I sat down next to my father who was less than 48 hours away from just having his liver and kidney transplant at Mayo. It finally happened, just like that. He was alert and coherent and I wanted to connect with him, but how? How could I relate to him? After all, I’ve never had a transplant. What was dad feeling? What was he thinking?
I looked at him and picked up this sense that Dad seemed to be in two places at once, internally. Dad has never been one to wear his emotions on his sleeves. He’s reflective, but not very expressive. He’s got a lot going on inside, but is usually a bit reserved.
But this time, Dad’s presence didn’t feel like reservation. He didn’t feel like he was lost in his thoughts. He felt very present, but just present in more than one space, and I wanted him to talk about that other space.
Mom was busy talking, telling us about all the amazing parts that lined up perfectly in order for this surgery to go smoothly. Like if Dad had started dialysis, which he was getting ready for when he got the call, there would’ve been obstacles because of the blood thinner. I was intently watching my Dad, while my mom was talking. I could tell Mom was elated but also very tired.
Finally, Mom paused and asked if there was anything I wanted to ask Dad. I said “Yes, and Mom, you stay quiet and don’t answer for him!” She laughed then agreed.
It was silent and I asked Dad this: “When you’re sitting in your room here alone, what comes to your mind or heart? What do you think or feel?” Dad got a little choked up and became tearful, then said “Amazement.” He said he was in “Awe”. I then asked him if he felt humbled by all this because he also had mentioned the donor. You see, we don’t know anything about the donor other than he was a younger male, and his organs were healthy enough to donate. But, he himself could not survive due to a severe traumatic brain injury. The donor’s family reached the difficult decision to take him off life support, and donate his organs. And this gave Dad a chance to live a life he could not otherwise have lived.
I could immediately see a connection. “Oh, this is kinda like adoption.” Both of my parents paused and looked at me. Then nodded their heads and said “Yes!” The room was silent. As for me, I reflected about this donor’s family being somewhere out there, deeply grieving a loss of life. At the same time, our family was so grateful for my dad to have a second chance at living. The paradox. The complexity. The space of “both/and”. Transplants which involve a dying organ donor has a lot of mixed feelings. Acknowledging that these organs were being donated because the person could no longer survive, yet this opens up the door for another life to go on.
Loss. Grief. Death. These all preceded my father getting the transplant. Now, this young man’s organs are helping to sustain my father’s life, a tragedy turned into a life-giving gift. We are all celebrating this, yet also holding onto this other family’s experience with deep compassion and gratitude for their decision to donate organs, wherever and whoever they are.
It’s similar to adoption. There is both loss and a chance at a new life, wrapped together.
Mom followed up asking me if I would write more about this. It really touched her. It’s the paradox of life, yet it seems this is how God is a Master Weaver, using all things for the highest good. Through tragedy, new life can come.
This is how I understand God works, She brings new life and beauty from ashes. It IS amazing, Dad.
Simply, amazing. Just like you.