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APRIL 23–Coincidences (?)

There are so many, and they have happened pretty much every day, this past year. Here are a couple of crazy ones.

When I announced, in September, that I would be writing my story in a more contained form, the universe seemed to lead me to Dani Shapiro, the author of many moving pieces of memoir and fiction. In November, I made plans to attend one of her small, women-only writing retreats.

There would be six other women in the group. As I was reading the other writers’ pages, before I left home, I wondered why the name of one woman, Julie Himes, was so familiar. Then I realized she was the author of the book sitting right beside me—-my book club’s pick for December. I emailed her to say hello and to remark upon the coincidence.

She wrote back with some equal amazement. In my pages, I had mentioned Vertex Pharmaceutical’s Kalydeco, the gene-correcting cystic fibrosis drug that might have changed Caitlin’s life, if she’d had access to it before her lung damage occurred. In addition to being a writer, the multi-talented Julie is also a research physician and a medical director at Vertex.

On the last night of that November retreat, Julie and the others were talking with great enthusiasm about Sirenland, an annual writer’s conference that Dani, Dani’s husband Michael Maren, and Hannah Tinti have been running in Positano, Italy for the past dozen years.

Long story short: I ended up attending Sirenland last month.

At Sirenland there are three small workshops, with ten writers in each one. I was part of Dani’s memoir workshop. Before I left home, I received the bound pages containing my group’s ten manuscripts. They were in alphabetical order.

I began to read the manuscripts, one per day. A few days before the conference, I was in London when I reached the end of the manuscript.  W. David Weill. The name seemed familiar. I began to read. And stopped. I started talking to myself. What?? What is this??? Are you kidding me???

I called up to my friend who was traveling with me. You are not going to believe this.

David is a pulmonologist and was the medical director of the lung transplant and adult cystic fibrosis programs at Stanford University for years. His manuscript consisted of the first pages of a memoir he is writing about his complicated relationship with organ transplant.

I also realized why I recognized his name.  I emailed the mother of Mallory Smith, the young woman from LA who also had to be transplanted in Pittsburgh, and who passed so tragically last November. Nick and I had just had dinner with Diane and her husband at their California home. I wrote, Is David Weill the Stanford lung doc friend you mentioned?

Yes, why?

And I told her and she said, Oh my God, Mallory did an edit of his book.

So yes, there was that.

Sirenland was an exceptional experience. And David is an exceptional person and I hope that his memoir will find many fascinated readers. He is now consulting, and working to address, as he puts it on his website, an important deficiency in transplant care: the lack of comprehensive quality information about transplant program performance. From his siteIn the United States, there are hundreds of transplant programs performing thousands of solid organ transplants per year. Based on my own experiencing directing programs and evaluating them for public and private entities, I have seen that the quality of the programs varies considerably. This variability is usually not apparent to patients. The mission: Develop a scientifically reliable way to evaluate transplant program quality by using a variety of metrics that will be proposed and tested by experts in each of the four solid organ transplants (heart, liver, kidney, and lung). In order to achieve this mission, I have set up a non-profit entity called the Coalition for Transplant Program Evaluation (CTPE). 

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Our magical workshop space at Le Sirenuse, Positano

         

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The insanely beautiful view from my room at Le Sirenuse.

As I neared the end of my week in Italy, I thought of all the trips that Caitlin and I had planned for “after transplant.”  The last overseas trip she took was to Ireland for her 30th birthday. She traveled with Andrew and they visited her beloved family in Wexford–her grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. It was a complicated trip, as that was the summer she began to catch one virus after another. By Christmas, she was on oxygen full-time and would never travel again.

I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was already “across the pond.” I had a ticket home from London but was able to change my departure date. I asked Nick to join me in England, to see, in honor of Caitlin, some places she longed to visit: Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, Bath. He came and we saw those magnificent sites and he was also able to visit with old, close friends and also some Welsh cousins he had not seen for thirty (!) years.

We ended our week in London at the hotel where I twice stayed with Caitlin, most recently in 2012. I showed Nick around the enchanting public spaces and pointed out areas that held particularly vivid memories, like how one afternoon, in the lobby, I realized that the man sitting beside me on the sofa was Cuba Gooding, Jr and he was really sweet and funny and offered me a cake from his tiered tray, then basically shouted BOO! when I reached for one.

I showed him where Caitlin got into the taxi with her big suitcase full of oxygen and medical equipment that took her to the Chunnel train that brought her to Paris and the apartment where she so bravely spent a few long-dreamed-of weeks alone.

After we unpacked, we went down to the hotel’s spa. Nick went to the men’s changing area and I went to the women’s. We arranged to meet on the thermal floor.

