-wife team who run The Windbridge Research Center in Tucson.
When I eventually publish my Caitlin book and speak to its many themes, one topic I want to address is the current state of research in the field of after-death studies.
So I registered for the three-day Omega conference, which occurred over this past weekend.
Friday was a gorgeous late summer day and I really didn’t feel like leaving home. I’d recently been to some very disappointing events, and I really hoped this was going to be worth my time. As I drove west on the turnpike, I decided to talk to the universe again. “I really want this panel to be useful,” I said. “I want it to help me be able to spread some of the messages in my book. Spirit guides, Caitlin–if you’re really out there, please be in Rhinebeck with me.”
After a little while, I saw that a ten-wheeler up ahead of me had a big image of a bear on it. As I passed it, I saw that it was a logo for a company called Brown Bear Moving Company, which I’d never heard of.
Huh, I thought. I’d once been told my spirit animal was a brown bear and even though I have no idea if spirit animals really exist, the idea of the bear always felt right. Caitlin had even needle-felted me a little brown bear in 2014, who sits, always, on my desk. I am looking at him as I write. He’s my little mascot.
About an hour later, I pulled into a rest stop out in western Mass. When I came outside, I stopped short. The truck was parked, long-ways, right in front of my eyes.
Okay… Maybe it was a sign, a good one.
When I arrived at Omega, I parked my little car which I call my snazzmobile, and which looked ridiculously snazzy in that rustic environment. I also had an embarrassing amount of luggage for two nights (But it was supposed to rain on Saturday! And my cabin was in the woods and would probably get cold at night! And I am currently taking a class and might have needed my computer and books! And I’d read that their linens left a lot to be desired so I’d hauled my own!)
I checked in and made my way to my little cabin, past smiling, relaxed, natural-looking folk. A young woman with flowers in her hair and around her neck. A man on a porch playing a guitar and singing.
I felt out of place and texted a friend. “I don’t fit in anywhere,” I wrote.
She wrote back: “You don’t have to!”
So simple, but revelatory. I don’t have to fit into any neat slot. I never have.
✨ The Panel
The panel met over three days and was as informative and well-run as I’d hoped it would be. Not one moment dragged. The Windbridge people talked about the challenges of working as scientists in a field that lacks regulation and about their efforts to run lab studies with repeatable results, to publish in peer-reviewed journals. They emphasized that their aim is to “reach the people who would approach through an intellectual door.”
They spoke of the complications of proving theories of consciousness–materialist, brain-focused versus non-local theories. They reviewed evidence for survival of consciousness obtained from remote viewing research. They pointed out that part of the problem of testing, which their experiments must account for, is the existence of psi capabilities (as in perhaps a medium is telepathically obtaining information from a living person or other source as opposed to from a discarnate).
What was clear is that many many people have experienced unexplainable phenomenons. “There is a whole suppressed world out there,” Dr. Beischel pointed out. “People with experiences they feel they can’t talk about.”
Leslie Kean spoke in detail about children with provable memories of former lives (which the University of Virginia has been studying for decades), after-death communication experiences, and mediumship readings.
Julie and Mark described how they developed a protocol to test mediums through a five-fold blind process.
And Laura Lynne Jackson was there. It was clear that since her newest book hit the New York Times bestseller list this summer, a lot of people were there for her. She explained that she rarely does group (gallery) readings, and only does three private readings a week, because for her, doing a reading is like taking the LSAT and running a 5K on the same day. Mark pointed out that she would not be giving any private readings but at the end of the session on Saturday, she would do a gallery reading for one hour, and on Sunday would lead a guided meditation for all.
As far as mediums go, since Caitlin’s passing, in addition to the signs that come to me nearly every single day, to the point of comedy, I’ve had a couple of experiences with mediums that were powerful and remarkable (Karissa Eve D. & Sirry Berndsen). I also happen to have someone in my own family, Caitlin’s Irish cousin Sinead, who has clairsentient abilities and has exhibited them since she was a child. I am fortunate to be able to know, for sure, that such people exist, even if I can’t explain it.
I have also come to believe that, like all things human, some mediums are really really good at what they do. Others wish they were so good. And some don’t even try. They cheat. No question, there are frauds out there. There are people on YouTube who will gleefully explain how they have duped people. A recent New York Times article examined a teams of professional skeptics who debunk the fake psychics and mediums they call “grief vampires.”
But to date, two institutions in the United States have laid out protocols for blind-testing people who identify as psychic mediums: Windbridge and an organization called Forever Family, a non-profit organization “whose aim is to further the understanding of Afterlife Science through research and education while providing support and healing for people in grief.” From the Windbridge site:
Laura Lynne Jackson is one of the few mediums on those lists. In fact, she’s on both lists. She has donated a lot of time to grieving families via the Forever Family Foundation.
My gut sense told me that Caitlin would never come through a group, gallery-style reading, for two reasons. 1) Caitlin was essentially pretty private 2) She would be all about letting someone who might be more in need get one.
