Maryanne O’Hara on the love that endures after her daughter’s death


Caitlin O’Hara died at age 33; she had cystic fibrosis. In “Little Matches,” her mother, Maryanne O’Hara (also the author of the novel “Cascade”) writes about her daughter’s life and death, and about the love that endures.

The book grew out of a blog O’Hara kept during the years Caitlin was waiting for a crucial lung transplant. She eventually received the transplant but it came too late to save her life. O’Hara began the book just nine months after her daughter’s death.

“It’s her legacy. And I’m just delighted that people are going to know her,” said O’Hara, who added that she never planned to write a memoir. “I am a fiction writer. And I’m pretty private as well. But after her passing it just felt really necessary. It helped me feel connected to other people and to Caitlin. It was this way of grieving out loud.”

After her daughter’s death, O’Hara found herself noticing signs and signals that felt as if Caitlin was communicating with her. “In the beginning I felt obligated to be extremely skeptical. So much has happened that — the synchronicities pile up to the point that to discount them is myopic,” she said. “There’s so much we don’t know. I don’t make any declarations, but I have an open mind.”

Writing about her daughter’s life and death, O’Hara said, was a way “to really encourage people to remember to love the people they love. I want people to realize that grief and joy are both points on the spectrum of love.”

In our culture, she added, death is a taboo topic. It doesn’t have to be that way. “I’m always going to be grieving Caitlin, and I like talking about her,” she said. “I miss her all the time. I love her so much. She’s part of my life, and she always will be.”

Maryanne O’Hara will be in conversation with Lily King (“Writers & Lovers”) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at

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