Once inside the women’s area, the sights and spa smells were so immediately familiar. How could six years have passed? Caitlin was almost there, a shimmering memory in robe and slippers. I allowed myself a moment, thinking, The last time I was here, Caitlin was alive and my book was about to come out, and Cuba Gooding, Jr gave me a piece of cake. Life was pretty good.

Then I went down to the thermal floor to look for Nick. It’s kind of dark there and I couldn’t see him, but suddenly he came out of a door, followed by a man. Look who I found! he said, and it was Cuba, wrapping me in a big hug, saying he was so sorry for the loss of Caitlin, and then he was gone, and my head was spinning a bit. Still is.

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In London

 

–Maryanne

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JANUARY 24–The Price We Pay

We are home. We decided to fly out of San Francisco on Saturday. It was time; we need to get things done here. I was sorry to miss the marches, but as my good friend Ellen pointed out:

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I wasn’t sure I could go into the Boston apartment, never mind sleep there, but we did, and it was actually somewhat comforting. Also, by chance, my sister and brother-in-law were staying in Boston that night, and it was also comforting to spend time with them.

Random Thought: Barbecued Oysters

I really appreciated the notes from all of you who were grateful for the trip reports. It was  easier to grieve out there, close to that spectacular coastline and those ancient trees. Caitlin felt with us. Now, home, she feels very much absent again. We will work on that.

Our last day, Jess took us up to Point Reyes where we sat at picnic tables in the freezing cold and ate the most delicious barbecued oysters. If you’ve never had barbecued oysters,  you’ve got something to look forward to.

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Hog Island Oysters at Point Reyes

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Beautiful Jess

Random Thought: 2012

Five years ago it was 2012, and 2012 turns out to have been one of the most wonderful years of our lives. Viking was publishing Cascade. Nick and Caitlin and I took a relaxing winter trip that turned out to be one of our best. And that summer, after living alone in Paris for a little bit (a longtime dream), Caitlin met Andrew.

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Caitlin in Coral Gables, 2012

 

Yesterday, I found an old email I sent to my sister:

Caitlin really clicked with that boy. She said they talked instantly and forever, of ‘things’ and that he was very smart and kind. As she was telling me about him, she said “it’s like he was the male version of me,” and then her face went a bit white, and she said, ‘oh my god, that’s what the psychic told me. i would be the female version of this person i was going to meet.’

He felt the same. How lucky they both were.

Also, in 2012, Caitlin had been on a kind of wonder drug for a year. Kalydeco, invented by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, targets the specific genetic CF mutation that Caitlin had. Within hours of taking it for the first time in 2011, she felt better. She gained weight and had fewer lung infections. If Kalydeco had existed before her lung damage happened, it would have been as good as a cure. Although it ultimately came too late for her, she did enjoy a couple of relatively healthy, hospital-free years because of it, and enjoyed talking about her experience to a few groups, including Vertex and the Boston Business Journal. Drugs like this came about because of all the support for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and we all thank you for that support.

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Caitlin interviewed by Boston Business Journal

Random Thought: Hereafter

Yesterday was the first day I spent alone in the house. Nick went back to work and kept himself busy. I managed to take a shower, but mainly I cried all morning. The news was all horrible and the day was gray and reminders of Caitlin were everywhere. There is a mountain of cards here and we are so incredibly grateful for them. I tried to read one or two but couldn’t manage any more, yet.

I finally decided to watch a movie that I love, “Hereafter.”

Hereafter came out in 2010 but didn’t do well, mainly I think because people went to it expecting a disaster movie–it opens with incredible special effects that depict the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But it’s not about special effects! It’s an intelligent, engrossing, and very well-written movie that ruminates on whether there is an afterlife.

Matt Damon plays the part of a reluctant medium very very well.

After watching it again yesterday, I realized that it was written by Peter Morgan, writer of The Queen and The Crown. No wonder it’s so good, I thought.

In Pittsburgh, Caitlin and I loved to watch series-type shows after dinner. Our last show was The Crown, and we finished it right before she went into the hospital in November.

At the time, I looked up some of the actual events that took place in the show, including the Queen’s friendship with “Porchie,” and came upon this statement she made after his death:grief is the price we pay.png

She was, in turn, quoting from Dr Colin Murray Parkes, a hospice pioneer:

“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”

With this quote in mind, I want to point out that we are always going to want to talk about Caitlin, even if our voices crack and our eyes fill up. The pain of our grief was definitely worth the price of our love, and we’ll be paying for the rest of our lives. That’s okay.

With much love for all of you as well,

Maryanne