DECEMBER 24–All is Bright

“Like the Madonna,” her Irish great-gran would most definitely have said.

It’s Christmas Eve, a night for faith and hope, no matter what your faith, no matter what you hope for.

Last night, a visiting friend said he was angry, said, “That’s where I struggle with faith. How could any God allow that to happen?”

“No, no, no!” I said. “Please don’t think that. I need to remind people not to think that.”

Caitlin would not have changed the fact of her cystic fibrosis.

Let me underscore that: Caitlin would not have changed the fact of her cystic fibrosis.

Caitlin believed, as do I, that earthly struggles make you a better, stronger, and more loving and compassionate person.

I’m no super-strong saint. I’m missing her terribly. Horribly. Unbearably. I fall down on the floor. I curl up and cry. I walk down to the river and pace the lawn and wonder how I’m going to live the rest of my life. Today was the hardest day of all—denial and shock setting in, remembering that just one week ago we were filled with relief and happiness, knowing she had one more chance at transplant. But at the same time, I know certain things to be true: pain and struggle are terrible but all of the mess contributes to the growth of your soul.

When Caitlin was little, she required that I sing “Silent Night,” no matter the season, to put her to sleep. Even though, to me, it was supposed to be a special, once-a-year Christmas Eve song. My entire life, I’d loved Christmas Eve more than Christmas. I loved it to be silent and quiet and sacred—-dark but with a sky full of stars. Caitlin made me realize, from her earliest years, that all evenings could be sacred.

It was raining today and it’s still cloudy tonight. There are no stars to see, but I know they are there. And although I know Caitlin is there, somewhere, in the form of bright, loving energy, I will just miss her so much. Her face, her voice, her charming, lovely human presence. But I want to remind everyone of her own words, just one month before her passing, on November 20, on this blog:

There is so much suffering in the world … so much. My belief though at least is – the world was not meant to always be fair or fun or easy.  The world is teeming with life, and death, and pain, and Donald Trump even haha. We just have to keep living. Step back. We are just tiny beings. There are lobsters living at the bottom of the ocean for over a hundred years. They have just been sitting down there through all of our lives and wars and lives before us. We aren’t that much different from lobsters really if you pull back a little. All part of this teeming painful wonderful world where so much is just luck. But we can choose to be kind, and to keep trying — we have the power.

 “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. ” Leonard Cohen

 —Caitlin, November 20, 2016

And her very last words, texted to me to post on December 3, right before she crashed:

I love my mummy for everything she does – there are no words. Nor for andrew and my dad. They are all so caring. focused their lives directly on me. it is hard to reconcile how that can possibly be ok. But I guess it’s what we do as humans.

Heart and humor, and humility he said will lighten up your heavy load. Joni Mitchell refuge of the roads.

So much outpouring of love and attention makes humility a challenge, but I am so grateful for it. Heart and humor are easier. They feel like the only directions to go right now.  Joni Mitchell’s words feel like permission to let go.

I do realize that not everyone who reads this blog is experiencing a big emotional moment in their lives …that sometimes life skates around on top where things are delightful and easy. And I’ve been there and hope to be back, even though I love to cry (with happiness!).
I couldn’t be further from the road right now in Joni’s song with its literal talk about the refuge of anonymity, cold water restrooms and and a photograph of the earth in a highway service station. I am consumed with myself and it’s boring and uncomfortable and embarrassing to have so much attention. And I LIKE attention. At the same time I can’t stop – in order to keep going I have to focus on myself. Self self self. It feels so anti human. It is. I rely on others completely and ultimately, finally will rely on another person to keep me alive.

My thoughts these days aren’t the skate on top kind of normal life thoughts. They’re up and down and trippy and depressive – and we have a lot of laughs. And lots of crying. And weird creative urges. I just want to say thank you for listening to what sometimes must be very emotionally over the top sounding writing. And 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.

Thank you for the support – I know I wouldn’t survive at all without it. It’s such an easy thing to say. But truly, i’d be dead by now! I am so very grateful even if I am a bit off the grid lately and I’ve faltered shamefully in my thank you notes – I don’t think I’ll ever get to some of them. But – I’m here, and thank you. And I love everyone very much and love hearing from people even if I am not able to write back.


DECEMBER 21–Our Light

IMG_4124.JPGWord is getting out, so I will speak. After my light-hearted update yesterday, everything  spiraled out of control. After an early morning EEG which showed slowed brain activity, morning rounds showed that she had no responses at all. Her left leg had no blood flow below the knee, contributing to her worsening condition, and they had to remove it. Then a CT scan showed a massive brain bleed, the one thing she had always been terrified of. There was no hope.