Plus there were 80 people there and they all wanted a reading.
But as the weekend progressed, even though I knew it was unlikely that I would get a reading, I increasingly really wanted one. On Saturday it was raining and as I looked out at the leaves, dripping with dismal rain, I thought, Caitlin, you need to come through and validate this book for me. Just this once. After all, I’m grieving as much as anyone.
Saturday, 4pm, arrived. Time for the gallery reading. Laura Lynne began to speak. She is intelligent and very well-spoken, a former longtime high school English teacher who is comfortable and in control in front of a group, emitting an energy that is focused and warm at once.
First she spent about 15 minutes describing how she worked–explaining that she has no control over who comes through and that when she’s pulled in one direction, it’s not a mistake, it’s not meant for someone on the other side of the room. She emphasized that if a person didn’t get a reading, it didn’t mean that his people didn’t love him, or weren’t there. She said we are all capable of communicating on our own, if we are open to it—she was adamant about that, and explained that she would share some techniques to do so the next day.
Finally she began, and did a very good reading for one attendee, which took about 15 minutes. Then she went to the very back of the room and spent another 15 minutes doing another powerful reading. Both were obviously very healing for the people involved.
It was now twenty minutes to the hour’s end and the idea of me getting a reading was now really a long shot.
But I did.
She turned and walked down the center aisle, her arms outstretched, hands clasped, fingers pointing in my direction. She said it was someone’s child, female, she was being shown a crab, that might mean Maryland? I shrugged. It might have been me, it might have been the woman behind me who had also tentatively raised a hand. Then she said, “SpongeBob?” and I started to laugh. SpongeBob was a very big long-time joke between Caitlin and me, ever since we saw Bob l’eponge movie posters all over Paris in 2004.
Laura says she “sees” on screens inside her mind and although she was looking at me, her eyes were focused inward. Then she came around and stood in front of me.
We weren’t allowed to tape the gallery hour, for obvious privacy reasons, but two very kind strangers took notes for me during my reading.What they and others remarked on, later, was how Laura’s manner transformed, and in an astonishing way.
“Did that seem like your daughter?” one woman asked. “Because her whole manner changed!”
“I felt like I saw your daughter, like now I know what she was like, how wonderful she was,” another woman said.
Laura did seem to embody Caitlin. The feisty, funny, “okay, I’m here to take charge” Caitlin. In fact, as Laura relayed information to me, she used the same mannerisms and way of speaking that the other medium, Karissa, uses when “Caitlin comes through.”
✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨
✨ The Reading
Here are a few of the things Laura Lynne said:
She’s very very intelligent. Very high level. Classy. Impeccable manners. Very high level. And this is not bragging.
She has a deep appreciation for art.
She speaks 3 languages.
There’s someone with her… very old. A family member. An LN name? (I say that Caitlin’s grandmother Ellen, nicknamed Eileen, just passed in August.)
You’re brave. She’s watching you. You are challenging yourself to be open. You’re opening your heart and mind but you’re a critical thinker. You’re analyzing all this–she knows this medium thing is out of your realm.
She would not normally come through in a group like this. And she’s saying she does not need Laura to come through to you. She’s doing Laura a favor by coming through. (Laura laughs.) You can do this yourself yourself, you know. You’re a medium.
This will all be known. You will write about it. You’re here to get her message out.
You have a plan. Something will come from this. Something you’re working on.
You will be interviewed on TV. There’s more to come with this.
She’s interested in poetry, literature.
She has 2 degrees? (She had plans to study for a master’s, I say.)
Well she’s done it on the other side. We all have jobs on the other side.
She’s thanking you for taking care of her. She had an illness. A progression. Does this make sense?
I love you. This is not goodbye. Your soul taught her soul a lesson. (Laura’s eyes well up at this point, and she says she does not usually cry.) She did suffer at the end and you might ask why did she have to suffer? But at the end, she let go of her pain. There was beauty at the end. You taught her a lesson of unconditional love. And that took so much strength.
Okay, she’s saying she’s done now, and there’s someone she wants to thank.. a J name. And again, she is saying I’m lucky she came through.
At this point, Laura sort of strutted toward the podium. “And now she’s doing a mic drop.”
Laura mimicked the mic drop and everyone laughed.
✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨✨ ✨ ✨
A funny thing is, I have an emoji Caitlin made of herself doing a mic drop. I even used it on this blog once.
That was really good. Felt good. It was now five o’clock and as I walked back to my cabin, talking to another woman, we encountered a groundhog. Right by our cabins. Not even budging when we got close. I started to laugh. “Groundhogs are very significant in our family,” I said. “I’ve never been so close to one. This must be a sign?”
The groundhog stayed right there, at our feet.
Later, I ran into Laura at the bookstore. I didn’t want to be one of those people who crowds her but I did say, in passing, “Thank you again, that was great.”
She said, “Can I give you a hug?” She hugged me and said, “Your daughter’s on a mission. She’s got big energy.”
That’s what I keep hearing.
