A raw, uplifting memoir in the vein of The Year of Magical Thinking and The Light of the World, Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light illuminates a mother’s grief over the loss of her adult child and considers the hope of soulful connections that transcend the boundary between life and death. It is the story of a fierce mother-daughter love and of the quest to live a “carpe diem” life against all odds. When their only child was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at the age of two, Maryanne O’Hara and her husband were told that Caitlin could live a long life or die in a matter of months. Thirty-one years later, following an excruciating, two-year wait on the transplant list and a last-minute race to locate a pair of healthy lungs, a story that attracted nationwide attention, Caitlin lost her battle with this pernicious disease. The sudden spiral of devastating events left Maryanne in an existential crisis, searching to find answers to life’s eternal questions: Now what am I for? Why are we here? During her final years, Caitlin had become a source of wisdom and comfort for her mother, the partner with whom she shared deep spiritual and intellectual quests. After Caitlin’s passing, she began to notice signs—persistent synchronicities that seemed to suggest Caitlin’s enduring presence. She consulted medical research and mediums in her quest to find answers to the question, “Does consciousness survive death?” She trained as an end-of-life doula so that she would be able to better speak to the state of end-of-life care. Little Matches is Maryanne’s intimate recounting of Caitlin’s journey and her own, weaving a rich narrative of memories with text messages, emails, journal entries, and even drawings. By sharing how Maryanne navigates her existence during and after an adulthood dedicated to Caitlin’s care, the book chronicles one mother’s reckoning with what comes next when the worst finally happens and you’re left with the fact of yourself, still existing in a world that must make sense if you’re to continue living in it. Ultimately a triumph of finding meaning despite overpowering grief, Little Matches contemplates life’s broader purpose and what happens after death. As Maryanne observes in the book’s preface, “I am not the first person to have lost what was most important to me. Humans lose every day, and lose hard: children, beloveds, sacred homelands, freedoms. Little Matches is for anyone who loses and asks, now what?”
Meet the Author
Maryanne O’Hara is the author, most recently, of Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light, published by HarperCollins in April. LITTLE MATCHES is inspired by a blog that Maryanne O’Hara kept while her daughter Caitlin was waiting for a lung transplant. Maryanne and Caitlin’s story has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The Boston Globe, Psychology Today, and LITTLE MATCHES is a People Magazine Book of the Week. She is also the author of CASCADE, a novel, and many short stories. She holds an MFA in creative writing, has taught creative writing at the college level, and was a longtime editor at the literary journal, Ploughshares. After volunteering as an end-of-life volunteer at care facilities in Boston and Pittsburgh, she trained as a certified end-of-life doula at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine in 2019. She lectures on topics including chronic illness, bereavement, and secular spirituality, and is the developer of a successful legacy writing workshop.