I don’t think the real reason why we were attending really hit me until we walked in the door of the conference center. My chest tightened. The first face I saw was Annette, our Donor Network coordinator. She was the one that held Owen for me after his surgery and until I could get to him. She held my empty child … I haven’t seen her since one of Owen’s fundraisers. But her face is forever etched into my heart. She held Owen … she rocked him when he was empty. She cared for him even when he was no longer there. All of those feelings flooded back. I wanted to talk on and on with her but didn’t really know where to start. I could talk about what’s been going on with me … but I couldn’t find the words. So instead she greeted me with a hug and helped me find my name tag. Then I started to find my way through the room.
There were quilts lining the walls. They were made of patches people made in memory of their loved ones. Faces of people, dates of when they entered and left this world. Parents, spouses, children. All had a square. Doug and I took the information on how to make one for Owen.
The program was quick but thoughtful. Two donor recipients spoke about their experience. They both expressed how thankful they were to their donor family. The woman who spoke said she has never heard from her donor family. I thought how sad that was, and I thought about how blessed I am to have contact with Josie and her family. Maybe one day I’ll also have contact with the little girl who received Owen’s liver.
They showed a picture of each person while they read their names. My heart was empty of feeling … swelling with loss. I stared at each face, looking into their eyes, reading their birth and death dates. They were someone. They once had life within them. Their eyes were alive yet now they are gone. Gone and never to return. These are someone’s “somebody”. These are grandparents, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children. So many young adults in the slide show. Teenagers, infants, toddlers. With each new face I kept wondering: What happened? What is their story? How did they die? Were they sick? Was it sudden? How is the family coping?
I was awaiting Owen’s picture. I knew it would come, yet it still took me by surprise. I squeezed my folded hands tight. Annette read his name with conviction. It was loud and clear. Then they were onto the next picture. I didn’t want them to change the slide. Stay on my Owen. Show his face just a little longer – let me look into his larger than life face. But the slide changed and he was gone again. I screamed in my head how much things sucked right now. I screamed how much it hurt. I felt a few warm tears on my face … but then the feeling passed. I saw the other faces and I let myself get lost again in my questions on what their story was.
Soon it was time to leave. The night had come to an end. I did have some time to catch up with Annette more at the end of the night. I wonder if she knows just what kind of an impact she has made on my family. There is another donor network event in the summer. I hope to bring Jaden with us that time. I think it would bring him some healing. Or at least I hope it would.
If you haven’t done so already, consider being an organ donor. It’s so important to take care of each other. Maybe just maybe,knowing that you’ll live on in others will give your survivors some kind of hope. I know Owen’s gifts give me hope. I continue to lift Josie up in prayer … Lord, the one you love is sick.