Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gift of Life

I'm thinking about Chris today. No special day, no anniversary, birthday, just an ordinary day. While I know I should think  and write about the 23 years we did have that wonderful boy instead of the day we lost him, that day still echoes through every fiber of my being.  Even though it's been almost 11 years, it just never leaves. 

     Independence Day 2001 in the Big Horn Mountains, my husband Wayne and I were surveying the land boundaries of his father's cabin. The day promised to be a bright and cheerful holiday while we awaited the weekend arrival of our children, Chris, 23; Stephanie, 18; and Sam, I6. We had taken off early to spend the extra precious days to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary.
During a quiet lunch break, the sound of an ATV broke the silent morning and put into motion the tragic journey than no parent should have to take. A neighbor had received a radio call from the sheriff's department that our son Chris had been in an accident and we needed to call the sheriff's department right away. Fear and dread increased with every jarring bump as we drove down from the mountain.  Just six months earlier, Chris had survived a horrible accident, escaping death's grasp.     What about Stephanie and Sam? Were they together?
Once in town, we were able to make the needed phone calls and tried to piece together the fragments of information...
on the road to our home...again...
       with a friend...
                           brain dead.. .
                                       get back to Cheyenne as soon as possible.
     During that six-hour drive from northern Wyoming to Cheyenne we stayed in touch via cell phone with the hospital about Chris's status. Decisions had to be made. Decisions we were not prepared to face. Flashbacks of Chris growing up, trials and tribulations of raising a teenager, his humor...meshed with thoughts of how, why, what to do, how to plan.  One sure moment of clarity pierced the horrors of these agonizing hours: If it had to be, Chris's wishes would be honored, and we wanted them to make every effort to donate his organs and tissues. That was the one sure thing we could understand. Chris's favorite art teacher was on a transplant list for a liver and although a remote possibility would be that his liver would help his mentor, at least it would allow the list to be reduced by one. We let the hospital know of our wishes as we continued our dreaded journey home Forty-five miles outside Cheyenne, the hospital called to say that our precious first son's heart had stopped.
     Once I had a few moments to hold my other two children and let them know how sorry I was that they had to bear these past few hours alone, the busines of death began. How cold that sounds...the business of death. But that seemed to be what we were facing. As I dealt with the family and friends who met us, Wayne talked with the hospital's representative for organ donations. I did not get to meet with her, but Wayne said that she was calm and compassionate. Can a heart sink anymore? When I heard that his organs were not viable for donation, I felt that I had lost the last chance to "feel" that Chris was still alive. . Heart valves, and corneas...that was all...? What's the point of making that precious body go through any more for such a small donation?  A quick flash to fifteen years before...Wayne's 2 nieces were born with congenital cateracts and had received donor corneas.  Okay, maybe it would help someone. So that was it; end of that decision. Or so I thought.
     You hear about how the days and weeks after are a blur.  They are.  Daily life begins to take on a new distant meaning.  The letters, cards of sympathy, insurance forms, hospital bills pile up on the kitchen table.  About a month later I opened a letter from Donor Alliance.  This was not just another form letter that wound up lost on the pile. Although I knew that it was probably a routine letter of "thank you for your gift of life," the words seemed more personal and specific to our individual situation.  The writer said that Chris's (She used his name!) corneas and valves had been used, but she could not divulge specific information about the recipients.  I ached to know more, but knew that I might be met with disappointment, so I packed away the letter and tried to put my curiosity to rest.
     Over the course of the next 18 months, during holidays and particularly difficult anniversaries and birthdays, we would get another letter with a handout or pamphlet, which helped us deal with our grief. Each communication from Donor Alliance became a soothing salve for our grieving wound. What I thought would be an impersonal "harvest" became a driving force to my healing. I felt a personal connection to the After Care correspondent but did not want to pierce that veil of anonymity.
      I wish I could say we had that miraculous meeting you see on TV that unites the donors with the recepients, but it never happened. I sometimes get to a point of anger when these reunions are shown, because it does bring such false hope. Nevertheless, I  do praise the After Care program especially because of its service to those like me who hang on to the hope that their loved ones will not be forgotten.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.

