And, just like that, it is November.
The leaves blanket the grounds in their rich crimson and golden hues. The air is cool and crisp. It is my favorite time of the year—not only because of the beauty and glory all around us in Mother Nature’s pristine power, but because November is the month of gratitude. For me, and I know you have read it and heard it time and time again from me, everyday is a day to learn and be thankful for because as bad as it can be, it can be even worse and the best is always yet to come.
Many know this little factoid about me receiving two kidney transplants, which taught me an abundance of lessons and gave me the greatest of gifts at a young age with #1 being that Life is a Gift. Every single day, I have the privilege of opening up this gift by learning something new, getting to know the familiar, going into the unfamiliar, adventuring, and enjoying my simple routines that I savor and love the most. Deep within this gift of life is a privilege of meeting with many organ donor families and living donors. It is probably the best part of the gift. I am like a star struck fan, all speechless or blubbering fool when I am around organ donor families and living donors. I never know what to say. I never know what to do. I hedge on asking about their deceased loved one and take cues from them as to whether or not he or she will tell me their stories.
I have had the honor to meet many organ donor families. Some have adopted me. Some sport photos of their loved ones that died and share their stories and memories with tears rolling down their faces. I cried with them. I hugged them as hard as I could. When they share with me, I am humbled and put in a place of delicate vulnerability of thinking about my anonymous organ donor families even more. Whenever I am blessed to meet a living organ donor or organ donor family, I feel full throttle deep within me that 1) I would not be alive if it were not for my two organ donors and their families and 2) Grief never ends and it goes in these waves—some waves crash and knock you over until you are just trying to keep your head above water and other waves are calm waters that gently wash up to tickle your toes on the shoreline.
Out of all the organ donor families I have been extremely blessed to meet, there is one organ donor mother who I still think about. I do not remember her name. I remember her. I met her in Houston, Texas at the 2014 Transplant Games of America. She was of short stature and had dark cropped hair. Her warm smile quivered at the edges that turned downward when she shared with me: “My daughter killed herself.”
I did not know what to say. I did not say anything. I think my face said it all and more than words can possibly express.
She continued, “She was 15-years-old. She had bipolar nearly her whole life. She heard voices. She finally could not take the voices, so she killed herself.”
I still was speechless and wordless and could only muster: “I’m so sorry. That’s horrible. Can I give you a hug?”
I wrapped her in the tightest hug that my body could manage. She continued, “When people hear that she committed suicide, they look at me with sadness and shame. They do not know what to say. Most people do not know what to say when someone dies, but when someone commits suicide, it is on a whole other level. People have no idea how your mind can play tricks on you and betray you. You hear about cancer and, don’t get me wrong, cancer sucks and all illnesses suck, but there is still a stigmatism with mental illnesses that will never, ever really go away. They have no idea that my daughter was suffering just like someone with cancer, but if she had cancer then she would’ve gained more sympathy than with what she suffered with. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing can bring my daughter back, but my daughter saved lives, and this is what matters.”
In a feeble voice that sounded probably even more pathetic, I said: “Well, your daughter is a hero.”
She tipped her head slightly and said softly, “I meet many transplant recipients. They want to live forever. They will fight for life. My daughter could not because of her illness. She wanted to die. Maybe there is another mother now who has their daughter alive from my daughter. To me, it is not about heroism. It is about doing the right thing.”
Recently, a donor son and donor sister both said the same thing to me that he never gave their kidneys to their mother and brother, respectively, to be recognized or to be a hero, but, as they said: “I did not think twice. I knew it would be me. If someone you loved needed help and you could help then you would do it. No recognition or heroism. It’s not rocket science. It’s the right thing to do.”
I have been thinking a lot about this organ donor mom and what she said to me. I have been thinking about these other organ donor families and living donors I have met and about heroism and what really makes a hero. We can know the right thing to do, but to do it can be immensely difficult and takes a courage that maybe we never knew we had within us. I have been thinking about how the place people are in, the frame of mind, the situations, the emotions, and even more and beyond would push people to be the perpetrator and the victim all in one. This organ donor mother is right—I could not ever imagine and cannot ever fully grasp not wanting to live and wanting to end it all because, to me and because of my organ donors and their families, life is such a gift and from this gift is hope and a fight and deep passion to live.
This is my tribute to all the organ donor families and living donors I have had the absolute privilege and honor or meeting. This is my mere attempt at gratitude in November but in every single day. Meeting them and thinking of my organ donor families daily makes me want to be the best of me and makes me realize just how powerful love, kindness, and giving really are. Meeting them also brings me to place of vulnerability of the struggles that each of us deal with day in and day out and to the point that a person may not want to live anymore. As for ‘Hero,’ what does this actually mean? How far will you go for the person you love the most? Or for someone you do not even know? A complete stranger? Who do you identify as a hero? Have you known the right thing to do but could or could not do it?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,