"Dearest Ashley..." begins the second letter. A simple introduction to most, but not here, not to me, and not with this. Written by Alissa, the (now) 43 year old single mom of three who severed her ACL in a skiing accident late last year, whom I've never met, who I know very little about - not even what she looks like- but who will forever be a part of my life, and that of my family. Alissa, who's on her feet all day while working as a nurse in the cardiac cath lab, who shortly after her accident lost hope of enjoying an active life with her young boys, who felt she would never be able to climb mountains or run marathons again, whose family means everything to her, who took the time and summoned the courage to reach out to me to introduce herself. Alissa, the donor recipient of my late husbands, ACL.
The words "Dearest Ashley..." take on a special meaning when they come from someone like Alissa. A literal piece of my husband now residing in her body, his final wish granted, helping and pushing somebody, somewhere to chase after their dreams and pursue their passion. Helping another mom out there to spend time with her kids, to be active and engaging and make adventurous memories as a family. This is what he wanted for me and our children in life, and it's the most incredible feeling to see he's been able to provide this same experience for somebody he didn't even know existed, in death. Only Alissa and I will ever understand the intricacies of the words we share with each other, and the bond we're forming as we share them.
"My hands shook and I was crying before I even started reading about Alissa, the 42 year old single mother of 3 who tore her ACL in a terrible skiing accident. She wrote of how she’d been a competitive runner her entire life, running innumerable marathons and half-marathons around the US as a passion and hobby of hers and was crushed when she thought she’d never be able to fulfill this passion again. I wept as she wrote how sorry she was for the fact that she understands that her receiving this donation means that we lost a loved one and how terribly and tragically sorry she was for our loss. How she, Alissa, a 42 year old single mom of three would now, because of my loved one, be able to continue chasing after he children, skiing, running, and living her best life. "
-Excerpt from 22 March 2019 blog post on initial contact with donor recipient. Full post found here: https://www.ashleybugge.com/post/from-your-grateful-recipient
Comforted only by the gentle swaying of the patio swing I sat on while reading, I pulled open the legal sized envelope, 'Letter from Alissa' handwritten across the front of it and began reading. The process of writing to and receiving these letters is a bit tedious, but with understandable caution on behalf of the donor agency facilitating the connection. We're not to include any personal identifying information and/or contact information, but can talk about each other and how this donor/recipient exchange has effected each others lives. We write the letters to each other and then send in to Legacy of Life Hawaii who reviews them to make sure we've adhered to their guidelines, before passing them on. If we continue to correspond and at some point want to meet (obviously, I do!) then Legacy of Life will approve and we will transition out of their oversight and into managing correspondence ourselves.
The emotional journey I've been on the past 17 months rivals nothing else I've experienced in life, and even though I'm still processing my grief and all of the ups and downs that are a part of that, sparking this friendship, this communication with Alissa has been such an unexpected but much needed push to continue my upward journey. It's hard to imagine writing to somebody you don't know, about yourself, your life, your kids and how you're thankful a piece of your beloved husband has managed to change her life, but I've done it, I'm doing it and as with everything else, I want to share this journey with you. Below is a bit of correspondence between Alissa and I as we begin this incredibly unique friendship. To retain some of Alissa's privacy, I didn't include her first letter to me, and I've edited a few parts of the letter received recently, but at some point hope to have her write about her own experience of getting to know me and the kids and I will share with you then.
March 25, 2019
My name is Ashley and I just received a letter from you that I was dreading, yet hoping I’d someday receive. You were the recipient of my husband’s ACL. I’ve never done this before, so I find myself at a bit of a loss for words and I truly don’t know where to start this letter, so let me start here.
I can only imagine the courage it took you to write that letter. I’ve never had to write a letter to somebody thanking them for a literal piece of their loved one who recently died, so I can’t say I understand how hard that must have been, but I can say I felt in your words how humbled you’ve been by the gift my husband, Brian, has given to you. I’ve read through it at least a dozen times, experiencing sweeping emotions in every possible direction as I do, but I can tell you with certainty, your words and this letter are something I will cherish forever.
I appreciate you telling me about yourself, your circumstances, and letting me see first hand that Brian’s wish of being an organ donor has been granted. This knowledge is not something everybody gets and I can’t express how grateful I am to know those hard conversations he and I had came down to this moment, this letter, and I know he would be so incredibly proud to see this is as the result.
Brian. My husband. My children’s father. A son, a brother, a friend. A Naval officer. A sailor. A scuba diver. An adventurer. This is a slight glimpse of the man whose ACL now resides in your knee. You should know, that ACL enabled my 35 year old husband, Brian to have more adventures and see more of the world than most see in their entire lives. He has traveled around the world countless times, sailed our 36’ boat across the Pacific Ocean, scuba dived in countless reaches of the world, run marathons (yes, he was also a marathon runner!) and most importantly, helped raised 2 of our 3 beautiful babies with me. Brian took advantage of every single day of his life, with a motto of “no bucket list!” Do it now, because you never know if tomorrow will come. Unfortunately for all of us, that day came much too soon for him, but knowing this small part of him will continue to live on in you lets me believe he’ll get to keep exploring and having grand adventures.
I was 6 months pregnant with our third child, Adeline, when he passed away, and we also had a 1 year old (Hudson) and 3 year old (Isabel) at home so he only got to experience being a dad to 2/3 of them, but I see so much of his adventurous, kind and loving spirit in each of our kids.
I now know firsthand what it feels like to be a single mom to three children, and how important our health and ability to chase after them is and I’m thankful his ACL went to you to enable you to be this and do this for your family. I sincerely hope we’re able to continue communication, if you’re up for it, I’d love to get to know you and see some of Brian’s dreams realized through you.
Also, sorry for the typed – instead of handwritten letter- my handwriting is TERRIBLE and you’d have a hard time reading it.
Thank you again for your kind letter, you don’t know how much I appreciate it.
I hope to hear from you soon,
July 13, 2019
You have no idea how touched I was by your reply to me regarding your husband’s life, your life and your family’s life. My boys and I re-read your letter over and over! We were so astonished by the fact that Brian also was an adventurer and marathon runner! He sounds like an amazing man… The resemblance of the man (your husband) who’s ACL is now in my knee makes me want to strive even harder to help fulfill my dreams and also continue with what he may have done had he not passed so soon in his life. I lost a little bit of perseverance after my injury because many dreams and goals seemed to be shattered.
My father is having open heart surgery this week for a dilated ascending aortic aneurysm. He is the father of 5 girls and is the rock of our family. We are very scared but supportive as he must go through this. I pray the doctors and nurses will keep him in their loving care, as he is the most important man to me. These weeks leading up to his surgery has really been an eye opener for all of us, to slow down and enjoy the time with each other because you never know when it could all change, as I am sure you can relate.
Enough about me! Again, so glad you responded and reached out. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, but you sound like a very strong woman and mother (sometimes life’s situations don’t give us a choice other than head up and push forward). Your kids will always know their Dad, I can tell by the way you talk about him that he will always be the center of your lives. Pictures are priceless especially for your youngest ones. Keep telling them the stories, the memories, they will know him.
Hopefully this letter will reach you sooner than later, I am sure there are delays through the organization which is fine. Feel free to respond back, I also hope to continue communication.