JANUARY 11–Zooming Out w/Caitlin, post-Obama

Here in California, I’ve been waking up way too early—4:30 or so, and now that Nick and I are finally together again, I try to be quiet for his sake. But the sun doesn’t rise till 7, and those dark hours can be terrible. This morning I tried signing onto Facebook, but all the bleak posts about last night’s farewell speech made the day (life) ahead feel particularly despairing.

I was thinking about the fact that Caitlin had had so much meaningful correspondence with others over the past two years. Recorded correspondence. I have little of that, obviously. Our conversations of the past three years–her most contemplative time–were all in real time.

In the dark it’s easy to panic, and that’s what I did. I was seized by this urgent need to scour through her Gmail and find all of her writings until I realized: I can’t just read through her private stuff.

Then, literally then, I got an email from Andrew, a forward of an email from Caitlin this past July where she had linked to an article she admired and talked about her own perspective. With his permission, here it is:

From: Caitlin O’Hara <caitlin.ohara@gmail.com>
Date: July 25, 2016 at 10:20:47 PM EDT
Subject: Zoomed out

This sums up everything I think about the state of the world and life and how I think – only this guy articulately wrote it and has all the facts at his fingertips to back it up. I am only an amateur historian. With all I know cobbled together from years of art history combined with an obsession with organizing time in my head – decades, centuries, eras. The entire thing has always been a visual structure in my head. Some day I will draw it for you. When I picture us now in 2016, I pull back. I always pull back and picture myself in time and in space geographically. It makes me removed enough (like this guy) to ultimately not feel that there is much I can do to change the shifts of the world, but also inspired enough to think – what is my role in this lifetime (whether it’s my only lifetime or one of many, doesn’t matter) to survive this time?  

I am fascinated by this kind of thing. By the ebbs and flows of history. By patterns and by people and all of the stuff he talks about. I guess it’s harder for many people to think in that zoomed out way. For me – it was a mechanism I cultivated as a way to deal with being sick … I’d zoom out, see my own smallness, realize it’s all been done before and will be done again, and I could relax, and enjoy my life now.   Like why I like graveyards. And reading about the holocaust. I like reading and thinking about the ebbs and flows of human suffering, living, dying, living again…

History Tells Us What May Happen Next

I don’t think it matters if this guy is “right” about brexit or whatever the defining moment will prove to be…or even if this time really will end up being a catastrophic time (ahead of us). I kind of feel it might be. But I think his way of thinking is a good one that I relate to a lot. And wish more people did. But then, we wouldn’t have the same world ….

Love my Andy.

I’m going to renew my Irish passport. In case we have to skip out of here. ❤️✌🏼️

Sent from my iPhone

And here are some random things we sent to each other:

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Moral Bucket List

 

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From Patry Francis’s Instagram xo

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.

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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. 

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A Santa Monica gull

–Maryanne

JANUARY 7–Signs & signs

Weird to open up my little travel computer, here in CA, for the first time since December 20 and see all the windows containing my last hopeful posts, still open. iMessages is updating my text messages before my eyes, and all the texts of the past few weeks are flashing as if in real time.

So strange.

The other day, an old family friend of Jess’s (thanks, Miah) sent me a link to a medium who talks about animals and birds and signs and such. I listened to part of the podcast before we boarded yesterday.  The medium said, “Ask for signs. You will get them. They will surprise you.”

So on the flight to LA, I held Kitten’s bird ring and took photos of all the places she had been unable to visit the past ten years, due to altitude problems—-the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon. I told Caitlin she was with us.

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“How about you?” I asked. “Are you with us? How about a sign?”

I didn’t expect anything, I must admit.

A few hours later, as we were preparing to land, there came this sudden howling in front of us. The howling of a cat. Right there, under the seat in front of us. A kitty had been there all along. It seemed so perfect we laughed.

When we got up to leave, I wanted to sneak a picture of the rascal, but it was hunkered down in its case. I tried anyway, and as I did, it sat up and looked right at me.

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Sign? I’ll take it.

(Note: WordPress would NOT let me upload that photo, and thus not save this post. For the last half hour I tried everything. Just when I was about to give up, it magically displayed here for me. ha)

We walked around a bit once we got here. Weirdly, a store that I really like, and have bought things from online, happened to be right around the corner. (I’ve never been to CA and had no idea where the store actually was.) We went in and I found myself pawing through the sale rack with an actress and her filmmaker husband –people Caitlin greatly admired. Of course my first instinct was to surreptitiously text her to let her know.

I’ll have to get used to that.

There were some other nice “signs,” though. Quite literal ones.

