Grace Notes #10 – More Fall Beauty

Have you ever seen a more astonishingly beautiful October? One where, if you went for a walk you just kept gasping inside and wanting to call out to your fellow walkers: “Isn’t this amazing?!” Or if you were driving across the state to western Mass, the usually 2 1/2-hour drive took you 4 hours because you kept needing to pull over and step out of the car and stare or take photos, or sit along the river and breathe in the light and color and laugh to yourself because of the just ridiculous beauty? Annie Lamott likes to say, “God is such a show-off.” Right?! Or as I think to myself at moments like this, “Man, if heaven is better than this, then sign me up!”

Truth be told it is my birthday month and so I am a mite partial. But even given that, this particular October has been one I will never forget. In mid-month, we held our Grace Street event at Belmont Books with Maryanne O’Hara, author of Little Matches: Finding Light in the Dark as my discussion companion.

With author Maryanne O’Hara at our event at Belmont Books.

To my wonder and excitement, The Boston Globe featured us in their up-coming Author Events page the Sunday before. That Globe posting and the Belmont Books evening were birthday gifts wrapped up in a bow, as we had a wonderful crowd, with lots of give and take. Both of us read and talked about the grief we all face at some point, the love that never, ever goes away, and how books and writing give us powerful ways to be accompanied, to learn from others, and to hear ourselves out on the page.

The wonderful crowd at Belmont Books.

During the past year I have been deeply touched to be in contact once again with some of Kathy’s caretakers, Dr. Jesse Spector in Lenox, Dr. Stephanie Lee in Seattle, and Toni Dubeau, APRN, Kathy’s transplant nurse and “sherpa” here in Boston. She came to the Belmont Books event, and it was a joy to see her in person after all this time. I had a chance to read the passage in GS where Toni—like an orchestra conductor of love—helps Kathy and me have our last conversation, in the same warm, slightly ribbing manner that characterized our sisterhood.

With Toni Dubeau, Kathy’s transplant nurse at Dana Farber.

I read, “As she helped Kathy tease me one last time, picking up our lifelong banter and having a chuckle in the shadow of the terrible separation to come, Toni showed a level of caring and generosity that flies above any job description.”

Then I had the privilege of introducing Toni to the crowd, who gave a standing ovation for this nurse who, 25 years later, is still at Dana Farber, and still doing transplant work! (AND still looks amazing!) Thank you, thank you to Belmont Books co-owner Kathy Crowley, and staffers Amanda, Sophie and others for making us feel so welcome!

The other gift and highlight of the event was meeting author Maryanne O’Hara and being introduced to her memoir Little Matches: Finding Light in the Dark, which tells the story of her beautiful daughter Caitlin, who was diagnosed at age two with cystic fibrosis, and who lived like the sparkler she is holding on the book’s cover until she died soon after a long, long-awaited lung transplant at age 33.

In this book, with its gorgeous writing, O’Hara takes you through the whole story with such vividness and care. You are brought along partly by the beauty and naturalness of the writing, and partly because Caitlin was such a firecracker of a personality who busied herself insistently with life (moving to live in Paris with full CF equipment because she would not be denied!) and projects (fighting for the Prouty Garden at Boston Children’s being one cause).

She was enabled in so many ways to do this because of the devoted care her mother afforded her; all of the day-to-day physical care and medical assistance a person with a life-threatening respiratory illness needs, in addition to supporting her daughter in all dimensions, emotional and spiritual as well. Like Nurse Toni caring for Kathy, Maryanne was Caitlin’s “Sherpa,” who carried her in many ways through her too-abbreviated life. And then wrote us all the most powerful and lovely book about it.

The book draws from journals of both mother and daughter. I’m including an excerpt Maryanne read from a note Caitlin wrote to her mother during their stressful 2-year wait for a lung transplant match.

