That last autumn, Caitlin binged on a cooking show she’d discovered. She usually watched while I cooked dinner, and since the kitchen overlooked the living area of our Pittsburgh condo, I became vaguely aware of a big tent inside of which a bunch of regular-looking people turned out regular-looking pies and biscuits. One day I took a closer look as Caitlin applauded the winner. The winning cake looked so….ordinary.
“I don’t get it?” I said.
The show was WONDERFUL, Caitlin explained. It was cozy, it was comforting. The contestants were all supportive of each other, and she loved how the camera would sometimes pan outside the tent to take in the bucolic setting, how the lens would pause upon some calming thing: a bird, a flower, rain dripping from leaves.
We are on Martha’s Vineyard, and today is Caitlin’s birthday. I’m reminded of another birthday of hers spent here, the year she turned 12. It was the terrible year of lung surgeries and months-long inpatient recoveries. But that summer, we received a two-week respite from the hospital, and the respite was spent here. Those weeks return to me in images that feel other-worldly, suspended in time, magical. Riding the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs, spending hours on State Beach reading The Stone Diaries, a book that would later become a lifelong favorite of Caitlin’s, buying boxes of Murdick’s Fudge. Hearing news of a bombing in Paris that shocked us and caused us to wonder whether life really did unfold for a reason.
Caitlin wrote about that year and its Paris connection in an essay when she was a college sophomore. I’ll let her take over:
Recently, I had the uncanny experience of sending a friend of Caitlin’s a rare gift – a baby present that Caitlin had purchased in Bruges in 2011, in the event that this friend ever had a little boy. Mieke recently gave birth to a son and what a pleasure, to send that tiny Dutch knitted hat.
I’ve also found a few letters Caitlin addressed but never mailed, and to stamp and send them was like watching my hand reach through the veil.
It’s a wondrous thing to create a child, send her out into the world, and see what happens. Caitlin’s life influenced many others and over the years, especially the last few, it’s been heartening to learn how. One friend from her high school days is an artist and a few months ago, told me she had begun working on a painting of Caitlin.
Kat David is humble. Last weekend she sent me the painting. “I hope you like it,” she wrote. Like it? It’s magnificent. I was so enthralled that I decided it needed an unveiling, so this post is the official unveiling of MAGIC CAITLIN.
Kat wrote: I am so glad you like it ❣️ The dandelion is supposed to be how her energy traveled and impacted so many people. The animals staring directly at the viewer are meant to convey some of her intensity. I tried to hide stuff throughout. The hearts were for your husband and his creative work and the book was how you and she share a love of writing and deeper meaning. I’m often reluctant to tell people what something I make means since I want people to see what is significant for them, like I want it to be subjective to the viewer. But in this case, I want you two to know there was deliberate meaning. Your family has magic so I wanted that to be shown. The book – the hearts and Caitlin are connected through touch and contact.
I had to ask Kat to please sign it (! – I said she was humble) and I also asked how she did it, because I knew people would be curious. She writes: Yes, it’s a digital painting. I made it using the procreate app on iPad. I use mostly oil painting brush packs and pastels. Some pencil brush packs.
In other news, the amazing Jess is home taking the Global Health Delivery Intensive program at Harvard’s school of public health, and then scoots back to Kenya where she is overseeing the drilling of a borehole to provide the Nanyuki community with fresh water, and to begin construction on The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic.
Katie is home from Spain for the summer. Her translation career is exploding and her newest, a gorgeous novel by Javier Serena about a fictionalized Roberto Bolaño–esque writer, just received a Publisher’s Weekly starred review. The book is LAST WORDS ON EARTH, coming in September from OPEN LETTER Books.
Sinead got married yesterday and I’m heartbroken we had to cancel our trip but the quarantine rules are still strict – 12 days in a state-mandated fleabag hotel. I won’t publish any photos because I’m sure she wants to be first. Follow her on Instagram: sineaddehora
I saw Andrew in Maine a few weeks ago and it was a wonderful visit.