Certification takes resources that are in short supply, and neither organization is currently testing mediums, so although not being certified does not mean that a medium is not legit, do your research if you book a reading somewhere.
I also recommend not using your real name and keeping the reading as blind as possible. That way, you’ll allay your doubts or skepticism.
Also, Skyping and phone calls work as well, and often better, than real life. Laura Lynne says that she prefers to do readings on the phone with her eyes closed.
✨ Old emails from Caitlin:
8/13/2014 – Subject: Definitely worth the money
11/19/2014 – Subject: All I want for Christmas is this
When I was pregnant and my baby was due mid-summer, I wanted a July baby. July seemed to be a vibrant month: warm, lush, expectant! August seemed so enervating–I associated it with long, bored days of childhood, when all I seemed to do was lie about on stiff, dried-out grass, listening to the drone of insects and distant lawnmowers.
I spent every minute of July 30 in labor and when Caitlin was born an hour after midnight, I sang that old ditty to myself: “30 days hath September, June, July and November,” and thought, “Darn. August 1.”
It wasn’t until well into the afternoon, when a hospital administrator brought in the birth certificate, that I realized we were still inside of July and that I had my song and calendar all wrong.
I was delighted. It was like being given a gift. The gift of an extra day.
Forever after, for me, the days around July 31st swam together and became Caitlin’s birthday days.
This year, I spent much of the 30th organizing bookshelves and found a little gift inside a book from long ago.
Yesterday, I felt pushed to write a post but I also felt too lethargic and sad and also happy to receive so many messages that made me smile. The birthday memories, at least, are all happy as opposed to that other anniversary which I will dread for the rest of my life.
Today seemed like the best day to do a post. So here I am.
As for updates,
I know I said I finished the book months ago, and I did, but “finished” means I finished writing it, not revising and perfecting, which is quite necessary and something I’ve been doing all spring and summer. I am now getting to the end of the entire process, nearly two years after I made the decision to start.
I’m eager for you all to read it and hope you will find it engaging and uplifting.
Also, Nick and I want to thank everyone who came to the event we hosted on July 10 for Mallory Smith’s SALT IN MY SOUL: AN UNFINISHED LIFE.
Mallory’s mother, Diane Shader Smith, spoke with her trademark quiet intensity and passion about Mallory’s bright, positive spirit, and about her enduring legacy. Diane and her husband Mark say thank you to all who attended.
We sold out of the 120 books that Dick Haley, our Boston bookseller brought, and could have easily sold more.
Since the event, so many people have reached out to me to say how stunned they are by Mallory’s writing, and by the power of of her hard, beautiful story. It also provides insight, they say, into what life was like for us. I can attest to that..
Jess spoke too, about the progress she’s made with The Leo Project in Honor of Caitlin O’Hara, which the Smiths generously designated as the benefactor of their generosity that night.
Then it was on to the Vineyard…
On July 17, artist Kara Taylor and actress Amy Brenneman hosted a fundraiser for The Leo Project at Kara’s art gallery. It was a night of art and African drums and overwhelming island generosity.
Jess’s talks are emotional and inspiring. She makes it clear that her project is not just about her, or Caitlin, or even Africa. The Leo Project is more universal than that. It is about love and life and friendship and finding what speaks to your soul and pursuing it. It is about honoring a beloved friend, and about bettering the life of even one person, if you can. The Leo Project is about every participant becoming a more purposeful human.
Thanks to all who honor Caitlin during her birthday days — with kindness, humor, generosity, wisdom, tolerance, empathy. ❤️
“I have always believed in goodness and I know a lot of people say that, but it does feel undeniably essential, and I don’t question it.” –Caitlin, July 31, 1983
The New York Times just published an article about experimental phage therapy and Mallory Smith’s SALT IN MY SOUL. It is bittersweet, indeed, to know that phage therapy, administered early enough, might have done so much to prevent Mallory and Caitlin and and others from even needing transplants, but other people are already benefiting from the Smith family’s ideas and persistence. In a small world coincidence, the NY Times author is an old grad school colleague of mine. She’s a terrific writer with a new memoir out and it’s quite the story: DUPED: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married.
We are hosting a “Live Happy” book event for SALT IN MY SOUL on Wednesday, July 10 at 6:30 pm, for one hour, in Framingham. Mallory’s mother, Diane Shader Smith, will share some of Mallory’s insights for “living happy” regardless of circumstance. In a generous act, the Smiths will donate the profits from the evening’s book sales to The Leo Project in Honor of Caitlin O’Hara. I’ve attempted to invite everyone I think might want to come, but if I’ve missed you, click on the link and register or message me for details.
Construction of the resource center that will house The Leo Project is nearly done. Roof-raising is happening right this minute. Jess returns to Kenya in a couple of weeks to start work on the interior.