The lung allocation system is so broken, friends. If she had received these perfect lungs earlier, all would be different. She should never have ended up on life support with the score she had. All the allocation systems are different, for each organ. Liver is the only one that works—at a certain score, need overrides all regional allocation.

Her doctors were in awe of her—that her tiny body endured so much and kept going.

Yesterday, Sinead experienced a reading of Caitlin that was urgent and stunning and accurate, as all of her readings are. She spoke to the surgeon, on his way into the operating room, and he listened.

The wisest doctors know that this life is mysterious, and that they don’t have all the answers. The care she received at UPMC was loving and extraordinary. We are grateful.

We numbly stumbled through these last weeks, but looking back now, I realize with horror all she had to endure. She was terrified when she was put on ECMO: essentially locked-in, immobile. For the first two days, she could speak, but got so agitated she had to be intubated and sedated and then she was in and out of consciousness.

And before that? The last two and a half years, every day was a wake-up-and-do-it-all-over-again effort to stay healthy enough to survive the transplant surgery: force down so many calories in an effort to maintain her 97 pounds, lengthy breathing treatments, chest PT, exercise.

IMG_3927.JPGAll the while, she tried to “have a life.” She was teaching herself guitar until she could no longer sit up and hold it properly. She worked tirelessly, from afar, to help create and run the Friends of the Prouty Garden; an advocacy group for Boston Children’s Hospital’s world-famous healing garden. The group, despite massive outreach and supportive press, ultimately failed to save the garden. The day the 65-foot Dawn Redwood was cut down was the day she finally crashed and ended up on ECMO.  I know that seeing that tree killed  killed something inside her.

Nick is broken and strong at once. She was so lucky to have such a giving father.

Andrew—-never was anyone so devoted to someone. Caitlin loved him with all her heart.

Jess flew in like the wind last week, like the angel she is, after having her chemo in San Francisco. She had to fly back for her experimental cancer drug yesterday and so was not here for the end. She will join us in Boston tomorrow.

To all of our family and her closest friends: She loved you all so so much!  She was having an argument with me about something once, not long ago, and she said, “You think all this is important but all that really matters is loving people and being kind.”

We are going to go home and figure out what kind of service to have.

She did not want to be buried. She did not want to be cremated. She wanted a mausoleum and we are arranging that. I know she wants a service where everyone can have a good cry and a couple of laughs. We will figure it all out and I guess I will post details here.

Caitlin and I do believe that the soul lives on. I know she is out there, but I will just miss her so much! She is my soul friend. She is my person. I really don’t know how I will live without her. When she was very sick twenty years ago, I remember thinking, “If she dies, I’ll kill myself.” I know I won’t do that, but this gaping hole is never going to close, I know.

We do have weird things happen with “pennies from heaven,” and last night, as they turned off the ECMO machine, I saw there was a penny on it. Birds, always a motif in Caitlin’s life, were doing all kinds of strange things this week. I wanted to read them as signs she would be okay, but I feared they were signs that she was going off into the light.

Sinead sent me this message this morning:


Caitlin Elizabeth O’Hara

July 31, 1983—-December 20, 2016

a beach 2.jpg

Today is apparently the darkest night in 500 years. The solstice and an eclipse. Please look at some form of light today and remember Caitlin and the light she carried within her all her life. Share that light. Please keep Caitlin’s light alive.

She loved Freddie Mercury. And loved his cat vest. And this song, which always breaks my heart.

12/19, 5:30pm — Into the OR

Let’s hope they find something that’s causing these increasing lactates! This OR trip is proactive and good. Caitlin has a great medical team!

My aunt just asked a good question: Is she aware that she’s been transplanted?

The answer is YES.

She’s listening. We told her. We told her that the lungs are perfect Harry Potter lungs that are a perfect fit. Her blood oxygen saturation is 100 percent. (Before transplant, it was in the low 80s.) The pulmonary pressures on her heart have gone way down. As soon as the rest of her regains its previous good health, she’ll be able to enjoy her new ability to breathe again. What a gift, what a tremendous, generous gift.

All we know of the donor was that he/she was very healthy.

—The Team


OKAY! She is successfully off the heart-lung bypass machine, and transitioned back onto ECMO. This needed to happen, and happen as quickly as possible.

The dialysis will work to hopefully reduce the lactates in her liver.

Thank you to our blessed real-life angel Sinead. I woke her up in London after the surgeon dropped the frightening news on us. She tapped into Caitlin, and worked with her for fifteen minutes, told me what was going on with her body, told me what I could do myself. I was up in the chapel and when I came down the elevator, Nick, Andrew, and Jess were waiting to tell me of the success.

This is going to be a very bumpy road… we expected it and it’s here. The recovery is tough, but we are all here to help her through this.

We are still waiting in the waiting area. She is still critical. But….