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
–To follow this blog, click +Follow, down to the right, and enter your email address to be alerted to new posts.