Here are two official Boston Marathon photos of Jess and Andrew, capturing Jess as she bounded into the race to run the last mile and a half with Andrew, and then both of them crossing the Finish Line. Andrew raised $13,492 for the Leo Project. Thank you to all you caring and generous souls who made that happen. ❤
And here’s a cute picture of Caitlin and Henry (and James Joyce) because….why not? 😀
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Today, Nick and I are on our way to………Pittsburgh. Yes.
But first, yesterday.
Yesterday, Jess, Nick and I had grandstand viewing passes at the Boston Marathon Finish Line. We cheered the finishers along with a mother and her two adult daughters–BAA volunteers–who fell in love with Jess. When Jess said she wanted to try to run the last mile with Andrew, whose progress we were tracking, they wished her luck.
A mile from the finish line, Jess somehow managed to talk the policemen into letting her through the security barrier and she burst onto the course as Andrew approached. BAA course pictures show her exuberance, and they were both all smiles as Andrew crossed the finish line.
That was Andrew’s first marathon and he completed it in great time despite a recurring quad problem that hit him around mile 18 and which he needed to pop in and out of med tents to treat.
Wonderful and emotional.
It’s been an emotional few days.
This past Thursday, Mallory Smith’s mother Diane spoke at Grand Rounds at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her slideshow presentation on Mallory’s posthumous memoir, Salt in My Soul, An Unfinished Life, was brilliant and highlighted many of Mallory’s key insights about how medical professionals might improve patient care.
After age 18, Caitlin was always hospitalized at the Brigham. Before she became sick enough to need a transplant, I volunteered once a week there. I know that hospital very well and as I walked into the main lobby, it truly felt like I had JUST BEEN THERE.
Yet 5 years had passed. How? How does time mess with your head so much? It’s been 5 years since Caitlin was actively listed for transplant and that fact makes my head spin.
Life disappeared right in front of our eyes.
I felt quite fragile and so visited the little chapel for a bit, then walked down to the amphitheater for the talk. Nick and Jess had not yet arrived. In came Ahmet Uluer, Caitlin’s beloved and longtime Boston CF doctor. It was hard but good to see him.
Here we all are in the audience. Ahmet is talking to Diane, Nick behind him. Jess. Me.
Diane left Boston for Pittsburgh, for more speaking sessions. She is still there, and tonight our friends Mary and Ralph will host an event for Mallory’s book.
At first we didn’t think we would go. I, especially, wasn’t sure I was ready to be in that place again. But Mary reminded us of all the good that still remains in that city for us. She reminded us that so many people care about us. Jim Stanley, the driver who recorded The Sound of Silence for us, will pick us up.
So. We are off to see what awaits us. And Nick and I will be hosting an event ourselves for Mallory’s book, on July 10, and many of you will be there and this is how life goes on.
For those who love the little signs ♥💛
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I haven’t seen the new movie, “Five Feet Apart,” about two teenagers with CF, but I hear that it “gets it right” and I’m excited about that. A while ago, I’d said I would start posting more of Caitlin’s own words here. I got too busy writing my book to focus on it, but with CF “in the air,” now seems a good time.
1. Part of a draft for a talk she gave to Vertex Pharaceuticals employees in 2012, about what life was like for her, even when she looked “normal.”
By winter and spring of 2011 I had settled into a pattern of avoidance, which is the first real indicator that quality of life is suffering. I avoided any situation that would involve me walking any distances, especially with people other than my parents, 1 or 2 close friends, or my boyfriend. My boyfriend would carry me up stairs or hills when we would go places — he was really the only one I would “go for walks” with, which was still not very fun. I still drank alcohol and socialized, but only in situations where I could drive or take a cab directly to the place, and leave in the same way. I would dread being put in a situation where suddenly everyone I was with would want to change venues. I specifically would not choose plans where the venues of the evening were near each other, because that always meant that we would have to walk. I preferred if they were far away, so there would be an excuse to take a cab, or drive. Walking on the beach was awful last summer — just a slightly sloping path to the beach — because sand makes walking doubly difficult.
I remember one moment last March, in particular, that I have thought of often during these past 6 months. I had houseguests— two friends, a couple —staying with me. We were supposed to meet her friends at a bar and at the last minute those girls changed it to a place that is very literally right down the street from my apartment. You can see it from my window. My houseguests were from out of town and didn’t know how close it was. It was cold and snowy, so I used that plus the excuse, “It’s close but not THAT close” (it was), and the fact that I was wearing heels, to take a cab. I mean it was literally 2 blocks on flat terrain. My two friends couldn’t have been nicer, but even I couldn’t bear to flat-out admit the real reason. It always seemed like, well if i feel THAT sick, why am I even going out, socializing? Why am I not in the hospital, or sitting in Pittsburgh waiting for new lungs? It was sooo not that simple. And once I was somewhere, standing still and talking, I appeared to be completely normal. Even so, we took the cab 2 blocks, and it was absurd to everyone, how close it was. They couldn’t have been nicer, but I was embarrassed and so frustrated. Moments like this happened a lot, but this was the one that stood out. Whereas for years I might get short of breath from an exerting walk, but could just deal with it, I felt like there was no way in the world I could have walked those 2 blocks, even if my life depended on it.