     John Adams's quote was a proverbial slap in the face this morning.  It's amazing how some random piece of information can find the most opportune time to appear. Of course these bits of wisdom are probably always floating across our faces, but it takes a specific act or emotion in tandem at the right time to make it jump out and shake us.

     The details of my experience are really not as important as the lesson.  I can keenly identify with this basic need. That's probably why I decided to create a blog, and I revel in the observations and praises that I receive. It reminds me that I matter, and I am doing something right. Countless times you hear of wives hoping that their spouses would just appreciate the work that they do, and the opposite is also just as true for many husbands, right? Workers are constantly complaining under their breath and at the water cooler how their work is not appreciated by their bosses. So if you can relate to this disposition like I can, then why don't we recognize that very need in our fellow beings, and most especially our own children?

     I guess as parents of 20+ somethings we spend a heavy 18 years guiding, coaching, and yes, praising our young charges. But when they become adults, we (maybe I should shift to the singular)... I can't quite shake that facade. It's always with the best intentions that  I want to help my son and daughter through their lives. Possibly to spare them the mistakes that I made at their age, or get them to see that they should react to a situation in a better way. Boy, no matter how many times I've preached it or heard it, I still can't follow the old guideline, everyone needs to learn from their own mistakes. Instead it comes out  You need to.... Or  I've been around a lot longer than you have...Or  I've been doing this since you were in diapers, so listen up.

     Is it no wonder that I see my adult child bristle at this kind of "help"? I would have!  Maybe I can use the excuse that my parents were both gone before I was 30 years old, so I didn't have that kind of experience to model... or resist. But I have to say that is a pretty lame excuse when I was definitely taught and try to abide by the Golden Rule. I just seem to be selective in that Rule's use when it comes to my adult children. This intensifies especially when another parent and maybe a fellow sibling joins in and tries to deliver the blow of correction all with the best of intentions. Unless it's an out right and organized  intervention, the "gang up" approach doesn't work very well.

     I am blessed with a family that even when things get a little heated, we allow each other to have a bit of cool down time and amends are made.  I may not like how others react to my "suggestions" but then again, I can't always live by "Be reasonable and do it my way."  I do hope though, that I will try to be a model to my kids that when the time comes, they will  want to emulate rather than resist my behaviors. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012


It's the first of March, which would have been my parents 66th wedding anniversary. It's a blustery day waiting for the snow to arrive tonight, and I have been in hiding far too long. Even though I was going to save this post for the  first day of Spring, it just seems like a perfect day to recall this 54 year old memory. 

     Irises always bring to mind my second grade class with Mrs Collingsworth.  As a budding 7 year old artist I immediately connected to this tall be-speckled lady and how everyday we had some activity that stretched our imaginations and artistic endeavors.  Today it is finger-painting. Not the sloppy hand slapping gooey mess, but art  in its finest form.
     Mrs C brought to my table one iris bloom and visited with us at length about what colors we saw, how the petals curled and changed shades from purple to yellow. Even the leaves and stalks had different greens. She wet the taped down paper and squirted a grey blob of goo in the middle. I looked up at her and thought ew, how dull. She just grinned and took my hand at dotted my pinkie with a dot of yellow paint.  I watched the other students swishing their blobs into streaks across the paper, and I did the same. As I angled the swishes from the top left corner to bottom right, the white paper became an early morning sunrise.
     Now how was I going to make those stalks?  One finger? Nope. I remember her taking my hand and gently turning it to expose the pinkie side of my palm and plopped three different green dots there and told me to swish it onto the paper. Evidently this second stare revealed my confusion and she guided my hand for the first one. Low and behold as we moved my hand upward a beautiful stalk of green appeared.  I didn't need any more coaxing. I was off!
     But then came time for the blooms. No problem. She told me to make a fist and with the same maneuver she placed a dark purple and yellow dot on the side of my tiny fist. Taking my fist straight down on the paper and with a slight twist and lift, a perfect petal formed. Okay! Do that two more times and I had a perfect iris! It was no trouble to finish the other 2 flowers.
     I had created a masterpiece! My first. Probably my only -- but it definitely is the first thought I have when I see these beautiful messengers of color every spring. It may not be Spring yet, but it sure brightened my day thinking about that little artist again.