Medicine Needs Memoir – Our first talk is open to the public and is – surprise – on Caitlin’s birthday. Saturday, July 31 at 5:30ET
Anyone can attend. Click here to sign up: Register
I’ve been getting a lot of wonderful notes from people and they come as instant messages, direct messages on all different platforms, and emails (I have way too many email addresses) – I’ve tried to respond to all but I fear I’ve missed some. My apologies if I have. Getting feedback means the world to me. I’m grateful for every word.
My writer friends and I laugh about the fact that the general public seems to think that once a book is published, it’s a bestseller. I can assure you this is not true. If you’ve been meaning to order LITTLE MATCHES or gift a copy to someone, please be my guest. This book can have a long life but we live in a noisy world and this book needs word-of-mouth. THANK YOU.
This morning, Nick and I were talking about the fact that some people seem to be afraid to read Little Matches when a friend sent me a message:
I hadn’t yet started LITTLE MATCHES because a friend’s son is dying of cancer, and I didn’t think I had the emotional capacity. Last night, however, your book seemed to be calling. I began reading and was hit with wave upon wave of warmth and light. I’m just getting started, but I wanted you to know what comfort LITTLE MATCHES provides.
I have been receiving a lot of messages, and some of them are by people who are surprised to find that Little Matches is comforting and inspiring. Please know that I didn’t write the book to share misery, but to share the beauty and mystery of living and loving.
I think I’ll post a few anonymous snippets of messages I’ve received. And below I will re-publish Caitlin’s wonderful Mother’s Day post of 2015. Her words are reminders that “everybody has some kind of pain, as well as some kind of good in their life, and that none of this is a contest.”
I am certain this book will continue to ignite people’s souls on so many levels as it has done mine. I think love is making yourself known. On that, you have shared yourself and, just as importantly, Caitlin with the world which, to me, is love. It is a selfless act to share all of these stories and many will be the better for reading your words. Caitlin not only was a deep thinker but zippy and full of sparkles!
Just finished Little Matches. Wow. Is it weird that I feel like I’m in an altered state after reading it? Maryanne has a remarkable ability to make me feel like I was somehow part of it all. It seemed so vivid, so familiar. The grief is so tangible, even though I didn’t know Caitlin. I’m still processing, but what’s coming through for me most right now is gratitude that I got to share in the beauty and wonder of Caitlin’s life.
I just finished your book. I follow your blog, but this put it so much more in perspective. Choose faith, today and always. Thank you for that reminder and for framing it not in a religious context, but one that we can all use every day.
Last night I was thinking how glad I am for this book because like – this huge thing happened, Caitlin, and I was a tiny piece of it but it changed my life and my whole outlook on life, and I can’t explain it to people, the bigness of it, of her. And the book just does it. You feel the bigness on every page.
I don’t normally write to authors, but felt compelled to share this story with you, after seeing you last night in conversation about your book. Thank you for sharing your story and your daughter with the world. My work with older people keeps my eye on the brevity of our living, even if we reach 100. I share your conviction and Caitlin’s, loving people and human connection is what matters most, that endures beyond all constructs of space and time. I hope you don’t mind that I shared this with you. Your story and writing are inspiring.
I wanted to write you and let you know I stayed up most of the night reading your gorgeous and heartbreaking and hopeful book, Little Matches. First of all, I wanted to thank you for writing such an amazing book. Your words are so beautiful —and so important. Thank you for sharing them with the world.
At some point when I was little, my mom and I started referring to one another as our “mostly companion.” It probably grew out of the time I was having surgery when I was 11, and was in the hospital a lot. We would get overly tired, stressed, and…really silly. We were absurdly often at our funniest when things were worst. I guess that is common for people in trying health situations, and it’s a nice silver lining. The other day, in the hospital while I tried to eat lunch, my mom put on quite a show of impressions and we were laughing so hard. The game was to do one small word, look or movement from a movie…not a whole line. Her imitation of Salieri yelling “MOZART!!!” from Amadeus was the best…she has an incredible man-voice that she harnesses from deep within. Oh my goodness, maybe you had to be there.