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And this morning, Jess’s mom texted from the Vineyard ferry, as she was on her way to Woods Hole. A gull (like pigeons, a favorite bird of Caitlin’s, she likes how fierce they are), decided to accompany her.

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From Santa Monica, peace and love from Caitlin—-

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JANUARY 4 –Bird and Bindi

I can’t even begin, right now, to sort out all of the almost supernatural occurrences of the past weeks, write them down, pass them on. I know I am meant to sort all of it out, in words that make sense, to ultimately help other people. And I will do that. But right now I’m super tired.

Still, to remind those who care: there is work to be done. As everyone has been informing me, France is now one more “opt-out” country—-meaning you’re an organ donor unless you opt out. We are going to work on fixing as much of the broken transplant system in our own country as we can. I’m grateful to everyone who has volunteered to be part of the army, and we will be in touch.

For now though, Nick and I are going to California. My wonderful brother will be warming the hearth fires here, minding our house, so we don’t have to worry about leaving it untended. Caitlin’s tree will be up through Twelfth Night and beyond.

California is a place Caitlin and I had planned to visit ‘after transplant.’ (How easily that phrase had become part of our everyday conversation; seems sad and naive now, but I’m grateful for our optimism. It kept us going.)

Oddly, neither she nor I have/had ever been to California, so we will take her with us in the only way we can: spiritually. We will drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, stay in Big Sur, and eventually visit Jess in San Francisco. We will see redwoods, and honor the one so foolishly cut down by the arrogant and sorry young souls who make up the current administration of Boston Children’s Hospital.

A few years back, in her beloved Paris, Caitlin bought herself a tiny, bird-shaped ring. It became one of her most treasured possessions. I just couldn’t bear to put it into the

<< coffin, horrid word>>

Instead, I’ve tied it to a necklace of mine. I added a red bindi from the little sticky-pack Jess brought back from India. I put the bindi in between the bird’s wings. I will wear it on our trip and Caitlin will be with us up at Big Sur and in San Francisco with Jess, and with us among the redwoods that stupid humans haven’t yet destroyed.

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Bird and bindi

My niece Emily wrote this to my sister the other day:

Know what’s so strange? A few days after Caitlin passed I heard this poem called ‘the art of losing’ on an NPR podcast and it felt really significant to me so I looked it up and saved it and now I’m sitting here reading the writings in Caitlin’s pamphlet from her service and that poem is in there

Later, my sister wrote:

Today is my first day back at working out. I always put in a podcast to keep me on the treadmill and it turns out the first one in my queue was the one that ends in that poem. ❤

These are the coincidences that are not coincidences.

The only omission in the service program was the title and author of the quite-famous  poem–which is actually a form of poem called a villanelle, a form that itself, is very hard to master….

ONE ART

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

–Maryanne

JANUARY 2–Blue Moon

It is a quiet house here tonight. Jess is on her way back to California. Andrew has gone home to Maine. It was a difficult day. We were going to go into the Boston apartment but never did make it out of the house. All I could do was flop from one surface to the next and cry. I mainly lay on the couch in the family room near Caitlin’s tree, TV tuned to a favorite movie, long-ago DVR’d, which Caitlin and I watched half of this past summer when we were home. The Remains of the Day. One of our favorite movies, one of my favorite books.

I let it play on from where we had left it in August, midpoint: all the melancholy of Mr. Stevens’ trip to the west country to try and reclaim all he had lost. The meeting, after 20 years, between Miss Kenton and Mr. Stevens is all about regret and the inability to change the past– ‘Blue Moon’ playing in the 1950s background, all that poignant, post-war sadness.

It reminded me that before Andrew left today, as he packed up his truck, he found a note from Caitlin in his glove compartment, a reminder for all:

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JANUARY 1–Everybody Sees the Wind Blow

I have been sending Caitlin text messages:

I love you.

Where are you?

I love you.

Before that, when she was mostly unconscious in the ICU, I would write, I miss you, bud. So many things I go to tell you, just dumb things, like Pup. Puppetypuppup. I’m sending these now for us to laugh at later.

Caitin’s name was always at the top of my iMessage window. It seems weird to have to scroll down, down, down to find her. When I look backward through our exchanges, I see that one of her last real ones to me was after she sent her last text for me to post, on December 3.

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This person who thought it might be awful to beg for people to pray for her….How did she come to be such an angel?

When you have a sick child, as we did for 31 years, you know you may someday have to face the loss of that child. Your mind sometimes peers at ‘the worst,’ and although you quickly slam the door, painful stuff seeps in through the cracks.