2. She was a lover of art history who had a real affinity for Frida Kahlo. (I wish she could see the current exhibit in Brooklyn.) This is part of an essay she wrote for a site called Literary Traveler:
In Mexican villages there is a long religious tradition, stretching back to the 18th century, of small, naively painted oils, or “retablo” paintings. These works were often painted by amateurs, and offered up to God during times of grave, often medical, misfortune; during times of desperation. Retablo paintings, which were also called Ex-voto paintings (from the Latin ex voto suscepto, meaning “from the vow made”), were fervently prayed to several times a day. Their purpose was two-fold. These little symbolic works of art were meant not just as a symbolic offering, given up to the heavens in exchange for saintly aid, but also as a testimonial for future worshipers and sufferers. The depiction of the victim’s plight was not sugar coated–there was no hiding behind a glowing cherub, no reaching for the chiseled hand of God. In retablo, tiny figures went up in flames, or lay dying, stretched out on bare bed frames with their insides painted black and green. The message was clear and raw and poignantly human- ‘this is the terror we are living, so please, please PLEASE–help.’
One modern artist would, in her short life, come to know gritty physical suffering better than most — Frida Kahlo. Non-religious, highly emotional and unapologetically female, Kahlo was on a trolley at age 18, in the year 1925, when it veered off track, collided with a bus and nearly severed Kahlo in half. A handlebar from the trolley went straight through her torso; her pelvis was crushed. Her convalescence following the accident gave way to her first works, painted in bed, often with a mirror propped up next to her, examining the physical burden her young body had become. Suffering was a constant now, and would always would be. From this moment forward she would develop artistically and personally to revolutionize Mexican painting, and along her path bring the Christian retablo style straight out into the world it was perhaps always meant to live in — the secular world of the human condition.
3. On Music
Music – I love lots. I love, like any good Bostonian, good old classic rock, Led Zeppelin, CSNY etc., … Janis, anyone at Woodstock. But I also am a sucker for the folksy 70’s stuff, singer/songwriter stuff – Carole King, Judy Collins, Simon and Garfunkel, America, Fleetwood Mac (huge favorite) and my all time favorite (me and a zillion other girls..but it’s because she’s so great)…Joni Mitchell. A lot of times it’s a specific song here and there, and then some artists (like Joni) whom I love everything belonging to.
I also have a spot in my heart for 80’s music and certain albums that my Mom played — definitely a generation thing — Genesis and Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steely Dan, George Michael, Bruce, the Cars, Dire Straits, the Police.
and I love the Grateful Dead.
and I love soul and Motown, Al Green, jazz and Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
and Pink Floyd of course.
and Queen. Freddie Mercury. My goodness, I love him.
the Velvet Underground
4. A late-night reaction, to me in an email, about some “law of attraction” people she’d read about.
Here is what I see. The issue here is not that they are ‘wrong’ – I think yes, there is something to the ‘law of attraction.’ Or whatever silly human name they tried to give it. It’s the same thing I feel when I get parking spots. But there is so much more to life than even this end result that these people are preaching.
What all of this stuff leaves out, laws of attraction and allowance and whatever other crap they are talking about, is the human stuff that is so great and painful and makes life exactly what it seems to be: one giant learning experience. I’m not sure there even is an end to the learning experience, how could there be when we are still human? I am not sure there is any kind of answer we can grasp. Being sure would negate the whole thing anyway. We are just here, and we don’t know why.
It reminds me of a funny nagging problem I’ve always had with Buddhism. Although I respect the peace that Buddhism teaches, and I like that there is a major religion out there that promotes what it does, I’ver always been weirdly conscious of this DILEMMA with reaching Nirvana…in some way escaping all of these things to reach this higher level of clarity where you exist above it all. Why escape what we are here to experience? I don’t know enough about Buddhism to really critique it, but I know some. And it’s funny because part of the entire way that I operate is based on placing myself outside of what is “important” in life, but somehow at the same time, it’s not in line with a Buddhist type of thought, because I am completely enmeshed and in love with the bolts of raw feeling and pain and emotion and hurt and silliness that this life gives you. I know that I don’t want Nirvana now, or heaven, or whatever other plane it is. I am happy to just know it’s there, and trust that I will like it, when it comes.
What bothers me is that this slight understanding that these wackos have stumbled upon (I think they got it at some point…and then their scary brains took over)….unfortunately their human brains have turned it into something that is the opposite of itself. It’s a teaching that now breeds the same stuff that they were trying to overcome: disagreement, misunderstanding….everything they probably think they are trying to avoid.
Just let it be. And there it is…the idea of letting it be….we don’t have control over what our life sums up to be.
They say life flashes before your eyes before you die…I think you can make life flash before your eyes, I think it happens everyday and people just don’t notice it enough.
