“Losses are only devastating when you think they’re permanent.
They never are.”
Grieving the loss of a loved one can be a short or long process, depending on how you look at the situation. I lost five family members before I allowed myself to grieve and learned the process wasn’t scary. This admittedly strange situation occurred because of the circumstances around their passing. The first four passed when they were suffering severe pain from their illnesses and longing to be free. Each time I celebrated their freedom from pain and misery.
The fifth was my son who had a massive heart attack. Nita, a dear friend, came to my rescue and told me to pull myself together. I had to tell his sisters and prepare for the trip to Minnesota to claim his ashes and close his house. In the meantime she stayed with me, made phone calls, ran errands and encouraged me to keep moving forward.
Everything was accomplished and early the next morning my daughter and I began our three day drive to Minnesota. Because so much had to be done, I pushed grief out of my consciousness. I also knew that people only transition when they are ready, no matter what the circumstances.
The main thing I remember about that day was when the woman from Life Source called to obtain information about harvesting his organs. I answered the questions to the best of my ability, until she came to this question. “When your son travelled to Africa, did he have sex with a black man while there?” After catching my breath, I responded. “That’s not something a man tells his mother.”
Last December the grief of all five losses came to the forefront. I went to work and did what needed to be done, otherwise I allowed myself to feel my loss, but not wallow in it. About four months later life called me back to the present. All these words are an introduction to my story.
Recently I received yet another invitation to travel to Minnesota to a gathering of organ/tissue donor families. I talked it over with my daughters. They said, “Mom, the purpose of this trip is not to relive the loss but to reconnect with Linda (Dan’s partner). You’ve been friends for many years and have not seen her since that awful trip to Minnesota three years ago.”
I flew to Madison, WI where Linda picked me up and hosted me at her home. The next day we celebrated Kathleen’s birthday – a wonderful reunion. We drove around Watertown, where she lived, so I could reacquaint myself with my old stomping grounds and see how that sleepy little town had grown into a small metropolis.
We drove to Chaska, Minnesota and explored that beautiful city. The people were friendly and the food delicious. All the while I was freezing my “you know what” in the near zero temperatures, snow and wind. I had just left 50-60 degree weather.
The reunion was held in the University of Minnesota Arboretum. The keynote speaker, a beautiful young woman, played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes as she entered. She then told us that she was a double lung recipient; Amazing Grace, indeed.
Four hundred people participated. Several shared their stories. I was struck by how many spoke of their family members as being “dead.” A brave little girl (I estimate sixth grade) talked about finding her unresponsive father on the floor only six weeks before. A young woman talked about losing her baby at 11 weeks. She ended by saying, “This shows you can help another whether you are 11 weeks old or 66.” I gasped. Does this mean I’m too old to donate?
We lit candles in memory of our loved ones and took our donor’s candle home. We also received hand-blown glass hearts. Life Source had collected photos of the donors and presented a slide show. By watching the donor faces I learned that I’m not too old to donate any useable parts.
I end with this plea. Please enroll with a donor registry service and carry the card in your wallet. I’m registered with U.S. Living Will Registry. The paperwork was handled by my local hospital.
Thank you for this beautiful experience. Each loss gave the gift of life to a suffering person. I thank you for the opportunity to connect with three dear friends. These events reminded me to be more grateful for my family and friends who are still with me. Even the cold and snow reminded me to be grateful for the mild temperatures where I live.
And so it is.
*This quote is taken from Dooley’s book, The top ten things dead people want to tell YOU, 2014, Hay House USA.
Chesapeake Bay Writers, Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, Southern Humorists, National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Author of one of 14 stories in The Book of Mom: Reflections of Motherhood with Love, Hope and Faith, published by booksyoucantrust.com. Available in print and e-format at Amazon.com