It’s been almost six years since we lost my stepson in a four-wheeling accident. And after recently watching Grey’s Anatomy and watching the fictional Meredith Grey have to sign the papers to disconnect her husband, “McDreamy,” from the machines keeping him alive and standing by his bedside as he took his last breathe, my life was once again transported to the hours we spent in that Indiana hospital. Unlike the character on television, Timothy’s organs were viable and available for donation. And when the choice was given to my husband and Timothy’s mother about organ donation just shortly after we were told he was brain dead, my husband never skipped a beat in answering “Yes” because he knew Timothy wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
That day in the hospital was straight out of a movie for me, feeling like everyone was moving at hyper speed and me just standing still watching the world move by when mine had literally just stopped. People moving by me in the hallways, unaware that my life had just imploded as my 18-year-old stepson lay lifeless and connected to machine less than 50 feet away from me. The beeping of the machines, the quiet conversations happening behind us as we gathered around his bedside, taking turns holding his hands, hoping for an instant that he would squeeze back – all of which never leave your memory completely instead they just settle into a tiny place in the back of your mind, ready to pop up whenever you least expect them.
But by donating my stepson’s organs, Timothy quite possibly saved over 75 lives. While that is amazing in itself, there is one horrible reality to this awesome feat – to save those lives he had to die first. Heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, stomach, corneas, tendons and sinews were among the various organs and parts of his body that they were able to harvest upon his death, according to the letter from the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO), or now the Indiana Donor Network. I really can’t say enough about how wonderful that really is.
At the same time, I feel a bit on the heartless side when I think how all those lives saved is sometimes meaningless when it comes to the pain, the emptiness and the sorrow so many of us feel on a daily basis after losing my stepson. Guaranteed, Timothy wouldn’t have wanted it any other way – save the ones who need saving. In no way would I ever belittle the beauty and selflessness of the organ donation process because it is an incredible thing – the ability to save others’ lives through the death of another. But for the grieving loved ones of the deceased, a part of them will always feel empty and un-whole, while those organ recipients will now go on with their lives and hopefully flourish because of the gift(s) they have now been given.
As for that Grey’s episode and the two-hour episode that followed centering on McDreamy’s death and Meredith’s reaction, anyone who has ever lost anyone similar to this, probably found it just a little tougher than normal to watch. You can also relate undeniably to those last excruciating 20 minutes of Grey’s, just before the nurse was about to disconnect the breathing tube and Meredith repeatedly says Derek’s name while holding his hand. Like so many us, it’s for the sheer chance that the doctors are wrong, that miracles are possible and at that very moment, God can hear the pain and agony in your voice and is willing to bring the dead back to life just for you. But alas, I have come to understand that everything happens for a reason – reasons we may never understand and may even want to understand. But unlike Grey’s, we were not there to witness Timothy’s last breathe because the 15 hours of agony leading up to our departure that day from the hospital were enough for a lifetime. And we knew he had truly taken his last breath long before we ever stepped foot into that hospital. We knew what was going to happen next and we believed the doctors knew how to do their jobs.
Will it really always be like this? A television show, a movie, a song, a moment of deja vu – instantly transporting me back to that day almost six years ago or even that week. I’m guessing so. I don’t know if I cried my eyes out watching that episode more for the loss of a character so many of us had grown attached to over the years or my own memories that flooded my brain at the same time. Obviously, it was probably a mixture of both.
Anyone who has lost someone like we have, understands our pain, our daily grief and our continuous struggle for some semblance of normal. But for now, we take the good with the bad and even the really bad, and we live our lives one day at a time and brace for the next moment of deja vu, hoping the aftershock can be tamed more and more with just a box of tissues, warm hugs, sloppy kisses and hearing “I love to you the moon and back” over and over again.