When I think about my life I picture certain moments, moments that were not burned in my memory or made important because of anything I did. They exist in my memory for reasons I have no idea about. And I wouldn’t trade those for all the attraction and allowance and Nirvana in the entire world.
Daddy always talked about having goals and writing them down. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it was never my thing. I realized that something I did without trying was that I always looked back on each year and could pick out one thing I’d learned. And I can trace that back to Daddy too, and you. Being able to self-reflect and change yourself…what a cool quality. And so neat to see it actually happen, when you can feel yourself change based on what you, and only you, learned. Best thing I have learned this year is the power of just waiting, sitting back, and not saying anything, and holding your tongue and seeing—NOT only what kind of knowledge will change inside of you, but what you might make other people think about, if they are just given the chance to mull without being told what to think.
Anyway, on that note, I am going to wait until the morning to actually hit send.
love you xo.
And then I tried to go to bed but couldn’t, and this is what I wrote in a notepad document. Life flashes before your eyes constantly, certain things make up your memory and you dont even realize it. —
POP UPS — Things I think about all the time and don’t even realize. Pop ups.
- Willy turning me upside down on the porch, the black thing next to our door.
- 9 east – specific flashes. Sharing room with anorexic girl. IV pole when I was younger, walking through the darker 9 west, 9 north halls.
- The bookshelves in our living room.
- Made-up image in my mind of you meeting Daddy, it’s very clear.
- White metal chair in the yard. Small kid’s chair ?
- Hospital, 9 east, walking in the garden with the chest tubes, hot air.
- Walking muffin /dogs hot summer, Mashpee Commons. Afraid of tornados, sleeping in Mashpee, the smell of the house. VO5 shampoo and conditioner and bath beads. Smell of the comforters, pull out bed.
- Being in 7/11 with Kenley and Jacqui, hot air.
- Listening to Whiter Shade of Pale with Lindsay DiBiase in a room at Fay.
- Drinking from the cold water bubbler upstairs by Scollay Square.
- Walking into the dining hall at SM wearing tight black skirt and tight pink bebe tank top.
- Coming home from Brooks game and so cold and eating pasta with meatballs and currants. I coughed up blood on the field at that Brooks game and I was scared.
- Fighting with Mike P at a restaurant on Route 1 while women put up horrible Christmas decorations and we were the only ones there, sick feeling.
- Listening to Touch of Grey over and over again while I walked to the gym freshman year in college, F street corner.
- Walking home on a cold snowy morning, 6am, caring about nothing but the quiet and myself for a moment, turning corner onto F street.
- Walking down the street in Venice with you looking for a drugstore, looking at a turnstyle of postcards of cats, hot air and headiness.
- Turning the corner on 17th street by the Corcoran.
- The feel of my feet against the old tile in the old shower in my bathroom, the dark tile.
I’ve felt alive, and sick, and miserable, and happy, and sure, and doubtful many times in my life that maybe I thought would be more meaningful than these simple, plain, silly moments. But these are the ones that stuck, and make my life.
Of the moments and people that mean something to you I think there is always a time beyond the obvious, beyond the “main event,” that meant more to you than anything else, and it’s usually simple and small and totally random, a snippet you have no control over.
So you tell me how on earth, (no pun intended) are we supposed to expect to attract and allow, and CONTROL what this life gives us? And why would we want to?
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Update needed, as Caitlin used to say.
♥ Story 1, JESS:
Nick and I are on St. John. The night before we left, we had dinner with the incredible Jess in Boston. She had been cleared by her oncology team to go to Kenya for two weeks.
Once in Nanyuki, she was able to finally lay eyes on what she has brought into being: The Leo Project in Honor of Caitlin O’Hara.
This resource center for children, which is her promised tribute to Caitlin, is now a reality. Construction began in January and the walls rise daily.
Last July, when she announced Phase 1 of her project, with a goal of raising $200,000 to buy land and construct the center, I asked, “What happens if you don’t raise all the money?”
She smiled at me in her calm, steady way. “But that won’t happen,” she said.
It didn’t. Phase 1 fundraising is now complete. Construction will be complete by May. Fundraising is now into Phase 2: a $40,000 goal for set-up costs that include a perimeter fence for security, computers, supplies for pilot programs, furniture, a sustainable garden, and initial staff salaries.
Jess on-site with Mungai, her general contractor
Fred the foreman and one of his cheerful workers
♥ Story 2, ANDREW:
Last Friday, Andrew texted me a photo and asked, “Is this still standing?” The photo was of a mini-mart on the other side of the island. At first, I didn’t realize Caitlin was in the picture. Then I picked out her fierce little presence, and realized that it also happened to be International Women’s Day.
Love. Steel reserves. We have everything.
