Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light

Appearance Date: 11/6/2021

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
Maryanne O’Hara

Maryanne O’Hara wrote and published short stories before researching and writing Cascade, a novel that explores “what lasts.” Shortly after its publication, her daughter Caitlin’s lifelong health condition worsened, requiring the family to uproot from Boston to Pittsburgh for more than two years to wait for a lung transplant. Her memoir, Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light, was published by HarperOne on April 20. Cascade was the Boston Globe Book Club’s inaugural pick, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award, and a People Magazine Book of the Week; and a story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Since Caitlin’s passing, Maryanne has also been certified by the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine as an end-of-life doula, so that she may better speak to the state of end-of-life care in our culture.