The Kindness of Strangers

So many times we have heard and said after someone dies, that the first year is the hardest.  Marking all the firsts without that person.  It’s true – first Thanksgiving and Christmas, first birthday and anniversary.  And then the impending anniversary of your loved one’s death.  So I knew that this time of year would be difficult and involve lots of time spent thinking back to what I was doing/thinking/feeling a year ago.

Michael was admitted into the hospital on May 19th and spent his last sixty-three days there.  So each day for the last two weeks (thanks at least in part to Facebook) I’ve been going over what those days were like.  Sometimes it’s hard and brings me to tears.  Sometimes it’s sweet and I treasure the memories.  Throughout it I have been going over the last pictures we have from those days and can now see things that I could not or would not see then.

Two things I am particularly struck by as I remember.  First, on May 30th last year, unknown to us, a young man was working on his car.  I imagine it was a day just like a thousand others.  I don’t know his name, age or where he lived.  I don’t know if he had a wife or children, though I think it’s probable that he did.  While he was working on his car, the jack slipped and the car fell on him injuring him greatly.  While I don’t know all of the details I know the injuries were great enough that he would not survive.  In the midst of this tragedy, some medical person or persons approached his family about donating his organs.  And in spite of their own grief, they selflessly and graciously agreed.  They then had to wait for this young man’s heart to stop beating so that this donation could be made.  This was the family that provided Michael with a liver transplant.

I’ve not had any contact with this family.  Even though the transplant center will allow me to send a letter, I haven’t been able to bring myself to write it.  Somehow, because the outcome for Michael was not the triumph we had hoped for, I don’t want them to think that their gift was any less valued or appreciated.  Not every transplant story ends with a victorious ride into the sunset.  But the gift of giving life or the chance for life is no less cherished.  I too would have chosen a different outcome if it were up to me.  Regardless of the outcome, I still believe in the noble act of organ donation and will always respect and appreciate the family that gave Michael this chance.

The second thing I’ve been impressed by in recent days comes from all the Facebook posts from a year ago.  On the night of May 31st, one year ago, Michael received his liver transplant.  It was a long and complex surgery that would begin on Saturday evening and not be finished til Sunday morning, June 1st.  As I read back on the updates and messages people sent to me and our entire family, I am renewed in my thankfulness for the prayers and good wishes sent our way.  I have been rereading them as if for the first time.  Posts from friends we see every day in our own town.  Posts from friends we haven’t seen or heard from in years.  Posts from so many foreign countries, many we’d never travelled to.  Messages from people we had never met offering prayers on our behalf.  Prayers offered up to God from all denominations, in various customs and practices.  I think a year ago I was so deep into survival mode that I didn’t really appreciate the outpouring of love and concern.  But know that I appreciate them today.  If it is possible for prayers offered a year ago to continue to be felt today, then that is what I am feeling.

The weeks ahead will surely bring more of these feelings along with many other things.  As we get ready for a family wedding I am realizing that I will begin living on my own for the first time in my life.  Yes, for the first time in my life I will have full access to the remote control and the thermostat, and my refrigerator will only need to be stocked with the things I like.  My washing machine setting has changed from super-sized loads to medium-sized loads.  And my two-car garage will be half empty (or half-full).  There are new challenges ahead.  New freedoms, new routines, new experiences to explore.  So while I take some time each day to look back, I want to spend most of my time looking forward.  I’m not sure I can safely do both.

Be a blood donor.  Be an organ donor.  Be an encouragement to someone you meet today.

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