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.