Caitlin’s death was ultimately caused by her too-long wait. The surgery itself was technically easier than the surgeons had anticipated. That part had gone very well. Her problems were all caused by having been on life support for too long. If she had received those perfect lungs earlier, there would only have been a happy story to tell.
One of the most important lessons that can come out of this tragedy is how vital is the need for organ donor awareness. In lieu of any flowers or gifts to us, please register today to be an organ, tissue, and cornea donor. (The DMV “organ donor” sticker is not enough.) And please help to dispel the wrongheaded myths about donation. Organ allocation is one of the most tightly-regulated and ethical institutions in the country. Register as an organ donor
We came home yesterday. Our wonderfully kind friend Jimmy C sent his plane for us in Pittsburgh, and Oh my God!—it made for an easy, stress-free transfer, and we couldn’t be more grateful. To just get driven to the airstrip, board the plane, kind pilots, up we go, 50 minutes: home.
My wonderful sister Kate and her husband Phil were waiting at our house, heat on, food cooking. Over the day, my dear brothers arrived, and friends arrived, and friends have continued to arrive. Jess flew in from San Francisco today and will stay with us until she has to go back for her next treatment. Katie (Caitlin’s almost-sister) came down from New Hampshire. Jacqui, Kenley, Alyssa, Liz—-some of Caitlin’s closest friends are here right now, gathered with other friends and all my family, downstairs, as I write, and it’s wonderful.
We need people around us. Caitlin knew this. We need each other. Being alone is horrible. This past week, anytime I’ve been alone it’s been unbearable, makes me want to jump out of my body. But having people around helps so much. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva is one that I think is so smart, and I’m realizing that what’s happening right now, downstairs, is kind of a combination of sitting shiva and a good old Irish wake. I can’t always interact with all of them, but I’m grateful they are here, and I love hearing the talking/laughing/crying sounds they make.
In Pittsburgh, our condo building didn’t allow live greenery. Caitlin had always wanted a fake white tree with colored lights, so last winter we bought one. This year, we put it up right before she went into the hospital on November 16, and kept it lit as a vigil. We decided to pack it up and bring it home, and I’m so glad we did. From now on, it will be our Christmas tree. Caitlin’s tree.
We are grateful that Caitlin’s story is traveling so far and wide. The comments from friends and strangers have heartened us, unbelievably so! To all of you who have written,
“You don’t know me..”
“You haven’t met me, but..”
“I hope you don’t mind ..”
Please please know: we love all of your comments. We love knowing that Caitlin’s short life has made a difference to so many people. It’s the most wonderful thing.
We are also so grateful that the Boston-area media wants to celebrate her life and pass on a) the message of the importance of organ donation, b) the need to change the regional lung allocation system, and c) the need for a new healing garden in Caitlin’s honor, to replace her beloved Prouty Garden. I spent over an hour on the phone today, talking to the Boston Globe‘s Bryan Marquard, who is going to write a beautiful feature about Caitlin. He then spent another another hour talking with Andrew and Jess. Bill Shaner and photographer Art Illman of the Metrowest News spent an hour here at our home today, talking with us about the importance of Caitlin’s story. The Boston Herald also wrote a truly lovely piece today, written by Chris Villani. The photo they chose to use is from this past Mother’s Day and it both breaks my heart and fills it to bursting. (Herald story)
I’m going to keep writing these posts, for as long as I need to. They help me, and I know they are helping the people who loved Caitlin. It’s funny—-I’m a writer but all these years, I never ever EVER wanted to write about Caitlin’s medical struggles—I felt we had lived them once and once was enough and I didn’t want to dwell inside them. I wanted us all to move on and LIVE. But this is different. These posts are keeping her alive.
We are probably going to have a private service next week, and then a very public memorial and celebration of Caitlin’s life at a later date. I’m not sure where or when—I’m a little wary of planning something during a New England winter. But I will announce it here and we want everyone who wants to come to please come. (We just can’t do the typical wake and funeral. Standing in a sterile room with a coffin, a receiving line–it doesn’t work for us, and it was something Caitlin would not have wanted, either.)
At one point, Caitlin considered doing a masters in philosophy. She got too sick to really pursue that, but she read deeply, and was only interested in reading good, complicated things. She had no time for crap writing, junk reading, beach reads. No time. I loved that about her, loved that she got so into Virginia Woolf in high school—that she GOT Virginia Woolf at such a young age.
In the hospital, I read aloud to her from Mary Oliver’s new book of essays, Upstream. We started when she was on the medical floor and fully ‘normal,’ and then continued in the ICU when she was in and out of consciousness. In the ICU, her blood pressure always went up when I read (a good thing on ECMO!) and we joked that she was was liking the Mary Oliver. MO talks about Emerson and Thoreau in some of these essays. They were old soul writers whom Caitlin loved. This little dish was a gift from her, and always sits on my bedside table. Remember the message, friends. It is Thoreau’s message, and it is Caitlin’s message.