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.



JANUARY 17–In the Redwood Forest

Below is a screenshot of Caitlin’s Instagram from our trip home in September, 2015, when she got to visit the Prouty Garden one last time.  As I’ve mentioned, the current Children’s Hospital administration made their decision to cut down/kill the Prouty Garden’s 65 foot Dawn Redwood tree this past December, the same day Caitlin went on ECMO.


The dawn redwood is in the middle rear of this pic

Today, in Caitlin’s honor, Nick and I visited the Muir redwood forest here in California.

The last movie that Caitlin saw was at the Carnegie Science Center a few months ago, the recent “National Parks Adventure” at the Omnimax. From CNN’s review of the film:
Two of the most integral figures in national park history are also honored in the film — conservationist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt, who convened in 1903 at Yosemite National Park. Their famous three-day camping summit under the stars in a giant grove of Sequoia trees is re-enacted by a pair of dedicated tribute actors.
“That meeting [between Roosevelt and Muir] is often regarded as the most important three days in conservation history, so we knew we had to include it,” says MacGillivray.

“They believed that nature was of spiritual value, and that you could get more out of it by not changing it. It was a unique point of view then — and one that people might take more for granted now.”

Like anything so natural and overwhelming to puny beings like us, photographs cannot do justice to how it feels to walk there among our earth’s tallest living things. But if you’ve never been, try to go in this lifetime. The forest is like a cathedral–hushed, and filled with shade and light.
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Nick and a redwood

At one point, Nick opened his knapsack and took out the photo of Caitlin that he’s been carrying on this trip.

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This is quite a large photograph but looks like a 3×5 against this tree.


He also brought the religious gifts various people had given to Caitlin while she was sick and which hung on her IV poles in the hospital and during her surgeries.


It’s 4 weeks today, exactly, and as I write that, it hits me all over again that it is true.

But Jess is here, and we love her. And we saw Kenley, too, last night. And read aloud a wonderful note we received from the kids’ former headmaster at Fay. And basically went on living, as impossible as that seems to be to do.


JANUARY 16–Ropes Course for Souls

Big Sur. I had it in my head that we needed to get here.

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Fairy Ring of Coastal Redwoods

The glorious, big days are somewhat easy here. Night is still night, and nights are hard. At 2am the night before last, after getting a dozen messages from people telling me of signs they were sure they received from Caitlin’s soul, I thought, okay, I’m going to ask for a hard sign. I want a monarch butterfly to fly around me in a complete circle. Tomorrow.

And yesterday we went to Esalen for massages and to experience their famous hot sulphur springs.

Time has been a strange thing. Sitting in the hot water with the sea crashing below, all I could think was, Exactly four weeks ago today, Caitlin was in surgery and we were so relieved and happy. And now I am at Esalen, a place that seemed like Neverland.

Nick loved the energy at Esalen and afterward, went to look at the big farm garden there. I sat in an Adirondack chair overlooking the Pacific and I thought about the end of Mad Men and how I wanted Caitlin to see that I was there and a couple of monarch butterflies began flying all around… not right around my face, the way I’d envisioned, but in big swooping circles that took in much more than me.

A few people have said they enjoy reading Caitlin’s thoughts so here’s something relevant, as we all face the coming week.

From: Caitlin O’Hara <caitlin.ohara@gmail.com>
Date: October 2, 2016 at 10:31:46 PM EDT
To: andrew
Subject: Wow read this


With my big book, Sarum – that I’ve been reading that traces England from beginning of man to now — to this new book I’m reading – which does a similar thing with the slave trade and is already so so so good and opening up news ways of looking at slavery (for me) I just feel like plus alongside this election, which is challenging everything I took for granted ..::it’s an interesting and weird time to be alive and experiencing. I can’t help but imagine these times in the past that I read about, and then think how the time we live in now will just be something that happened to someone else, in the future….It will be this weird blip in history that is a forgone conclusion because it’s over, it’s sorted out. We learn about bad things that happened and somehow they don’t seem quite as unbelievable because the people in the future have figured out why it happens, and we know the ending.  I hope it doesn’t happen soon, but at some point the US will no longer be around, or it will be much different than it is now. And it won’t seem weird to people reading about it in history books. We will just seem like the dumb idiots of history who elected trump. Like the sheep in Germany who followed hitler. A question on a test somewhere. We parse the decades out and they all seem so different

– when I read Sarum I have a tendency to do a double take when things are different from say 1650 to 1690—when the area in the book has undergone a huge change. But of course in our modern history entire revolutions and wars happen in shorter times. Countries fall. We are all the same and we all have a collective fallibility and vulnerability. It can happen to any country and any place … but we also are all the same in that we never seem to really learn from history or believe WE are the ones making mistakes.

It’s part of why the idea of souls makes sense to me. This place is just like a ropes course for souls. A learning center. It never changes and the collective body of humans can never sustain their progress too too much or else there is not enough to challenge the souls. Imagine all the people living life in peace ✌️ John Lennon – well that wouldn’t really work if you believe we need to be challenged to grow. At least in the human form.



