JANUARY 9–Portals to Real & Close

After I wrote about signs the other day, a line I wrote in Cascade came to mind, to haunt me:

That was the thing about signs. You could read them any way you liked.

I thought about that as I went to get a pedicure in my hotel. I actually don’t really enjoy pedicures. I consider them to be maintenance, and I like them to be quick. Well, this was the slowest one in the world—-it took almost 2 1/2 hours. I tried to relax and enjoy it but all I could think of was how horrible and ultimately needless had been our darling girl’s partial amputation. I kept picturing us getting pedicures at various points in our life, at MiniLuxe in Boston, or on vacations in Miami, and later, when she had to drag the oxygen tank in with her. Her last pedicures I did myself, on her bed, because she no longer had the energy to go to a salon. The past year, I gave her leg and foot massages almost every day because it was the only thing that gave her relief from the near-constant painful aches she experienced.

I spent a lot of time with those legs. I have been mourning that left leg perhaps more than I should. I didn’t want to start crying in front of the pedicurist, so I tried to distract myself and halfheartedly looked through the basket of predictable women’s magazines. But—a surprise. Tucked in there was a New York Times Magazine from the end of November, with a cover story on Martin Scorsese. I’d brought that particular one into the hospital to read, and to give to Caitlin, because she had a deep appreciation of his movies. When she went on life support and we had to clear out her room, it must have been thrown away.

I’d forgotten about it.


On Faith:

“In his new film, “Silence,” Martin Scorsese returns to to a subject that has animated his entire life’s work and that also sparked his career’s greatest controversy: the nature of faith.”

I read the article with interest and an ache in my heart, wishing Caitlin had been able to read it and discuss it with me. I wondered what she would have thought of the film. It seems to have received quite mixed reviews, but Caitlin’s opinion would have been the opinion I would most been interested in. She had a keen ability to analyze and to consider, with empathy, the most complicated subjects. See things other people didn’t see.

It’s a wonderful thing when your kid grows up and you can step back and marvel.

Her first day in the CTICU, when she was still able to speak, her nurse mentioned having been to Mass the day before.

Caitlin: “Do you believe in God?”

Nurse: “I do.”

Caitlin: “Why?”

Nurse: “Why not?”

I wish I had the ability to remember, in detail, all that Caitlin said, but basically she talked about how she believed in something greater but thought that the various religions hadn’t gotten it right.

Now I think: Now she knows. All the stuff we talked about is no longer theoretical for one of us.

And I’m going to have to figure out faith for myself.

Backtrack: ‘Have Faith’

When Caitlin was 11, we realized, nearly overnight, that a stealthy mycobacterium had completely ravaged her left lower lung. The lobe needed to be removed. It was the only hope of stopping the organism from invading the rest of her lungs. There were many unknowns and absolutely no guarantees.  One day, before the surgery, I was sitting in my living room sobbing, sick with fear and dread, when I heard a voice—-clear and strong and female. The voice said, “Have faith.”

I sat up straight and looked around.

I thought about how it would be very easy to doubt what I had heard but that I must always remind myself that I had indeed heard it.

During these past 3 years, I hoped to hear that voice again. I never did. One thing that did happen, though, was that about a year ago, I was doing chest PT on Caitlin when I heard her voice, not her real voice, clearly say, “I’m dying, mum.”

I tried to unhear it. Tried to “have faith.” Hoped that that long-ago voice had been ‘good for’ forever.

Caitlin wrote about faith here in November:

Tolstoy had an existential crisis where he couldn’t figure out how to have faith…and decided the only logical thing he could do was to kill himself –  He spiraled out of control… he couldn’t think himself out of the problem of living, the meaninglessness of life, and the uncertainty of faith. He thought that if life had no meaning, which his reasonable mind believed because he could not prove the opposite, then the brave thing to do would be to end it. But he did not want to kill himself at all. He finally found his kernel of faith exactly right in front of him. His desire not to die, to keep on living despite the fact that he KNEW he was going to die, was a kind of miraculous leap of faith that we all do every day when we wake up. He figured the fact that faith even exists at all makes it a truth in and of itself. And he went on. (you can read this in his “A confession”).

