Today, it has been ten years since the title went live.
Today, it has been 4,348 days since I hugged my daughter.
Beyond Breathing began on Dec 12, 2006, when I received a $100 check, along with a sympathy letter, from a friend who donated the $100 to The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation but said it was to go toward my story that needed to be shared. I was angry, grief-stricken, and shoved the check, and the letter, in a drawer and ignored it until sometime in February of 2007.
One cold day in early February, I came across that letter and the un-deposited check. I felt obligated to write something before forwarding the check to the CF Foundation office. I turned on the computer and angerly wrote:
“On Monday, December 4, 2006, at 9:57 am, my beautiful daughter, Jena Marie Cassalina, lost her life to cystic fibrosis. She was thirteen.”
The first time I wrote those words, I looked down and saw my worn blue rubber CF awareness bracelet. The inscribed word, breathe, stared at me, almost mocking me. Breathe, it said. Breathing was something Jena was no longer doing and breathing was something I was finding so hard to do. It was just one breath that kept me from my daughter. Jena was beyond breathing. Breathing, I now know, is something way overrated.
I stared a long time at what I had just written. An avalanche of emotions had risen up from deep inside of me as I felt my obligation to that check had been sufficiently met. I shoved the $100 check into an envelope, threw it in the mailbox, and I just sobbed. I had no idea those words would be the beginning of my healing and they would become the introduction to an actual book I wrote about my life.
What I didn’t expect after writing those words was the emotional release it gave me. I got to express anger, sadness, and a host of other emotions that were buried along with my daughter. Over the next six months, I went back to that computer, added to that paragraph, and wrote more cathartic memories. Through tears and downright gut-wrenching sobs, my emotions poured out of my broken heart and on to each page. It was my diary; my way out of the mourning abyss I was living in.
At one point I shared some of the stories with my girlfriends who all suggested that I share the story with others. I thought they were being what girlfriends are, supportive. I didn’t think much of it until I got an email from a friend a few weeks later.
What I didn’t know was that Marc had emailed my entire journal, my personal diary, to a mutual friend who was a prolific writer, a sportscaster, and an extraordinary CF dad. Marc had emailed my entire diary, the one I had only shared with my girlfriends, to Frank DeFord.
On October 20, 2007, I received an email from Frank. It was the first time I was informed he read my private and personal journal. After yelling at Marc, and being thoroughly embarrassed, I read Frank’s email. He loved it, told me I needed to publish it, and then went on to be the ‘hard-nosed editor’ and began editing my diary.
I ended up taking his advice and published Beyond Breathing. The title went live on October 30, 2008. It was my diary published. I had written every word and had designed the cover myself. I put in as much symbolism as possible. If you look in the clouds, you can see her lungs, there is a rose on the red baton representing the transfer of my little girl from me back to God, and it’s all in motion as I believe love never ends. My only deciding reason for actually hitting the ‘submit’ button to publish my diary was that if anyone wanted to meet my daughter, they could, in the pages of the book.
Truthfully, I didn’t think anyone would actually read it. I was wrong.
When I received the first hardcover copy of the book from the publisher, I dedicated it to Jena and placed it on my bookshelf, next to my Bible and said a prayer that I hope she was proud of me.
My memoir has sold well above any expectations and within six months I had received the Editor’s Choice Award, Readers Choice Award, and Star Award. The self-publishing company then took Beyond Breathing to their ‘traditional’ arm of publishing and sent me on a few book tours, re-designed the book cover, and connected me with Penguin Publishing. Remarkably the book still sells copies every month. I guess folks still want to meet my Jena, and for that, I’m forever thankful. It is currently #3137 in Grief & Bereavement, perhaps that’s a little nod from my love above.
As a 10-year anniversary gift, I’d like to give back to those who have supported me, met my Jena in the pages of Beyond Breathing, and continue to do all they can in support of all those with Cystic Fibrosis.
My publisher is allowing me to give away for free from Book Grabbr my second book: See You At Sunset. It’s a free download.
I’m only given 25 free downloads, so it’s a first come, first served, promotion.
If interested, please click the link: FREE download of See You At Sunset
People have been asking what my second book, See You at Sunset, is all about.
Here’s my elevator pitch:
“If hospital rooms could talk, what would they say?
If true love really could last for eternity, how would you know?
What if a 13-year-old girl could make sense of it all.
Grab this book, and I’ll see you at sunset!”
For those who have read my memoir Beyond Breathing you know, I wrote about my life, my daughter Jena, and cystic fibrosis in a very raw and real way.
My new book, See You at Sunset, bridges you from my non-fiction life into the fictional world of my imagination while still adhering to my passion of bringing awareness to CF.
Here is See You at Sunset’s brief description: A teenager challenged by cystic fibrosis is helped through her daily struggles by a compassionate doctor, her devoted mother, and a quiet spirit whose work on Earth is not quite done. As his story unfolds, lives intersect and fate intervenes as Jenna Rutherford, the teenager, connects it all and proves that love never ends.