Andrew has never run a marathon but he’s been training all winter. On April 15, he will run the Boston Marathon in honor of Caitlin. John Hancock provided Jess with a number for the Leo Project; Andrew will be their official entrant. Every dollar he raises will go to the Leo Project, but he has to commit to raising $10,000 in exchange for the official number. Please read his story and support him: Andrew’s Boston Marathon for Caitlin & the Leo Project
♥ Story 3, MALLORY & DIANE:
I’ve written before about the incredible Mallory Smith, who followed in Caitlin’s footsteps, relocating to Pittsburgh (from LA) for a lung transplant. Mallory was empathic and bright, a straight-A Stanford grad, avid surfer, passionate writer. She got her transplant in September of 2017 and celebrated her 25th birthday that October. A month after that, she succumbed to a raging infection.
Mallory became another cystic fibrosis tragedy, but today, March 12, we are celebrating her beautiful soul with the publication, by Penguin Random House, of her posthumous memoir, Salt in My Soul, An Unfinished Life. It is on sale everywhere and I urge you to run to your favorite independent bookstore and buy a copy.
From the LA Times review:
The day of Mallory’s memorial, Diane opened up the electronic journal that Mallory had kept secret for 10 years. It was 2,500 pages long. Mallory wanted it edited and published, and she trusted only her mother to read it raw.
“I spent two to three hours a day holed up in my room laughing and crying while I read it,” Diane said. “My husband needed to see a grief counselor after six months, but this was my grieving process.”
Very quickly, Diane, a veteran publicist, understood she had a book on her hands, one that could inspire people facing impossible situations, that could help medical professionals better understand and deal with their patients, and raise money for cystic fibrosis research.
She found an editor and then a publisher, who gave her a healthy six-figure advance, none of which she will keep.
She already has more than 60 talks planned around the country to promote the book — at hospitals, universities, law schools, medical schools, high schools, tech companies and the New York Public Library.
Nick and I will be hosting a celebratory hour for SALT IN MY SOUL on July 11 at Framingham Country Club at 6:30 in the evening, and we will welcome everyone who wishes to attend. Diane will be talking about Mallory, and Jess will be on hand to show us photos from Kenya, as the Smiths are generously donating all book sale proceeds to the Leo Project.
♥ 4, St. John:
So here we are, Nick and I, back on St. John, the place our family loved best. As I’ve previously written, “boat day” was always the highlight of our vacations here. On boat day, we would go out with a captain and visit a few of the British Virgin Islands. We’d enjoy the wind and water, do a little snorkeling. Pop into a couple of the various beach bars for conch fritters and painkillers.
On Sunday, the two of us did boat day with Captain Cleve, a St. John native who is an all-around wonderful person and great captain. In the morning, he texted Nick to say that he’d decided to use the bigger and newer of his two boats for our trip.
We boarded at 8:30, went through customs on Tortola, then headed up to Norman Island, which we hadn’t visited since 2013 with Caitlin and Andrew.
It was beautiful, but as we plowed through the waves, I was wondering if I even wanted to do this anymore. There are memories in all of these islands, and those memories are bittersweet.
I looked at the empty spot beside me, where Caitlin would have been sitting, and wondered, Are you really with us?
At Norman Island, we moored and jumped into the water. At hull level, we noticed Cleve’s lively logo then saw the “33”– a number which has become Caitlin’s “signature” “sign” to us.
Seeing that 33 delighted us. It felt like a little hello from Caitlin and we spent the rest of the afternoon feeling upbeat.
At the end of the trip, back on St. John, we were docked at the fueling station when the peace was suddenly broken by someone’s super loud ringtone playing that old Meow Mix jingle. Meow meow meow meow 🎶 meow meow meow meow 🎶 meow meow meow meow, MEOW meow meow meow..
I mean, super loud.
We whipped our heads around to see where it was coming from. On the boat behind us, the embarrassed captain was laughing apologetically and scrambling to answer/quiet his phone.
Nick said, “Look at the name of the boat.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Well, this is a tough day, no question, but I have to mark it with a post.
Last week, I finally made time to visit the medical museum run by Mass General Hospital. I wanted to get a close-up view of the first heart-lung machine, which I’d been seeing through the window whenever I passed by. I wanted a stark reminder that modern medicine is still pretty new, that it is still—compared to the wonder that is the human body itself—quite primitive. I wanted to feel lucky to have had Caitlin for as long as we did.
The heart-lung machine was gone, swapped out to make way for other exhibits. But I found myself transfixed by something suspended and otherworldly: a protein scaffold of a human heart, the possible future of organ transplantation.
“This image from the Ott Laboratory for Organ Engineering and Regeneration at MGH shows a human heart in the process of decellularization––the cells are removed, leaving behind a protein scaffold. This experimental process may be an alternative to traditional organ transplantation in the future. By using the donor organ’s scaffold and seeding it with the recipient’s own cells, the new organ could overcome the risk of the recipient’s immune system rejecting a transplant.”
A miracle, a dream. Science offering so much hope and yet deepening the mystery. Yes, the mechanical function of the heart can be reproduced and genetic manipulation is advancing, but what of consciousness, emotion? The seat of the soul? Where is all that? The source of the pain of grief.
Two years. Impossible.