5/07/2014  

CAITLIN: This is what has been bothering me most about our argument the other night. We need to make this time as ok and as enjoyable as possible. Who knows what’s going to happen once I get that call. I don’t want to live this time as if “this sucks” or “this time is really crappy and stressful.” I just can’t do it and I don’t think it’s true or smart or good for our hearts. I feel like this is your underlying sentiment, despite that your brain tells you to “appreciate what we have.” The truth is that this could be it. As hard as that is to say, once I get the call I’m going into a hugely risky surgery. There aren’t any guarantees. So this isn’t just a time to get through—it’s a time to try to be happy and make something worthwhile of it.

Everything from the bottom up here is unknown—someone has to die for me to get a transplant, so it doesn’t get any more unknown or unplanned than that. The only option is to go with the flow as best we can and that means basically, assessing everything as it comes, and dealing with things but letting them go just as quickly. That includes like stress and freak-outs and fights. There’s no way to avoid them so just deal with them. 

This isn’t a sad time we should be waiting for to be over. It will be over soon enough and you could be wishing we were back here. Or we could be glad we never have to go back here. The point is we don’t know, we can’t know, and I don’t want to live like I’m just trying to get through it, when this is still my life.
I love you.  (–Excerpt from Little Matches by Maryanne O’Hara, reprinted with the author’s permission.)

If you are looking for a warm dose of love and living life on life’s terms, find yourself a copy of Little Matches: Finding Light in the Dark.

Our meetups with Book Clubs continue to be one of my favorite things. I am always moved by the way these small groups of friends share their own wisdom and experience with me. Last month, I met with Grace Street’s new book club friends in Salem, and with the All Saint’s Episcopal Church Book Group in North Adams.

With the All Saint’s Episcopal Church Book Group in North Adams, MA.

From Salem, we heard the discussion went on for three hours after we left—in a good way! And in North Adams, we spent half an hour just discussing people’s experiences with using writing in their own lives and laughed about “what do you do with all these notebooks at this point in life?”! I would love to have a conversation with Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) about that sometime!

Meeting with the Salem, MA book club in the beautiful back yard of one of the members.

And lastly, believe it or not (I can’t!) November marks Grace Street’s One Year “Bookaversary”! WHAT a year of blessings. Beyond my dreams. We made it to # 6 in Amazon’s top 100 books on grief and bereavement, we’ve received a basketful of notes and letters from readers (the BEST), we’ve done more than a dozen events, We’ve published a Kindle version of GS, We’ve been able to make donations to organizations supporting families dealing with cancer or cancer research (The Cancer Support Fund of Central MA, Pop Cares of Northern Berkshire, the Susan B. Komen 3-Day Walk), we’ve reunited in some fashion with Kathy’s medical team, we’ve made the Boston Sunday Globe author events listing, and we currently have 42 5-star reviews on Amazon. 
 
And, if you meant to and haven’t yet, please consider leaving a review on Amazon and/OR on GoodReads (we are trying to increase our GoodReads presence). Some people have pasted their same review to both of these.  Reviews, and newer ones, help the mysterious “algorithm” make Grace Street known to more people!!

Here’s a link to Amazon Reviews, and to GoodReads.

For all of this, I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.

Grace Street continues to show me that it has its own life-force and at times I feel like I am following it, not leading it! I also want to equally thank the marvelous Patricia Crotty of Gray Dove Press who is, “behind the scenes” responsible for so much of Grace Street’s success.

To say thank you to you all, we would like to check to see how many of you would have an interest in a one-time, one-book Grace Street book group with me on zoom to share your questions or experience, or insights from reading Grace Street? We are picturing a 1-hour timeframe, in January after the holidays, on a weeknight evening, on Zoom.
 
If you would be interested (no commitment!) please shoot off an email to me at mcsmith@maureencallahansmith.com. Or let me know in the Comments section below!

Wishing us all a peaceful and positive November election (don’t forget to Vote!), and a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with loved ones. And as the holidays approach, let’s all support our local Indie bookstores, my newest favorite being the beautiful Belmont Books!

  —   Maureen    www.maureencallahansmith.com

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