Lessons of turning tragedy into triumph 

from a military widow

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From your grateful recipient

This week I got a letter I was hoping, yet dreading to receive. It stemmed from a decision made in a split second in the second most emotional phone call I’ve had in my life and to be completely honest, I’d forgotten all about my choice to say, “yes” on that phone call.

The day Brian died is such a blur. It’s as if there’s a heavy cloud of fog sitting on that part of my memory bank, yet there are breakthrough moments that I remember crystal clear. The initial phone call and subsequent ride to the ER. Running across the parking lot and seeing his dive team in the waiting room. Hearing the receptionist make a call once I’d arrive and her utter the words “quiet room.” Falling to the ground at 6 months pregnant, screaming, begging the doctor to go back in and keep trying. Laying on top of Brian trying to warm him back up, screaming “This isn’t real” again and again and again. The fog comes back in after that until later that night when I’m home, my dear friend Linda by my side helping me make phone calls to friends and family when my phone rings. She answers and tells me I need to take it. It’s Legacy of Life; Hawaii and they’ve called to discuss Brian’s organ donation.


Unreal.


I walk outside and sit on the patio furniture on our front porch that Brian had finished assembling that very weekend. I don’t want the kids to hear my excruciating screams as I listen to the lady on the other end express her sincere condolences for my loss. I couldn’t stop crying. Wailing in fact. She was patient with me, but explained they had 24 hours to harvest his organs if they were going to be able to serve another person. 8 hours had already elapsed since his time of death so as nicely as possible, she basically explained I would need to pull myself together long enough to make this decision on his behalf so that his wishes of being an organ donor could be fulfilled. I consented and she began the reason for her call. Even being listed as an organ donor, she needed to go through the list of organs in his body to make sure I was consenting to their donation.


8 hours after I kissed my husbands cold lips for the final time I went down a list of his organs with this stranger on the other end of phone. Heart. Lungs. Skin. Eyes. Tissue. Long Bones. Short Bones. I couldn’t breathe. In that moment, as I replayed the word “harvest” in my head, I pictured him lying on the table I’d left him on hours before as somebody took each of these items from his body that I was in that moment, consenting to them taking. This wasn’t real life. I was paralyzed. Next to the previous 8 hours I’d just lived through, this was the deepest, darkest moment of my entire life. We somehow made it through that portion of the call when she finally asked, “If your loved one is successfully able to donate any of his organs or tissue, would you be open to receiving letters from any of his potential recipients?” I said yes and we moved on to the next topic at hand.


Fast forward to this week, Tuesday. I received that call I previously wrote about from the pest management company offering their condolences on Brian’s death and then a free year of pest control. I was already in an emotional state from that call when I come home and walk outside to get the mail. Inside is a white envelope from Legacy of Life Hawaii; no big deal, they send stuff here and there throughout the year to just let me know they’re thinking of me. I opened the envelope and inside was another envelope. Weird. I turned it around and in a handwriting I don’t recognized is scribbled, “From your grateful recipient.” My heart dropped. The blood drained from my face and I sat down in the chair. Oh no. In less time than it took for my heart to bump one more ounce of blood through my body, my thoughts flashed back to that phone call. To me sitting on that brand new patio furniture at 3073 Bridges St., crying tears of pure anguish as I consented to my husband’s body parts being distributed to potential recipients across the US. And here it was, in my hands, a handwritten letter from one of the people who he had physically been distributed to. 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.


I finished the letter, set it on the counter and let the tears run down my face. Even in death, Brian is still somehow motivating people to pursue their passions. His selfless gift of deciding to be an organ donor is having real effects on real people and I have the letter to prove that he is continuing to change lives even after his was ended. Receiving this letter has changed my life. I now have the opportunity, if I choose, to respond to Alissa and with the help of Legacy of Life Hawaii potentially continue communication and possibly meet her someday.

If you’re not already, become an organ donor. You will literally save people’s lives in ways you don’t know are possible.



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