By Tom Oleson Winnipeg Free Press
The last three months have been the most difficult of my life. My youngest son, Kristofer, died in an accident on March 24. He fell, or was pushed, from the third-floor landing of a rickety outdoor staircase that led to the apartment where he and his girlfriend and their newborn son, Jaxson, lived in St. Boniface.
Curiously, since then he has been everywhere in my life, in his sisters' lives and, perhaps most painfully, in his mother's life. There is a special bond that exists between mother and son, and is extraordinarily hard to break. All bonds are hard to break, however, and I see Kris and am reminded of him and my hopes for him, his ambitions for himself, everywhere I go and in everything I do. It is a special kind of grief that always hurts but which, perversely perhaps, you don't want to lose because then you would lose something of the person.
So it has been a hard three months for everyone. The hardest hours were in the hospital. When we arrived there, the doctors told us there was no chance Kris would live -- his brain had been too severely damaged in the fall. The nurses told us he was on life support until he could be proclaimed brain-dead, and then, because he had wanted to be an organ donor, he would be kept on a ventilator until his organs could be harvested. He was soon brain-dead. There can hardly be a more bizarre, almost hallucinogenic experience than sitting by your dead son's bed for several hours and watching him still breathe, his chest rising and falling as if he were only asleep. It was as surreal as an acid flashback, until they finally came for him. There were moments when I wished he had never wanted to be an organ donor so we could end this agony -- not Kris's agony, he was beyond pain, but mine.
But everyone since then has learned to cope in his or her own way. And then this week we received a letter from Transplant Manitoba, Gift of Life, the organization that co-ordinates organ transplants from Manitoba with the rest of North America -- a kidney harvested in Winnipeg might find a new home in Florida, for example, so precisely is the process programmed.
They were forwarding us a letter from someone somewhere who had received Kris's lungs. Publishing readers' letters is usually a lazy columnist's cop-out, and I have never done it before, but I am a lazy man and I am going to print this person's letter here. The letter is anonymous, but verified by Transplant Manitoba and there is no indication of whether it is from a man or a woman, young or old, but the sentiment it expresses is clearly beyond all that:
Dear Donor Family,
Words cannot express my deepest feelings of gratitude for the gift of lungs I received because of your loved one's death. While you were grieving the loss in your family, I received the opportunity to be able to be with my loved ones a while longer. Thank you for your courage in making the difficult choice to consider the good of others in your own painful time.
I will always treasure the gift I and my loved ones received from your family. At the time I received my transplant I was not expected to live beyond a few weeks, so when I heard that I was to receive new lungs, it felt like a miracle for me. My life has been touched by your incredible generosity, and I will value every day I am given.
My prayers will always be with you, both in the hope that you will receive God's love and comfort in your time of loss, and in thankfulness that you reached out to help someone else in your time of tragedy. The world is a better place because of your loving act. I am left with the simple words, thank you.
With heartfelt thoughts and prayers for you, and deepest thanks for the gift of life,
A Grateful Recipient.
That was a hard letter to read. It brought back every moment of anguish and pain. But then it brought some comfort. There is a school of thought -- I don't subscribe to it because it is patently absurd -- that there is such a thing as cellular life, and organ recipients can assume the traits of their organ donors -- a vegan, for example, who has received a lung transplant, might wake up wanting a hamburger for dinner.
I don't believe it, but there is some comfort in it. It helps you think that a lost loved one lives on somewhere. But you don't have to believe in nonsense to get that comfort. The very fact that your loved one's organs are allowing other people to live means that your son -- or you -- is living on. Kris was right and, I, in my self-pitying grief, was wrong. Be an organ donor. Give someone else a chance even if your own luck has run out.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Register to be an organ and tissue donor & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: recycleMe.org - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here
In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at ShareYourLife.org or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help 75 to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You