** The slave trade book was Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Sarum is by Edward Rutherfurd

JANUARY 13–Glowing in the Dark with Mary

We have been here a week—feels like much, much longer. The rains kept us from going straight to Big Sur as we had planned, but that turned out to be a good thing. We were made to live inside the moments we found ourselves in. We did things we hadn’t planned to do: see Malibu and Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara and Miles-and-Jack country.

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..and just a flutter of, like a nutty Edam cheese

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Spirit Bear for Caitlin and for Gary Richardson

Strange, small-world, meaningful fact: our wonderful neighbors from Pittsburgh, Mary and Ralph, actually own a place just down the beach from where we stayed in Santa Monica. All this time, when they would go to CA, I thought they were somewhere else. (Never having been here, I didn’t have much of a map in my head.)

So we got to visit with them a bit. And that was surreal and healing and very, very good. They are kind friends who will always be in our lives.

Another Pittsburgh–now life–friend, the wonderful writer and soul, Jane McCafferty, has been so supportive with her words and thoughts and the other day wrote, “If you have a favorite saint, or a connection to Jesus, try calling on that now— in my experience this can be real medicine.”

I liked that advice and realized I’d already taken, like Caitlin, the stoic Mary as my own. At the last minute, I had packed the tiny glow-in-the-dark Vierge Marie that I purchased at Chartres when I visited there with Caitlin in 2004. After another 2am bad dream last night, I’ve decided I’m going to keep her glowing figure on my bedside table from now on.

I have a feeling that the real Mary would not have taken herself too seriously, and thus wouldn’t mind this version of herself.

Light inside darkness is always a good thing.

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La Vierge Marie

As soon as we arrived here last week, I realized I had to buy a stronger chain for Caitlin’s bird ring. I didn’t trust the one I had, but I did trust that I would find the right thing at some point, and as Nick and I were walking up the main street in Santa Barbara the other day, I glimpsed a store that looked to be full of necklace chains. Nick walked in and bee-lined straight to the perfect one. The right length, the right color. “Look up,” he said.


I began to see her everywhere, of course. Even in the most unlikely places.

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And also in very likely, lovely places, like this stunning stucco church in Santa Barbara called Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

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St Francis and his birds and Mary

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Mary and 65 Roses

She is everywhere, once you know to look.





Beautiful song sent by Jane.





JANUARY 12–A Sampling of Messages

People are asking how Nick is. He’s not on social media, so it’s hard for people to tell. He’s up and down, as am I, but we are a pretty seasoned see-saw act, and we are doing okay.


 Amazing, but we actually can look somewhat normal

We do both want to say how very grateful we are for all of the wonderful messages we are receiving. They really help….like writing on this blog helps, like anything that keeps Caitlin close helps. We are going to share a couple of them here, with thanks to the people who’ve given us permission to do so.


from Meghan Greenberg Lockwood

About Meghan: We have such a strong memory of dropping Caitlin off to her first day of school at Fay, and of Meghan making a point of greeting Caitlin and offering to walk in with her.  Meghan’s note was delightful to receive because it reminded us that 1) Even though 33 is young, Caitlin was around for a long time, and 2) She had mischievous memories we knew nothing about.

Dear Maryanne and Nick,

I wanted to let you know how much I have been thinking of you, and of Caitlin. So many memories have come back to me these past several weeks, memories that I didn’t know I had. The Caitlin I knew best was elementary and middle school Caitlin, and as you know, she was what my grandmother would have called a hot ticket. In the spirit of keeping her light alive, I thought I would share a few of these memories.

During art class, Caitlin would sing very dramatically, “I’m off to New York and I won’t come back till Saturday night, after the SHOW-OW-OW!”

Other times, she would burst into Unchained Melody. She’d be sitting quietly and get a little glint in her eyes and then belt, “OHHHH my LOVE my DARLING, etc.”

At sleepover parties, after pizza and cake, she liked to get under the table, crawl around, and then grab someone’s feet and tickle them. She called it “The Game of Not Knowing,” because you never knew when your feet were going to get grabbed!

I remember one time she was at my house for a playdate recounting to me and my mom an amazing meal she had had. She turned to my mom with wide eyes and said in a conspiratorial stage whisper, “I had to unbutton a button!”

Early on in our French career, Madame Naumes told us that the letter ‘h’ was not pronounced in France. Caitlin looked horrified and said, “But then…how am I supposed to say…I live in…BABY DONKEY LAND?!” (Get it? Ashland, but the h is silent…)

When we did the Explo day camp at St. Mark’s, our little crew performed Ace of Base’s The Sign as a dance number, and Caitlin made a sign to hold that said Slippery When Wet. Even in the awkward middle school days, she made everything she touched cool. I remember a cute boy from Texas named David who had the biggest crush on her!

On kitchen crew, one of her favorite things to do was to make mixed drinks from the soda machine, like different combinations of Sprite, orange soda, etc. I remember her telling me in the mornings about how she had a new recipe in mind for that day.