I don’t write much on the blog, but today is the day to do it. For those of you who know us well, I am so close to my mom that it sometimes terrifies me. Maybe it terrifies her too. I know how lucky I am to have a mom like her, and parents like mine, and our situation — my situation — has made our link stronger, and sometimes that’s scary. We both know that there will be a time, hopefully, strangely, where I am well again and we live apart like typical adult mother and daughter, and we will look back on this time with nostalgia. Right now we are suspended, and we do puzzles together and watch Mad Men and she gives me leg massages, and everything, good or bad, is heightened. Everything makes me cry these days, good things more often than bad — so there’s a lot of appreciating that goes on. But its also draining, exhausting. Living in the moment is a good adage, but like anything, there can be too much of it.
My mom is doing everything for me, she has uprooted herself. My dad is living alone in MA when he is not here, and I know its hard for him in a way I can’t imagine. Andrew is back and forth as well. Here since December though, non-stop, has been my mom. She cooks, does the laundry, listens to me, sits with me in the ER, in the hospital…she even feeds Henry homemade food that she makes herself. Here in Pittsburgh, where she knew no one, she has made friends and found interesting things to do, always finding something to be enthusiastic about. Even writing this now is making me want to be more like her, and I feel even more thankful just putting it into words.
She has somehow found time to write everyday, and has since July 1st, circling the date in red when she is done — she has remarkable follow-through with things. It has taken me over 2 months to gain 4 pounds, and I WOULD NOT have been able to do it without her. When you get evaluated for transplant, part of the evaluation is making sure you have a good support system, because it is so vital to how well you do. This might seem hard to grasp to a healthy person who thinks that ultimately, you can get through anything on your own if you really have to. I am telling you – haha – you can’t. You need people, and I wouldn’t be here without her.
I am also aware on a day like today how hard it must be for some people, who have to be painfully reminded each May that they don’t, for whatever reason, have that relationship. It reminds me again that everybody has some kind of pain, as well as some kind of good in their life, and that none of this is a contest. As hard as it is being sick and being here, my mostly companion and I are having some laughs. There’s probably a lot of people out there with great lungs, and no mummy. Everybody is just trying.
As it usually is when you love someone so much you can’t put it into words, everything I have written here feels inadequate. But most of you already know what a great mummy she is, I am just here to tell you …that she is even better than that, and that I love her so so so much.
I asked some of Caitlin’s friends if they would want to write up a little something that I could put on my website. Here, Kenley describes Caitlin as only a lifelong best friend from childhood can.
Someone recently asked me how I thought Caitlin might feel about Little Matchesbeing out in the world. I know how she would feel. Her face on a few thousand book covers? Her picture in a few million copies of People Magazine? The girl who wore short skirts to chapel would love all that, for sure. Even more, the soulful Caitlin would love the fact that I’m hearing from people who’ve “stayed up all night reading it” and who are feeling comforted and better about life because of it. It is my dearest wish that Little Matches will inspire readers to think deeply about life and purpose and what’s really important at the end of the day, and it seems it is doing just that.
Hundreds of new books flood this noisy world every Tuesday and Little Matches has been out for two weeks now. People Magazine is wonderful and I’m grateful for it, but a new issue will replace it any day. I REALLY need to spread the word about this book, so I’d be incredibly grateful if everyone who reads this post shared it with at least one other person who might benefit from reading Little Matches.
Events are still virtual and I’m happy to be able to do them, but it is strange to have no idea who is out there, and then to be sitting alone at my desk when they are done. Thanks to all who’ve tuned in so far, and let me know that they did. I will be talking with Jessica Keener at Belmont Books on Thursday night at 7pmET. Click right here to register and join us.
