Anna Quindlen told nearly 280 women gathered for the 10th annual Center for Hope fundraiser luncheon at the Woodway Country Club in Darien that her writing straddles two subjects: motherhood and loss.

When Quindlen was 19, her mother died of ovarian cancer. The New York Times bestselling author said she felt, and still feels, a great sense of loss, but she uses that loss as a motivating agent.

"I refuse to betray my mother by being devastated by her death rather than elevated by her life," she explained.

She added, "I am a much better mother because I'm constantly aware of how important my influence can be and of the passage of time ... I'm never blindsided by mortality. I think about it all the time."

Quindlen was the guest speaker Wednesday at the Center for Hope's largest fundraising event of the year. The luncheon raised money for the center and The Den for Grieving Kids, two family support and bereavement programs offered under the auspices of Family Centers, a non-profit human services organization with posts in Darien, New Canaan, Stamford and Greenwich.

"We're thrilled to have Anna here," said New Canaanite Allison Rubeli, a senior advisor to the Family Centers' board. "She really focuses on the mission of Center for Hope, which is to help people who really have to deal with tragedy and loss and who are grieving and provide resources and support to them."

Family Centers partnered with Darien's Barrett Bookstore to book Quindlen, who donated her time to discuss overcoming loss and her new novel, Every Last One.

Bob Arnold, president of Family Centers, said the fundraiser is on target to raise more than $100,000, which will help provide scholarships for families that would not otherwise be able to afford the center's services.

Darien resident Sharon Schoen, a client of the center, said she attends the event every year to support the organization's work.

"It just happened that the stars aligned," she said of this year's event. "It's a really great fundraiser for a great cause, and Anna Quindlen is a great author. It's a home run."

Marjorie Berkley, Family Centers' chairman, said a key component in the event's success is the loyalty of its attendees.

"The fundraiser for years was a fashion show and last year it skewed toward an author event," she said. "Last year we had Elizabeth Edwards. A lot of people who attend have been coming year after year, so there are a lot of women here, but I'm hoping to get a better cross-section of males and females eventually."

Quindlen said bereavement support groups like the center and the den did not exists when she lost her mother.

"Life isn't going to go on as it did before, and I think that's acknowledged [by organizations like this], when 30 or 40 years ago it wasn't," she said.

Quindlen told guests that she believes in ghosts. She said ghosts of her deceased loved ones haunt her. They tell her to be happy, even in their absence, and to live in the moment, she said.

She said they tell her, "honor us with laughs and smiles."