JANUARY 19–Words from Jess


Jess wrote a post on her own blog today. It’s beautiful and here it is:

Castro avoided over 600 assassination attempts throughout his life, but even he couldn’t hide from 2016. 

2017 is the year of the Rooster and the year that a person who has never held public office is slated to become the 45th President of the United States of America. It was supposed to be the year that I traveled to Red Square with Caitlin. The year of Harry Potter lungs and silicone implants. The year that we emerged with our matching clamshell scars. But it’s not and it won’t be.

This is my first time writing in months. Usually it helps to express and manifest the inexpressible but, in this case, it wasn’t helping. I have tried to make sense of what happened, to play each and every scenario over in my head. Also, everything that I ever wrote, I always sent to Caitlin with the flagrant subject line “DRAFT” – and she would quickly respond with candid feedback. She was my editor. 

When I returned from India in the middle of December – from the cacophony of Jaipur and the undulating hills of Udaipur – I immediately flew to Pittsburgh. Caitlin had been on life support for a few days while she waited for lungs. I arrived in the city of bridges, home of the Steelers and quickly enmeshed myself into the daily routine. We – Maryanne, Nick, Andrew, & I – took shifts, ensuring that one of us was always by her side in the CTICU. We held her hands, we massaged her feet, and we read Mary Oliver passages aloud – a small act which seemed to perk up her waning blood pressure.

Last week, I had this terrible moment where a dear friend that I met while living in Kenya texted me after returning from several weeks in Cuba. She wrote, “Did Caitlin get her transplant?” I froze. I slowly typed,“Yes, she did” and then added “but she died” after that. So awful. Little things like that keep happening. I don’t want time to move on because I am so afraid of forgetting. The only image in my head is of Caitlin in the ICU and I am having such a hard time remembering anything before then. There is a dichotomy – as Caitlin’s situation has made me less afraid of dying because I know that she is there (wherever there is) paired with this unyielding desire to live, to really live – for her. 

I left Pittsburgh on the morning of December 20th. I had to fly back to San Francisco for chemo but I planned to be in California for just a day or so. I left UPMC – the hospital – and texted the other three, “I’m en route to the airport with Jim but I will see you all in a few days for five little pig Christmas. I’m just a phone call away if you need anything at all. Don’t let leather jacket man steal my chair-bed, keep writing in the chapel book, and keep the sails up…

Later that afternoon, Caitlin died. She was supposed to live. She should have lived. She should have had the chance to use her new, perfect lungs; to see her oxygen saturation at 100%. But she had to wait too long for her transplant, and her body had been through far more than any should endure. 

Below are the promises that I made to her when I spoke at her memorial service:  

  • I promise to do something extraordinary. I promise to make you proud and I promise to keep your light and your spirit alive.
  • I promise to do all that I can to fix the organ donation system
  • I promise to plant a garden that will mean for many what Prouty meant for you
  • I promise to smile at sad looking strangers and to address little pups in your Henry voice 
  • I promise to always be kind
  • I promise to learn more about astrology and its intricacies
  • I promise to trust my intuition; to listen to my own voice and to be in a state of non-resistance
  • I promise to take care of your Mom and Dad and Andrew
  • I promise to order Watermelon Sherbet in July
  • I promise to always say Rabbit Rabbit
  • I promise to do something – once a day – in your honor
  • I promise to advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves; to always be aware of the plights of others.
  • I promise to listen to Joni Mitchell and to text you when Losing My Religion just happens to play on the radio
  • I promise to finally see a movie by myself. A good movie. None of that junk.
  • I promise to keep wearing giant pearls and continue adding to our tribal wrist collection
  • I promise to find the magic; the unsung beauty.
  • I promise to attempt to write a Modern Love that tells the story of our friendship; our matching clam shell scars.
  • I promise to have a day where the only words that I speak are “can I have a water and a muffin?”
  • I promise to live; to really live; to stay away from the surface and to go deep; deep where the lobsters go.
  • I promise to keep having faith. Faith that there is beauty in this sometimes tragic life.
  • I promise to never take my lungs for granted. I promise to cherish each and every breath.

And so, 2017 will be the year of Caitlin O’Hara. My ruby slipper, my person, my heart.



Author: kittenupdates

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

19 thoughts on “JANUARY 19–Words from Jess”

  1. Jess- if you are reading this it was simply beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes
    You and Caitlin are very fortunate to find eachother and become friends

  2. Thank you, Jess. You honor Caitlin in so many ways. It is clear that in continuing to honor her you will enrich your own life and many others. That is a beautiful thing.
    Thank you, Maryanne, for sharing this.

  3. Thank you Jess and thanks Maryanne for posting this incredible tribute to Caitlin and to a truly rich, deep, funny, uniquely devoted friendship. Jess I once talked with Caitlin about you and saw the love and concern in her face , shining. How lucky you were to have each other, and now you have her in this new way where she will shape your every day. Sending my gratitude and love to all of you. Day by day. Breath by breath.

  4. Wow. I am in tears reading this. I can’t imagine a more beautiful tribute to a friend. I pray that all your promises come true.

  5. Thank you for sharing Jess. What a truly deep and loving friendship you shared with Caitlin . Everyone should be so lucky.

  6. Thank you Jess for being Caitlin’s friend. She deserved the best – and she got that in you. I’m only sorry we never got a chance to meet. Reading your words makes me feel like you are apart of our family. Janet. X

  7. Thank you, both, for sharing this. It’s just beautiful — I’ve got tears in my eyes. Jess, your promises to Caitlin are inspiring — we should all live so deeply. Holding all of you in my thoughts and heart.

  8. So, so beautifully written Jess. You are such a devoted, beautiful, remarkable, dedicated, true friend of Caitlin. With love and admiration, Pam

  9. Lovely words jess of a lady whom i as so lucky to call my niece. Caitlin touched the hearts of everyone that knew her . Caitlin is my shining star now and i believe shes with me each and every day . Xxxxx

  10. Such beautiful words…your broken heart will heal sweetheart…but for now theres a crack in it to let the light of life in…it just takes time..💖💖💖💖

  11. Thank you for sharing Jess’s beautiful writing. It made me cry and laugh and remember how deep our friendships run through us. What a gift their friendship was–and still is–as Jess learns to keep Caitlin close through her spirit. Thank you, Maryanne, for continuing to allow us to be part of your journey.

  12. Tears, love, hugs, prayers and blessings to a beautiful friend and special person.🙏🙏👼🏻👼🏻

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