Here are the links to current articles – People mag, TIME mag, and LitHub
I’D LOVE TO SEND A SIGNED AND STAMPED BOOKPLATETO ANYONE WHO DONATES TO
THE CAITLIN O’HARA COMMUNITY HEALTH CLINIC
No donation is too small to help Jess build The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic in Kenya. She now has 501c3 status and has partnered with Build Health International to design the clinic. She has purchased land adjacent to the current community resource center, conducted topography reports and structural engineering assessments and will break ground this month. Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard have signed on as strategic partners.
As a thank-you,I would love to send a bookplate that is signed by me and stamped with Caitlin’s “kitten” signature to anyone who would like to make a donation to this incredibly worthy cause. (You can email me at maryanneharaAuthor@gmail.com)
Hello to every wonderful human who has been with me here since December, 2016.
Your support sustained me, and encouraged me to write LITTLE MATCHES. And now… it is here. It is my greatest wish that it will inspire every reader to think deeply about life, and purpose, and about what’s really important at the end of the day.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who will read it, gift it, and celebrate it. With this book, Caitlin gets all of her 9 lives. ❤️
And can I just say….? That Little Matches is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever held in my hands. Truly. The cover imagery glows and reflects light.
You are more than welcome to share this email, and news of LITTLE MATCHES, far and wide…. THANK YOU.
When you open your hardcover, you will see this beautiful montage.
After tomorrow night’s virtual Brookline Booksmith event, I will go to the store to sign and personalize books purchased through the event. In addition to my signature, I’ve had a stamp made of Caitlin’s tongue-in-cheek Kitten scribble signature.
I’m also planning to sign books at other local stores, and will be doing more local events at Belmont Books (MA), PRINT (Portland, ME), and Titcomb’s (Cape Cod). You can check my appearances calendar for more information. Events are being added all the time. Maryanne’s LITTLE MATCHES TALKS
VIRTUAL LAUNCH CELEBRATION– Wednesday, 7pmET
The virtual launch is tomorrow night. I do so hope that some of your faces will be out there, even if I can’t see them. As I mentioned in my last post, I would love it if attending guests would light a little candle in honor of Caitlin, their own loved ones, themselves–anyone who needs some honoring.
I will be in conversation with the brilliant and engaging Lily King.
TIME Magazine just published this essay I wrote about the value and beauty of legacy work — people’s stories.
I will be offering a few virtual legacy workshops at the end of May. Details will be available on my website.
“I want to reassure you I don’t take myself too seriously. I do take life seriously though, I’ll be honest … because it’s a seriously wild business.“
BREAKING NEWS FROM KENYA
JESS is delighted to announce that The Leo Project has partnered with Build Health International to design The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic. Below is the finalized rendering of the clinic which will be situated adjacent to the existing Resource Center. They have purchased additional land, conducted topography reports and structural engineering assessments and, later this month, they are slated to break ground. Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard have signed on as strategic partners.
Secondly, The Leo Project has achieved 501c3 status! They applied last May and finally received IRS approval. Tax-deductible donations can now be made directly to The Leo Project.
Three years ago right now I was in Italy at a literary workshop. I had 25 pages of Little Matches written but I still I had no idea whether it would ever become a book. When I arrived home, I resumed my practice of setting a timer every day and sitting down to write “no matter what.” I aimed for a chapter a week, and sent the pages to my friend, the writer Susan Conley, every Monday. I needed to feel like somebody was expecting those pages, and I’m grateful to Susan and to two other close friends, Jane and Monique, for steadily urging me on.
And now it’s complete! In four short weeks, it will be out in the world.
🕯BE MY GUEST AT THE VIRTUAL LAUNCH CELEBRATION 🕯
All events are currently still virtual. It means I can’t see you in person, but it also means you can see me from the comfort of your own home, and we can be connected no matter where we are.