I finished reading the Scorsese article as the technician finished the pedicure. Then I went out onto the beach. Down near the water stood a big flock of seagulls. I started to pass them, telling myself I couldn’t desperately look at every seagull you see, hoping for a sign.

But I turned to watch them anyway, and saw that the one closest to me was standing on one leg. He stood on it for so long that I thought perhaps he only had one leg. None of the other gulls were standing like that. I kept watching and waiting for him to move and found myself getting all choked up and happy and talking to Caitlin. She felt real and close for those moments and I thought, This is what you’re going to have to do: take whatever portal is open, whenever you can. 

A Santa Monica gull


Author: kittenupdates

I am the author of CASCADE and LITTLE MATCHES: A Memoir of Grief and Light

21 thoughts on “JANUARY 9–Portals to Real & Close”

  1. It’s her, it’s her, it’s her. It’s more than a feeling. I keep coming back to this photo she posted on Instagram, ages before I knew her. I don’t know if it’s her writing or something she just saw (likely the latter), but it says, Don’t think, just know. 1/10/12.

    I feel a good gauge of signs is when you feel an unexpected little lift, a little random burst of happy, a lightness. ❤ </3 ❤

  2. Dearest Maryanne,
    This was beautiful and made me cry. I suspect that gull standing on one leg is not Caitlin, but you without the company of your girl. Still standing. Going on like Tolstoy. I do believe she’s there, giving you all the signs she can, watching over you and sending you light. Do not mourn that you did everything possible to keep her alive. Remember all the years you did all you could to give her a life of depth and joy; nurturing her special qualities. Acting as her best friend, consultant, intellectual companion and advocate. She’s there with you. On that trip. In your heart. I know she’s there.

  3. Your honesty, and your capacity to share your pain and feelings of what can’t be seen, are all so powerful and beautiful. I understand those voices. I’ve heard them at different times in my life. xo

  4. I felt weepy while reading this. I realized after that I had been holding my hand to my heart. I think about Caitlin constantly. I also look for signs of her. I see certain birds and wonder if she’s saying hello. ❤

  5. I look for your posts… so relieved and sad and happy when I see one and then cry with you every day that you post. And in between I look at light and think of you.

    There are so many things you write that make me remember… I wind up sharing things here with you that I’ve not talked about for years or at all.

    I’m not at all religious. I have never believed in God. Like Caitlin – I think there’s something but…

    My mom got sick when I was 12. Then was fine until I turned 30 when she got sick again.

    I didn’t let her know but from the second she told me – at lunch one day – on Madison Ave and 66th in a restaurant that is gone now, I was lost. Devastated. Hysterical. Crying for days. Panicked. My best friend. Oh god.

    And then after about 5 days of being inconsolable, my eyes so swollen I could barely see, I was awoken one night from a deep sleep. There was a yellow glow in the room. Both bright and not bright at all. Not a real light like I’d ever seen before. It wasn’t a dream. I was truly awake. And from that light came a voice – but like you – I heard inside of me that said “she’s going to be fine. It’s not time.”

    I was filled with the most amazing calm. Instantly. I’m not like that. Nothing calms me down. Nothing gets me to stop worrying. But this was so much bigger than me. It took me over. And I was calm and the procedure they did on my mom was successful and she lived for another 15 years without being sick for a day.

    Doug and I were especially upset about Caitlin’s leg too… David (his brother who we lost in September) lost his leg last winter and it was the beginning of the downward spiral so it hit us in a very deep and personal way that you and Nick and Caitlin had to endure yet that… even that. I love that you posted the gull… I love that she sent that sign to you.