I always knew I would likely outlive Caitlin. And always knew, on one level, that Queen’s “These are the days of our lives” would be a part of a film tribute that my brother Michael would eventually create in her honor. I could never really listen to that song, though I loved it. Still, for all the bracing I had done all her life, I always had faith we had more time. So it was numbing and heavy to plan a service and create a program for that service—something that had to be real and special and unique. To choose the music and photos for Michael’s film tribute.

As I said in an earlier post, Caitlin wanted a mausoleum. Who, these days, wants a mausoleum? And who knew that just three miles from our home was a gorgeous little garden cemetery, built in the 1800s and modeled after Mt. Auburn Cemetery, that offered a mausoleum and gorgeous chapel? We never knew it was there, but it was/is so perfect it could have been built to Caitlin’s specifications.

She liked cemeteries, found them peaceful. When she was at BC, she would often go to the beautiful Newton Cemetery to study and read. “I visited my friends today,” she would joke.

My brother Michael has long created what we all jokingly, in our family, call “tearjerkers,” films that capture family, friends, lost days. This was his hardest tearjerker yet, he said. He could hardly look at the photos while making it (and my goodness, he put it together in a flash). Uncle Mike and Caitlin shared a special bond, always, but especially in the past two years when he had helped out, so much, with her Prouty Garden fight.

The service on Friday was all Caitlin, exactly as she would have wished. Emotional, personal, beautiful. The chapel was stunning, with its soaring, painted ceiling and exquisite stained glass windows. Large portraits, printed by her special buddy Billy Duffey, graced the walls.

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The early Christian art lover in Caitlin loved this service, I know. St. Kitten.

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The space looked like a sacred art gallery. We read poetry in unison. Gary Richardson played slow-tempo acoustical guitar pieces, including a version of Silent Night that he arranged just for her. Many of her close friends spoke, and as they spoke, they all stood so exceptionally strong and tall—-heartbroken even as they summoned the courage to be articulate and passionate. They inspired all of us, especially me, as they spoke to Caitlin’s depth of character. Such wonderful people. As Nick always said, “To meet a friend of Caitlin’s is to meet Caitlin.” Her cousin Jillian spoke for everyone when she said:

When I think of Caitlin’s incredible spirit, there is one particular story that is so deeply ingrained in my memory that it positively shoots to the forefront of my mind’s eye and takes the stage. During visits with my Oma, Brigitte Kelsey, throughout my life, she would always make a point to inquire about my cousin, Caitlin. How is your cousin Caitlin? She would ask. Admittedly, I disliked when most people would ask me this question. The air of pity bothered me, something about it sounded like they were making Caitlin out to be a victim; it felt dooming. I would generally answer in as positive a light as possible. “She’s doing really well”, or “she’s had a tough year but she’s getting much better”, or the fast and deflective “she’s doing well, how are you?” These were my go-to responses to most other people. But my Oma was different. She’d lived through the war, she’d had everything taken from her and she had lived on. Her voice didn’t carry the sound of pity, but of honor. She honored Caitlin. I always answered her honestly, and I always knew that following my answer would come the same tried and true story that would over the years, and dozens of re-tellings firmly assert a particular image of Caitlin in my mind. “I always remember”, she would say, “that day of your baptism. She was running through the church, screaming and laughing and causing a ruckus. She was a wild child. I always liked her.”

Something inside Caitlin just positively glowed.  And it’s that glow that I want to talk about. I want to talk about that wild spirit, that bearer of light… that lion-hearted woman, the Leo that she was. It seems to me that Caitlin came into this world as a great bearer of light. And it also seems to me that her light grew as her health struggles grew. And it seems that her light is now stronger than ever, because it’s filling this room.To me, Caitlin more than any other person that I’ve known, inspires me to live life to the fullest. From the day she was born, supposedly, her breaths were numbered. Her diagnosis at two years old let her parents know that her breaths may be numbered. And it seems to me that she made sure that every breath she took was lived as fully as possible.

This is a woman who traveled extensively despite her illness, who brought into her life the kind of deep and loving friendships that have the mark of soul-relationships, who spent her last several years with this incredible man who loved her so deeply and fully, who supported her on her highest path, in her utmost truth. And so, I feel like the gift that Caitlin has brought to us all is the reminder, and even the urging, to live life fully, to not waste a single breath. And if we do waste breath, to not waste more in mourning it, but to forgive ourselves, to forgive others. Kindness and compassion, truth and love, these are what she brought to us as our friend, cousin, niece, daughter and partner.

