Episode 70: Maryanne O’Hara, Author: Little Matches, A Memoir of Grief and Light


Maryanne  O’Hara is the author of the book Little Matches, A  Memoir of Grief and Light.  Her book is the result of a blog she started while her daughter Caitlin waited for a lung transplant.  Since her daughter’s passing, Maryanne became a certified end-of-life doula so she could speak to the state of end-of-life care in our culture.   

During our discussion, Maryanne shares that the blog was a way for her to keep everyone abreast of the news all at once and that this waiting went on for two and a half years.  It was a lot of waiting and Maryanne felt the need to write and as a result, a wonderful surge of humanity gathered around them.  After losing Caitlin, the only thing that made her feel “ok” was writing on the blog. 

Writing the blog was a way for Maryanne to grieve out loud and for her to stay connected to everyone including her daughter. She felt that writing the book about Caitlin would help people. She then combined not only her entries but Caitlin’s as well into the book:  Little Matches.  Maryanne shares how she settled on the title of the book, which was taken from a passage in a Virginia Woolf book.   It’s Maryanne searching in the dark for those little sparks of light that make life meaningful. The light that keeps her going.  

Maryanne believes that grief and joy can coexist and she is always going to grieve Caitlin.  Which is so beautiful to share.  So many feel that there is a period for grief and we must move on but here Maryanne gives us hope that we can live in two realms at the same time.  Maryanne goes on to share how she has lived with grief and joy. 

Maryanne decided nine months after Caitlin’s passing that she wanted to write something more permanent than blog posts and to have it be a tribute to Caitlin and serve other people.  She then heard about Dani Shapiro’s memoir writing retreats.  She signed up and had a goal to write ten pages before the start of the retreat.  The retreat was a beautiful experience, it was in a lovely inn with yoga, meditation, and plenty of writing!  During this writing process, Maryanne learns more about writing, her style, and how she views writing fiction vs. non-fiction.  

We then discuss what Maryanne learned about herself in the process of writing the book.  For her, it was hard to write the personal and it took a lot of bravery on her part and at one time waking up in a panic and thinking, “what have I done?”  She felt that Caitlin was braver than anyone she has known and if she can be brave then why not me?

Maryanne shares about Caitlin’s writings in the book and how while waiting for a lung transplant a lot of her time was spent writing and being a good friend via text and email as they had moved from Boston to Pittsburgh. Caitlin had a lot of old soul wisdom which comes out in her writing. A lot of her writing is full of good life advice. Maryanne then goes on to share a passage of Caitlin’s writing from the book.  

We also talk about how Maryanne feels about trusting her compass.  We are all born with a sense of intuition but women seem to trust in more in midlife.  She has found that not listening to her intuition, it’s a big mistake.  Maryanne believes that our intuition does not let us down.  She goes on to talk about focusing on being a decent, good person and focusing on your relationships, and making them strong and healthy. That’s the only way to live. As you get older she feels that’s going to be the only thing that matters.  

Maryanne shares what prompted her to become an end-of-life doula.  She has always been a volunteer and after Caitlin’s passing,, she wanted to do hospice volunteering and shares with the listener the role of an end-of-life doula and why this individual is so important and their role.   Taking the class was also helpful as she is not out talking about the book which will include medical professionals and wanted to be able to speak to that in her engagements. 

Maryanne goes on to share how she enjoys helping with the legacy writing for an individual and it’s always a good time to reflect on the path you are on and what you’ve done with your life so far.  She loves it so much that she will be offering some workshops for people so they too can learn how to write their legacy papers. 

I love this quote from my interview with Maryanne,  “ I think that if you at least acknowledge the fact that you aren’t going to live forever, it can help you live better now and appreciate your life”. 

Maryanne also goes on to challenge the listeners to think about What are you doing? What do you want out of life?  What makes yourself happy and what do you lose yourself in?  Whatever it is and makes you feel content and gives your life a feeling of purpose then embrace it.  We are temporary and not here forever.  Be true to yourself and listen. Find your purpose as it gives your life meaning.