Today, it has been thirteen years since my first book, Beyond Breathing, went live.
Today, it has been 5,441 days since I last hugged my daughter.
I know exactly how and when Beyond Breathing began. It was December 12, 2006, when I received a sympathy card, a long letter, and an enclosed $100 check. The card and donation were in memory of my daughter Jena who had just ‘moved up’ to heaven due to complications of having cystic fibrosis (CF). They wrote in the letter that the $100 was to go toward sharing my story, insisting my story was worth sharing. 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 2007, I came across that letter and the un-deposited check. I felt obligated to write something and decided to forward the $100 check to The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). I turned on the computer and angrily 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 curled up in a ball and sobbed. I had no idea those words would be the beginning of my healing and they would become the introduction to an actual book that I would eventually write and publish, about my life.
What I didn’t expect after writing those words was the emotional release it gave me. Through writing, I expressed 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 onto each page. It was my diary; it was my way out of the mourning abyss I was barely living in.
At one point I started to read some of the stories to my girlfriends, who all suggested that I share the story with others. I thought they were being kind, supportive, and I didn’t think much of it until I received 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 had read my private and very 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 what he thought was a book was actually my diary.
I ended up apologizing to Marc, took Frank’s advice, and eventually published Beyond Breathing. The title went live on October 27, 2008. It was my diary published for all to read. I had written every word and had designed the original cover myself. I put in as much symbolism as possible to describe Jena. 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 final and deciding reason for 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.
So very wrong.
When I received the very first hardcover copy of the book from the publisher, I dedicated my memoir to Jena and placed it on my bookshelf, next to my Bible, and said a prayer up to heaven hoping she was proud of me.
My memoir has sold well above any expectations I could have imagined and within six months I had received the Editor’s Choice Award, Readers Choice Award, and Star Award, and a bunch of wonderful 5-Star Book Reviews. 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. The new cover went live on March 24, 2009. Thirteen years later, my memoir still sells copies every single month. I guess folks still want to meet my Jena, and for that, I’m forever thankful.
As a 13-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.
I’m giving away 13 free signed copies of any one of my three books, including Beyond Breathing to the first 13 requests. (See details below)
All I ask is for you to cover the $7.95 for S&H. (Beyond Breathing is also available on Amazon for $13.40)
Interested in my other books?
See You at Sunset (list price: $13.99)
Embracing the Beauty in the Broken (list price: $13.99)
I’d gladly send you signed copies of any two books for $20, or all three books for $30 and those prices include total S&H costs.
It’s an anniversary that I just wanted to do something special.
Inbox me, DM me, or email me at: MargareteCassalina@gmail.com for information about signed books.
After you read it, let me know how many pennies show up in your life. And if you have read it, let me know what touched you the most. Every story is worth sharing.
Judy Rebholtz says
While I haven’t kept a diary, I’ve kept my weekly “to-do” notebooks. I’m going to look back through them and see what was taking place in our non-coincidental lives. I’m glad that Marc decided to enlist Frank in getting your heart published. I seriously think more people than you will ever know have been helped out of a very dark place because they met you and Jena there. They were shown it is possible to go on living. With a renewed vision and focus that proves Jena was here physically and her 13 years were not wasted.
Judy, You know I don’t believe in coincidences so I am sure as you peruse through your weekly “to-do” lists there will be a thread of common ground. And yes, I completely agree Jena compacted a lot of work in her short time on this earth. Thanks for leaving a comment!
Lorraine Palermo says
Margaret I would love to have your first book and if you would sign it for my friend Colleen who also lost her daughter who is 35. She did not have CF but she still lost her at a young age . She is a nurse that I met in 1979 and we have been friends ever cents and she is now retiring for health issues so I thought this might be some thing that she might like. Thank you for all you do for CF in the world.
Lorraine, I’d be happy to send her a copy. I am sorry for your friend’s loss, prayers to her and her family.