  6. Every time I read a post I cry with you. The seagull on one leg sign is so beautiful! Achingly so. I think you’ll know more about Love and Grief than anyone I have ever known— or you already do. It is true that the bigger and deeper the love, the bigger and deeper the grief. It is also true that someone who has love the way you have love for Caitln, has already experienced something of the divine love that I believe issues forth from the heart of God. This love, in moments, will sustain you. Then it will seem like it’s nowhere to be found. But it’s always there. God (doesn’t have to be religious) draws so near to the brokenhearted.
    And you have carried so much love in this life— you’ve known the best of it. And will continue to know the best of it. So many never really love. They’re too afraid, or they think they have all the time in the world. You always knew you might not have “all the time in the world” and I believe this infused your love and made it so special and so fierce! Keep looking for signs and you will find them. By the way, I was blown away that Caitlin’s friend asked for a sign from the radio and the Boston song came on that has the chorus “See my Maryanne walkin’ away”—- chills I feel I can tune into Caitlin’s spirit in certain moments– when I need strength. I visited my mother yesterday– she cried when I showed her pictures, and when I showed her the black and white she said, “Mary–” without me saying a word that others said this. Bless you in these agonizing days. Great suffering leads to great light, eventually, but this is going to take a long, long time. You’re not alone! And you’re giving so much to so many! If you have a favorite saint, or a connection to Jesus, try calling on that now— in my experience this can be real medicine. Hope California is beautiful and hope you get another sign today. Love, Jane

  7. “Now she knows” – yes! I got chills reading that. She does know, and what an amazing thing that is. No more pain and no more suffering.

  8. I am speechless…. moved beyond. So many feelings. So much sadness. So many happy thoughts through memories. The pedicure with Caitlin and trying to rub the pain away just resonates the sense of grief that can be felt……and yet for me – in my hour of helplessness – it instilled some motherly comfort to think that I might help in some small way to lighten the pain and show my love and devotion. Please keep us all in your circle. Please know that it is you (through Caitlin) that is helping the rest of us as we all go through our own healing journeys. Yet again another Caitlin kindness and a great gift of generosity. I am most grateful. My best…. thank you for sharing. Lorraine

  9. My dear friend, – Your writing has taken on a life and power that is new. With regard to signs, they appear when you are not seeking them, and become welcome… like a kiss. Much love.

  10. When I read your posts I experience so many different emotions. Sometimes sad, sometimes happy and peaceful and everything in between. I think this is what life is. I do believe in signs and I very much think the seagull standing on one leg was Caitlin saying “see I am here”. I also very much believe that there are times in life that certain people enter our lives for a purpose. Knowing Caitlin for me only came from her mission to try to Save the Prouty Garden. I came to know of a brave young woman full love and through her, I gained the will to be a part of the living and experience all that is out there for me. I also think that in some ways, I wanted to live life since she was not able to continue her’s. I hope that is ok to say as I just mean that she has taught me to not take life for granted. I have come to know you to in some sense through you immense love and devotion to Caitlin. The loss is great I know. I have never understood that when a loved one dies people say that in time the sadness will be less or you will get over it. Personally, I don’t believe one gets over a loved person who has died; loving that person remains the same I think. With my dad, I miss his hugs and even arguing with him about how the clicker for the DVD works. It is the actual human touch that I miss. It the end, it all just becomes part of life, not the same of course but still good. Gosh, I think I am rambling here. I thought about what I wanted to write most of the day but it is not coming out as perfectly as envisioned. I don’t know if I told you, but for Christmas I received your book. I had been telling everybody I knew about Caitlin, the Prouty Garden, the need for awareness of donor organs and you and I mentioned that you are an author. I am so thankful that in some sense I understand the incredible mother you were to Caitlin and what an incredible person she was. Her interest and hopeful wish in saving the Prouty Garden meant so much to me and I sent countless letters(20) to CBS Sunday morning to do a piece on the importance of healing gardens and the Prouty Garden in particular. I thought that one day I would get to meet Caitlin and we could visit the garden and talk about how it all ended well. It does not always but I feel Caitlin around me sometimes although I don’t know exactly why. Thank you so much for writing.

  11. “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
    – Rabindranath Tagore
    I saw this right after you made the post with this quote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson.
    I think it stays with me because of the bird thing, something from a long time ago about birds being messengers.
    Today I had to post it to you because it won’t leave my mind.

  12. I wanted to share a quote from A.A. Milne. I believe Winnie the Pooh is saying this it to Piglet and I think it is important to remember,
    ” If ever there a tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you”

    This always makes me cry but also gives me hope. I hope you like it. Thinking of you.

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