I have not written here since July because I have been obsessively writing the book. My goal was to ‘finish’ by today and I’ve done that. I even had the pages printed and bound last week, so I could edit with fresh eyes. Here it is, sitting on Caitlin’s desk in her apartment. The photograph on my computer is from Christmas Day a few years back.
It will be important for me to get this book of my heart out into the world. I haven’t yet figured out how to describe it––the word memoir is too vague and ineffectual. I need to come up with a descriptive sentence or two that will convey all that I hope the book will deliver to readers.
Yesterday, my friend Diane wrote and said she was finally making a print of her favorite photo of Caitlin. Andrew took it one day in Frick Park in Pittsburgh. Caitlin told me, “We must look insane out there on the trails, the wheelchair bouncing all over the place, but it’s fun.”
Diane: Mare she was such a BAD ASS!!!
I loved that about her.
That’s what the picture depicts for me. All that she was inside.
Strapped to oxygen,
Hiking out in the woods,
resting in a place that in another life
she could have built or resided in,
smiling, living in the moment with grace and humility all the while being a BAD ASS❤️
“I’m baaaad Kitten,” she liked to say, with a bit of a cackle.
I’ve been looking through old texts and the uplifting thing about them is that as I read them, I am ‘in the moment’ again and she feels very present.
Caitlin: i am try try trying not to listen to Xmas music on the radio
but my persistent Christmas spirit is just bursting!
and i feel like if i keep it locked in any longer i am going to have a mental attack, cover myself in lights, and dance around the streets
thanks for the hat and gloves
go ahead and listen
what hat and gloves
Caitlin: the ones you are going to buy me at j crew in about an hour
Maryanne: haha. okay merry christmas
Maryanne: happy balls are here
Maryanne: i bought some wasik’s chutney spread and some cheese for christmas
Caitlin: oh i wish I’d known you went there
Caitlin: this is not good – i am being overly flattered. right now (X) and (Y) are both gchatting me telling me how beautiful i am
Maryanne: what would you have liked at wasiks
Caitlin: (X) texted me last night “looking at your fb pics. you are beautiful”
Caitlin: and now he’s going on again
Caitlin: umm, CHEESE
Caitlin: pate pate pate
Maryanne: I can go back.
Maryanne: oh this pup ! is so cute. he’s on my lap looking up at me.
Maryanne: oh i have to go make the cookies……aaaah i wish someone was here to talk to me
Caitlin: i wish i was there talking to you and making cookies
Maryanne: i wish you were home.
These past 24 months have been tough, but Caitlin was tougher and she’s our example. She gets us through. Nick is busy with new projects. Andrew is teaching in Maine. Katie and Alvaro have moved to Spain for a couple of years. Sinead has moved back to Ireland, but continues to practice in London, part-time. Jess continues to raise construction funds for the Leo Project in honor of Caitlin and has raised enough to break ground on the land she purchased in Kenya! Thank you so much to everyone who has donated.🙏🏽
In case you missed Jess’s announcement: “In December of 2016, Caitlin O’Hara died. She was thirty-three years old and my best friend. When I spoke at her funeraI, I promised that I would do something extraordinary. I promised that I would make her proud and I promised to keep her light and her spirit alive. Because of my own health situation, it took time to put everything together but – despite delay – I am proud to introduce The Leo Project in honor of Caitlin E. O’Hara.”
She is in Mexico for Christmas and writes, “Today, I’m going to go from Spanish colonial church to church and light candles for my buddy.”
Nick and I are going to go see Bohemian Rhapsody. ❤️Freddie❤️ These are the days of our lives.
I will end with a letter Caitlin wrote to her friend Renu, someone who had a successful transplant but certainly went through her own hell beforehand. I posted this once before, but such wisdom can always bear repeating. ❤️
“The moments when I have felt most free, most OK with what is happening, and least anxious, have been those moments where I am able to let go and surrender. Interestingly, those moments seem to work in tandem with my faith in myself. I know I can trust myself to get through something, to hold on, and ultimately I can just let go of the rest. I guess since we have no idea where we come from, and where that strength comes from…that true belief in yourself and your intent to be a good person is sort of divine in itself, no more or less divine than believing in something someone else told you to believe in.
I have always believed in goodness and I know a lot of people say that, but it does feel undeniably essential, and I don’t question it. As humans we somehow know that we should aim to be good, and where does that come from. ? If I can follow the fact that I can trust in the importance of goodness, then I can maybe trust that goodness will come of goodness…. if that makes sense. Kind of like karma points. I have never felt like “why did this happen to me,” as I am sure you haven’t either. It isn’t even because of some virtue that I feel that way, it just has never occurred to me to be “pissed off” about my lot in life, or to think that there was some unjust reasoning behind it. Instead I honestly feel lucky sometimes that I have gotten to feel and experience things that others have to struggle longer and harder to learn.” –Caitlin
Caitlin and her dear buddy Kenley, Christmas 2012
I post occasional Kitten photographs and words on Instagram, and anyone is welcome to follow me there. My name is my own: MaryanneOHara