I’ve had a few experiences in the last week that I don’t really know how to process. I’m feeling kind of down.
Okay, I’ll spill it. I met a few organ donor families who are filled with grief. I feel awkward standing in front of them, alive, the recipient of a life-saving transplant. Why am I alive and their loved one is dead? It’s like I want to apologize for being alive. Bizarre, I know.
No one died for me to live. My donor, my son, is doing awesome. He’s running a half marathon in Baltimore in a week or so. I wonder if I would have even more “survivor’s guilt” if I had received a donor liver from someone who died suddenly. I’ve got some transplant friends who have a lot of “survivor’s guilt.”
After my youngest son’s graduation from the Culinary Institute of America this past Friday, a US Navy Sailor in full dress blues stopped me to ask about the logo on my jacket. I was wearing a Donate Life fleece.
I told him about organ donation and gave him my story. I knew pretty quickly that he knew more about organ donation than I do. His eyes filled with tears and he told me of his teen brother dying in a motorcycle accident just months before. I could sense his pain and he choked back tears. I don’t know if I helped or hurt by thanking him saying,”because of the love of your brother, you and your family, someone like me may be watching his son graduate today. I wouldn’t be here right now without an organ donor.”
He shook my hand firmly without speaking, turned and walked away. I felt so much grief. My own eyes were filled with water. I still don’t know what to think. I just want the sadness to go away … for me and for him.
I remember being unable to pray when I was waiting for a transplant. I felt like praying for a liver was praying for someone to die so I could live. In my mind, I knew that people die every single day but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know how to pray. Even praying for a match for a living donor meant someone had to put himself at risk for me.
Why do I get to live but the two little girls at the table next to me are growing up without their dad who passed away and willingly gave his organs for people like me? Why me?
Why do I get to see my son graduate? Take my dad to the fair? Wander New York city with my wife and boys? Why do I get to laugh with my sisters an brush my dog? Why did I get to live while others die? I have no answers.
I am so very thankful for organ donors and the gift of life even though I’m not sure how to process all of this. As a registered organ donor, my desire is to give someone else a full life when I am gone. I want my family to find joy in giving my organs but I know there will be tears at my passing. I hope joy saturates quickly and replaces grief.
Why me? I don’t know. All I know is that God is Sovereign. Rather than drive myself crazy, my only choice is to live my life to the fullest to honor organ donors everywhere. My life, I am determined, will bring glory to God.
I won’t soon forget my young sailor friend. My prayer is that joy will soon replace his pain.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
I appreciated your post today. In regards to your Navy friend – as a family member who lost a loved one a few years ago and making the decisions to donate in our tragedy, your words spoken to him were of great encouragement. There is something to be said about knowing that in the gift of life there is such appreciation of LIVING life. Our lives were forever changed the day Jeff watched his father die in his arms in the water at Two Lights. We don’t know any of our donor families, but we pray that the gift of John’ s life will allow them to live the width of their life as fully as we too have learned to live it. Thank you for being bold enough to speak those words of truth and gratefulness to that Navy friend. I am sure that you gave him a gift in the midst of such loss that will echo in his mind for years to come- therefore the silence. You journey continues to be such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing with us !
Alissa Sent via the HTC Vivid™, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone
As a living liver donor, I too feel guilt. My brother really didn’t want me to be his donor for fear of complications or a negative outcome for me. He once asked me in tears; “how do you pray to live when you know someone will die for that prayer to be answered”.
My experience with those waiting for transplants is that everyone has this thought, this feeling in their heart. Those who are fortunate, by God’s grace, to receive their transplant often share the feelings of guilt and sadness for their gift. That said, I have never met a more grateful person than a transplant recipient. Their donor is a special piece of their life and honored, respected and treasured like no other. I have seen many close relationships grow between a donor family and recipient.
“Why do I get to live while others die?” simply said, Because the Lord, made it so!
I have Guilt Every Day, I have felt it since I came out of ICU onto the floor. I had it before Transplant. It isn’t a feeling that can be explained to someone who has not experienced it.