I’m a future organ donor. The emblem is affixed to my driver’s license, and I’ve discussed my intentions with family and friends. Can’t say that I’m keeping the mileage down —my parts will be well-worn by the time anyone gets them. But the section of my brain that remembers where I’ve parked my car? Barely used at all…
As a recent recipient of two bone grafts and a ligament graft, tissue and organ donations now carry a personal and sacred significance for me. I cringed before my ankle surgery, thinking of foreign matter fusing with my body —but after the essential surgery was completed, I cried, overcome by the magnitude of the gifts I’d been given.
It is likely, given the nature of my bone grafts, that grieving parents made the choice to enable my ankle reconstruction as they wrestled against the erasure of the ordinary family dreams we all cherish. I wonder how many other lives they changed on that dark and terrible day. Did someone tell them that their gift might save eight lives and provide healing to fifty more*? That these broken-hearted strangers retained the capacity to care for unknown others —this moves me.
My hospital folder held encoded donor family contact information. I’ve tapped out the beginnings of personal notes multiple times now. I begin to see faces reading my words, hit “delete” and try again. Grappling with words in the manner of a chef assembling his ingredients. Only simple words —”thank you”— are needed. But knowing that my words will link to a critical chapter in the shortened life of someone’s son or daughter, I’m measuring them carefully.
It is not lost on me that, just as a child’s tissue donation is repairing my ankle and allowing me continued access to the adventurous life I love, my words may have a similar capacity to facilitate mending in a donor’s family. Unexceptional words. “I’m sorry.” “Thank you.” But they matter. And just as acknowledgement is a critical step in moving through loss, gratitude is, likewise, essential to full appreciation of a gift. The words will come…
If you haven’t yet made your intention to be a tissue and organ donor official, please search for the “organ donor” website in your country. Here’s a link to the US organ donor website: Donate the Gift of Life .
*Lifeline of Ohio; based on data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of December 18, 2012 – data subject to change due to future submissions or corrections.