When I saw that Mark Zuckerberg was making a new tool to allow people to share their status as organ donors on their timelines, I thought, "What a great idea." I understand that the whole concept of organ donation isn't something that most people think about very often, unless of course you happen to know someone who has done it or if you're walking around with a heart that isn't your own.
I fall in the former category. When my mother died in a car accident in 2007 it was unexpected. I was 23 when she died, a time in my life when I thought I had so much time left with her ahead of me. There is so much about life that you can never really understand until it happens to you, like how I realized how fleeting it all is, how you can go to bed one night thinking everything will always be the same until you wake up one morning to the sound of a ringing phone and nothing is ever the same again.
Mom had extensive trauma to her brain from the accident, though nothing else on her body was harmed from the crash. She was in a coma for three days, the longest three days of my life, and the swelling in her brain continued to get worse until finally the doctors told us there was nothing left to be done.
I can say with complete certainty that she's the best person I'll ever know. Her kindness and love touched the lives of everyone she met. So much so that in 10-degree weather in the cold February that she died, there was a line that snaked out the door at her wake for almost seven hours. As people came up in line to give me, my sister and father their condolences, I heard so many stories about how she had impacted their lives in some way, how her thoughtful and considerate nature had made a difference.
After she died I was lost, and I had forgotten in the heartbreaking days that surrounded her death that she had, in fact, donated her organs. I didn't remember until my father told me that the one year grace period that the recipients have after a transplant to choose to be contacted by the families of the donor, had passed.
My mother was only 54 when she died and she donated a kidney to a single mother in Vermont, and one to someone in New York City where I live. Her lungs went to a man in West Virginia who was suffering from Black Lung. She also donated her liver to someone in New Jersey, and both of her corneas went to people in California.
The only person who was open to hearing from our family was the man who got her heart.
It wasn't until a few months ago that I reached out to him. After my mother's death I wasn't ready to deal with the idea of parts of her living on in other people, but when I stumbled upon a letter her heart recipient had sent our family in 2008, I realized it was time.
This man, *Richard, who before the transplant wasn't able to get out of bed or even pick up his grandchildren, said that my mother's heart gave him a new life. He wrote that typically it's difficult for a heart transplant to take, but Mom's did. Your mother's heart, he wrote, was very strong.
Just last year *Richard and his wife were asked by Children's Youth and Family if they would take an emergency placement for a child that was only two days old. The child's mother had taken cocaine, had no prenatal care and had birthed the baby at home. He only weighed 4 lbs when *Richard and his wife took him in, and now he he's doing great. They're not going to adopt him because *Richard and his wife are now in their 60s, but they have found a good family for the boy and intend to stay in his life as loving grandparents.
Not only did my mother give life to me, but she also gave life to *Richard and now, because of that, she's given a better life to this little boy.
This thought gives me peace, especially during the darkest moments when I miss my mother so much I can hardly breathe. I know that she would be happy to know that the gift she gave has affected so many lives, lives that before her death were strangers, but who are now always in my thoughts.
Because the thing is those strangers could some day be your parents, your wife or husband, your brother, sister or child. That is why I urge everyone to take notice of this Facebook mission and become an organ donor if you aren't already.
We rarely realize how great an impact our choices have on others, but we need to remember that our actions matter, our kindness matters, and it creates a ripple effect like a pebble being thrown into still waters. We die but we live on, often in memory, but sometimes our hearts literally become someone else's.
I'm planning a trip to visit *Richard and his wife soon. With Mother's Day coming up I'm missing Mom more than ever, and I'd like to be able to meet him and place a hand on his chest and feel the same beats that I remember from when I used to place my head on Mom's chest when I was a child. I want to thank him for letting me into his life and allowing me the gift of seeing that Mom's life and kindness live on in him. I know how much she would have liked that.
So do me a favor reader, and place your hand on your heart and feel its beats.
Pledge to never take it for granted. Pledge to give as much of it whenever you can.