33 years is just a wrinkle in time, and yet 33 years, if every moment is infinite, is different. When you really think about the depth and fullness of a moment shared in a kiss or a cuddle, in the taste of fresh fruit in the summertime, in the stillness and calm of a rainy day spent watching out the window, or the long hours sitting beside someone you love in a hospital bed… when you think about feeling compassion for another human… none of those moments are contained by time. They are fluid and vague and full and they are what life is all about. And so, Caitlin had 33 years in this life. Maybe some of us have 80, or 50 years, maybe some of us have less, or more than we think. But it doesn’t really matter when you are living life to its fullest. If every moment is infinite. And if you live the way you truly want to live: courageously, with an open heart, focused on compassion and love, generosity… when you invite only positive loving relationships into your life… when you invite in only the experiences that hold you in your essence… then maybe 33 years could be enough, if they have to be.

I trust that Caitlin is on her highest healing path and I trust that she is there watching all of us, saying “please laugh at least as much as you cry.” Life is too good to waste a single breath.

My understanding from conversations I’ve had with Caitlin and also with Maryanne, is that Caitlin was very spiritual, but did not ascribe to any religion. She was more pantheistic. Similarly to how she loved us, she saw and loved the best and what was good, in all religions. I understand that she had always felt an affinity for the Virgin Mary, and I have been asked to lead everyone in a recitation of the Hail Mary prayer in honor of her special connection with the great Mother. As we recite this prayer together now, I invite you to be present with the words as we would be in the reading of a poem, to reflect on the spirit of Mary.

You may click here for the PDF of the service program:    Caitlin’s Service Program

And you may click here for Uncle Mike’s live-stream of the service, the recording of which is still available on Facebook:

At the end of the service, Uncle Mike’s film tribute plays for 9 minutes. You can also view it on YouTube: Film tribute  

Back at our house, on Friday evening, we lit our traditional holiday barrel full of firewood out on the patio. We burned sparklers and raised them and looked up at the sky. There were a lot of shooting stars that night: quick flashes among the old familiars that calm humans with their always-presence: Castor and Pollux. Orion.IMG_0748.JPG

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We have received so many messages from old friends, new friends, and perfect (wonderful) strangers. We are so grateful for every word. One particular message, from an old high school friend of Caitlin’s, particularly struck me. He articulated so well what so many people have said about our amazing Caitlin. I have his permission to quote his words here:

Maryanne, I hope you don’t find it forward of me to reach out during such a time of mourning. I read the Herald piece and could strongly relate to your sentiment, “Every friend of hers considered Caitlin his or her best friend.”
Caitlin was always there for me and will always occupy a special place in my heart. Because she was so kind, caring and strong and it made it all too difficult to overlook just how much she had to grapple with. It is humbling and awe-inspiring to read your accounts of how much she quietly struggled and persevered time and time again.
Caitlin touched my life as she did so many others. Her willingness to put others’ need above her own, her caring nature is something I had the benefit of experiencing. In very trying times, she was there for me in a way that no one else would or could be. It is hard to put into words just how much that means. It is clear from the accounts of many others that I was not unique in this regard. What a wonderful gift for all who knew her.
Thank you for raising such a wonderful person. I will carry Caitlin in my heart always. She was a true friend. As you wrote, “All loves are ill-starred, because all are made of time.”
Caitlin was a wise, old soul. Her decency showed a worldliness beyond her years. She had a taste for joy and understanding of suffering. There was an undeniable soulfulness to her, the kind of depth that almost serves as proof of higher beings and callings. Such qualities cannot be measured in time.
We may have met only once or twice while Caitlin and I were at Saint Mark’s, but you are in my thoughts and prayers. Another being touched by your daughter and mourning her deeply.
-Alex Fekula

Thank you, Alex. And everyone who has reached out.

We are now into a new year. 2017. Our first without Caitlin, in three decades. We are sick with grief and I can attest that true grief is a sickness unlike any other. Everybody sees you’re blown apart/Everybody sees the wind blow, sang Paul Simon. But—-but—-but—-the love and comfort of our family and friends has been a wonderful thing. You would think that the holidays would be the worse time to lose a person, but the timing all turned out to be a strange kind of blessing, because everyone was able to be around for so long. We are two weeks into this now, and we have never been alone, will never be alone. Thank you.

🙏

–Maryanne

PS:

Caitlin was shamelessly sentimental about animals and people in need. She couldn’t pass a homeless person without digging in her purse. She always contributed to good causes with no reservations. Here are two charities she fully supported which you may also consider supporting in her honor:

prisonbookprogram.org

gentlebarn.org