My first event will be at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts. I did quite a few CASCADE events there, and nothing would make me happier than to talk about this book, for the first official time, with loved ones surrounding me and pizza at Otto afterward, but I am also so grateful that the virtual option exists.
I am excited to talk about Caitlin and this book, and how much I hope it will inspire people to love deeply, live purposefully, and seek joy. My conversation partner is going to be an old friend, the absolutely stunning writer and wonderful human, Lily King. Lily and I had a long, outdoor walk this past December and talked about how people, after they are gone, can actually start to feel near again in a wonderful way that you never expected.
I have a small request. I would LOVE it if attending guests would light themselves a little candle 🕯 in honor of Caitlin, their own loved ones, and in honor of themselves. I won’t be able to see you all out there, but if I can imagine your faces shining amidst all that light, I think we can conjure a beautiful, virtual community for one precious hour.
Because I will be doing most of my book talks with conversation partners – wonderful writers who are generously giving me their time – we will not be following any set script. Each talk will be unique and wonderful and I hope new readers will hear about them and attend.
All of my events are/will be listed on my website and we will keep it up-to-date. I will also write another post soon, with updates.
🌀 LEGACY WORKSHOPS 🌀
A head’s up that I’m going to be offering some mini-workshops at some bookstores around the country. Recently, I trained as a certified end-of-life doula at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. I knew that the training would a) better prepare me for the hospice volunteering I plan to do when Covid restrictions lift, 2) help me to better speak to the state of end-of-life care in our culture.
My favorite part of the doula training was legacy work – helping people record life interviews. Life interviews offer an opportunity for people to reflect on their lives and shape their stories, regardless of age or current health.
I believe in the idea that everyone has a story that deserves to be preserved, and have written a brief article about life interviews and the opportunities that I missed with my daughter and my mother. It will run in Time Magazine in early April.
So far, we’ve set up three of these free, one-hour workshops with bookstores in California, Washington state, and Florida, but because they are virtual, anyone anywhere can certainly attend. They are/will be listed on my website with registration links. So far it’s Warwick’s in LaJolla, Books and Books in Miami, and Elliot Bay Books in Seattle.
🌀 SIGNS 🌀
I’ve been wanting to write another “signs” post for a long time but I’ve been so busy writing other things, I haven’t had a chance. As always there are constant 33s and hawks in our lives, but some of the instances have been particularly fascinating. Here’s one thing that I’ve been meaning to share since last summer. As I wrote here, my mom passed in June. Earlier that year, I was helping to take care of her after she had begun to fail. I knew that she had a lifelong fear of death and even though she was clearly not long for this world, she clung to a hope that she would miraculously get better and live another ten years. With my mother and me, if a subject was uncomfortable, it was not discussed, but as I was helping her into bed one night, I mustered up my courage. I said, “I know you’re scared but it’s going to be okay.” And I said what I believed to be most true: “I KNOW there’s more than this. You’ll see! I’m actually envious. You’re going to see Caitlin.”
She did not comment, just looked at me steadily, processing what I’d said.
Two months after her passing, I had a session with Kristin Bredimus, a spiritual consultant with a toolkit full of abilities, whose energy work is so powerful that I stumble off her table like I’ve had a two-hour deep-tissue massage. As Kristin was passing her hands through the air above the left side of my body, I heard her ask something about “mother.” We were both masked and she had a shield on; she had to speak up.
There was mother energy wanting to present itself, she said. “Has your mother passed?”
“She has,” I said. “Very recently.”
“She’s saying, ‘You were right. You were right.’”
“Yes. Did you two have an argument about something?”
We had not, I said. And I told her what I thought it meant.
After the session, I got in my car and began to drive away. A car pulled out of a side street, right in front of me, and right in front of Kristin’s building.
And as I was writing this post, I had to do a search on my phone to find the pic of the license plate. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Oh and this just popped up this morning in “Facebook Memories.” I’ll add it for the pleasure of all who are longing to travel again. Sigh.
I’ll just say this: as bad as 2020 was, for us it was nothing compared to 2016.