On a less silly note, even during those adolescent years when everyone was complaining about their parents, I don’t remember her ever joining in except for the mildest of jokes about her mom handing her a banana and saying, “Eat your potassium, Caitlin.” She had the coolest parents, and she knew it, and she loved you two so deeply her whole life.

With all my love and most heartfelt sympathy,

P.S. Maryanne, my book club asked me to pass along their condolences. They loved reading Cascade and meeting you, and I know they’ll love reading whatever is next.

P. P. S. On the topic of the signs you’ve been experiencing, have you read this essay from 2015 by Lisa Chase? I thought it was amazing.
http://www.elle.com/life-love/news/a30986/losing-my-husband-and-finding-him-through-a-medium/ ****

*****More on this later

from Betsy Kemper French

About Betsy: Betsy is a wonderful writer and fellow Emerson MFA grad. We actually never had any classes together, but we’ve somehow kept in touch over the years. She is a beautiful writer and thinker, and this letter really affected both Nick and me. Plus: kittens.


I have been thinking about what to write to you.  It’s silly—there’s no obligation, and I’m on the periphery of your life.  I never met Caitlin.  I don’t know your friends and family.  And yet, I feel a powerful connection to your story.  It’s not just me.  Friends of mine who don’t know you at all became readers of your blog, pulled into this miraculous, tragic, and painfully beautiful journey.

I’ve written before about connections—between people, animals, nature, events.  It can’t be scientifically explained, but they are everywhere, and I feel the most peace when I wonder about them.  Your writing through this blog has allowed me to feel so many connections with people I’ve never known.  It’s like what a great novel does: we get to know and love the characters like they were in our own lives, like we have had experiences and memories with them.  You’ve allowed that with Caitlin and all the other “characters” in your “story.”  Yet, all of these people are real, and so our connection to them is real, strengthened by your honest writing, the pictures and videos, the text messages, the program from her service.  So, is literature allowing us to mimic these connections that we should have in our real lives?  So much about your writing has made me ask big questions.

Here’s one way my connection with Caitlin has affected my life.  The other night, my youngest daughter, Charlotte (you may remember: “I AM THE BOSS OF ME”) was having trouble getting to sleep.  She is so bright, creative and funny, but suffers from a lot of anxiety, even at the young age of nine.  I sat on her bed taking some deep breaths with her.  Her fear makes me anxious too, and I don’t want her to feel that.  So, when I’m trying to stay calm, I often image an angel—yes, the stereotypical one with the wide white wings, surrounded by a golden glow—standing just behind me, putting her hand on the middle of my back.  I imagine her light coming into me and calming me, and then that light traveling to Charlotte as I stroke her head.  The other night I had that same image, but this time—I hope it’s okay to tell you this—Caitlin came to mind.  It was her light and strength that made me feel good and steady. It was her light that traveled from me into Charlotte’s  little body.  I hope you don’t feel this is “using” her story or exploiting it in any way.  But through your writing and hers, you created a stunning work of art that offered her to all of us.  St. Caitlin.  St. Kitten.

But it’s not just me.  My friend Kate Kertscher follows your blog as well.  Her oldest son has been asking for a kitten of his own for some time.  Kate has three kids and a large dog and an old cat and a very busy life, and was hesitant about adding another creature to the chaotic mix.  Yet, the other day when I spoke to her, she said they decided to go ahead with it.  She said, “I just thought of Caitlin, and it made me realize how silly I was being! Of course we should get another cat!”  **** Seems appropriate too, that it’s a kitten.

So, we are carrying her too, in little ways, but still.  Thank you.

I wish I could give you something back, some advice, but I can’t.  I haven’t been through anything close to your loss.  I haven’t been a mom as long, or a mom who has had to deal with such tragedy. But I can still say what comes to mind, what I hope will help as you make your way through these raw, painful, early days of loss:  Stay close to nature, Maryanne.  The kind of nature where you can taste the dirt and feel the salt breeze on your skin.  Smell the rain or lightning.  Feel the snowflakes on your face.  That is where I most strongly feel the people I’ve lost in my life—even if they weren’t nature lovers themselves.  I know you will feel Caitlin in the silent majesty of those redwoods, where it seems time has stopped and their powerful size reminds us we are not the center of the world, but a small part of something unimaginably intricate and beautiful. The souls of those trees reach out to ours—all the same somehow.  I bet you will feel her soar through you when looking at the gorgeous coastline, the sunrises and sunsets, whether in California or here at home.

And keep looking for all those signs of positivity and love.  They will always be there.

My thoughts are with you and Nick and Caitlin, wherever she may be.


*****Update: the boy got TWO kittens

from Ellen Tarlin

About Ellen: Ellen and I met at Emerson when Caitlin was 8. Ellen watched Caitlin grow up. This is a snippet of a recent note.

I remembered that when I was raising funds for my friend who had brain cancer, Caitlin donated. And when I was spreading the word about fundraising for my friend who had lost her husband, Caitlin donated. She was the last person I would have asked for money but one of the first to give. 

Love and peace,

–M and N

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:



From Patry Francis’s Instagram xo