I cannot believe it’s four years. Four. How? The knowledge makes my head spin like a small planet, like its moon — time moving inexorably forward forward forward yet tricking you with its revolutions, its constant circling back to the repetition of seasons and traditions. The older you get the more you realize a year is really nothing. So four of them isn’t much.
And yet it is.
Somehow, in these four years, I wrote LITTLE MATCHES and a team of wonderful people turned it into a thing that can exist in the world without me. This book is going to LOOK the beautiful way I envisioned, and I’m so happy to report that it is also going to have exquisite endpapers, a photographic tableau of objects and imagery that I put together and am excited to share. Here’s one heart-shattering, wonderful piece of it:
I feel so lucky.
Also, not lucky at all.
I think many of you, after making it through this year, understand what I mean. When I researched the 1918 pandemic for CASCADE, I realized that humans have to deal with big ones every hundred years or so, and that we were due. I waited for it to arrive, terrified for Caitlin. Turns out, she would have been well-equipped, in many ways, to deal with it. It’s clearly been harder for people who don’t normally have to worry about their health.
To everyone who experienced a truly terrible 2020, I feel your pain and sorrow and I am so so sorry.
The amazing JESS opened The Leo Project resource center in Kenya last January, and almost immediately, COVID required that the project temporarily pivot to meet the immediate needs of the community. They set up hand washing stations, made face masks, distributed emergency food supplies, set up an e-learning portal, and distributed sanitary pads and reproductive health materials.
The Leo Project’s next undertaking is The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Center, created in response to urgent community need. The clinic will sit adjacent to the Resource Center and will focus on maternal and child care, reproductive health, and mental health services.
Jess has assembled an advisory board compiled of doctors from around the world and is working in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Kenya. Boston-based Build Health International is overseeing plan and design. She has just started her fundraising efforts to bring these critical services to the community. Big donations are always welcome, of course, yet so are the smallest. She now has 501C status and can use a fundraising platform that allows people to make monthly gifts, however small. 100 percent of every donation goes directly to Leo Project programs.
NICK is healthy and busy. He’s got 11 acres behind his building and spent this past spring and summer having his men begin to build a trail he calls THE FORGIVENESS, LOVE, AND KINDNESS trail. It meanders through the woods, along a babbling brook, for a good five minutes each way He has installed the MY HEART HURTS stones there, as well as some other stone wonders and an entrance that requires you to step up through an arch, and then down onto the path. Magical and it’s far from completed. You can check out the work he does in everyday life, all of it creative, permanent, and beautiful, at oharacompany.com
ANDREW is doing really well and we’re going to distance-see him this coming week.
BOOK TRAILER VIDEO
My wonderful brother Michael Bavaro always helps me with the film/drawing side of things. He created a short book trailer video for LITTLE MATCHES which you can watch here:
I miss Caitlin so much. The last few days, my eyes have been a faucet. We’ve rented an apartment in Maine for a week, a place she loved and where she likely would have settled. I keep walking past the bedroom I know she would have chosen and I can almost see her in there, all her stuff strewn about. I can hear my exasperated self saying, “Can’t you please keep this place tidy?” And her response: “Oh, Mom just shut the door.” Makes me laugh and cry at once.
That complicated reality is a reflection of why my memoir has the perfect sub-title. Grief AND Light. I can thank my editor for that one. Life’s not all good but it surely is not bad.
Here’s to light ahead. It’s coming….. Tomorrow is the winter solstice. It’s also the “Great Conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter, when they will be so close in the sky that they may appear to be a single bright star to some. Look for them an hour after sunset tonight and for the next few days, over the southwest. They last appeared to be this close together to earthlings on July 16, 1623. How wonderful is that, to think about?
I will leave you with these words from Caitlin’s Christmas post of 2015:
PS, Live update: Big flock of birds settling in the tree outside our window here in Portland. And a cardinal just flew right up to a branch near my window. ❤️