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This week is going to be a hard one. It is every.single.year.

This post triggered all those memories & feelings, so I want to share why I’m an organ donor

My dad died unexpectedly on Father’s day at the age of 46.
2 nights earlier he had been visiting clients in Minnesota & collapsed.

I was working night shift at a hospital in Indiana when my unit secretary ran to find me.

“Your dad collapsed & is being flown from MN to the closest level 1 trauma center in Sioux Falls, SD.”
“Don’t worry about your patients, we’ve got them -GO NOW!”

I was on the next flight from IN to SD.

Heart attack
Dad was on life support

The ICU staff were suddenly on the other side of an equation I’d been on countless times.

They delicately walked the line between brutal
honesty & crushing our hopes.

It was a familiar scene w/ shitty casting.

I desperately wanted to be on the other side as a caregiver & not a secondary recipient of care.

My uncle & grandmother had flown out w/ me so the questions I answered now were from my own family.
“What does this lab result mean?”

“Why doe he look yellow?”

“Is he going to be OK?”

That one was the hardest because *I was still his daughter* & didn’t want to say out loud how bad things looked.

I helped staff care for him for 2 days while the Red Cross flew my 21 y/o
brother from where the USMC had him stationed.

I realized quickly that, although dad’s MDs & the staff were doing everything right -the outcome would be tragic.

Death wasn’t knocking on doors. It was in dad’s room patiently waiting. A strange courtesy, but one not everyone
is afforded. For 2 days we lived in a gray space between life & death with Schrödinger’s cat.

I went into caregiver mode b/c that’s what medical people do when there is no cure. When death plants its flag all you can do is care for the injured.

My brother finally arrived.
After 3 Iraq tours in 4 yrs he was due to finish his service in 2 weeks.

Looking lost, he carefully asks- Maybe dad will be OK after all?

Maybe the anticipated cross-country father-son road trip to drive him home to Indiana from Camp Pendleton after his time w/ the USMC
was complete could sill happen?

He’d already witnessed a good friend in his unit die from an IED, but this...he didn’t sign up for this. Not at 21.

Now, as gently as I could, I began to prepare him for the worst to come.

I’d held off the discussion with LifeSource
(SD’s Organ Donation Program) until he was with us, but now hard talks had to begin.

I’ll never forget the pained look in his eyes as he realized the gravity of what we were about to do.

He trusted me, but couldn’t there be just ONE thread of hope dad could pull through?
The only test that remained was a simple one called a caloric stimulation (or VNG) test. It has several uses, but is commonly used by neurologists to determine brain death.

I promised my brother I would stay with dad for the test to see his reaction with my own eyes.

A cup
of ice water was brought to dad’s ICU room & I held his hand & prayed for the first time in decades as his neurologist did the test.

Nothing happened

Except for the machinery, the room was silent as I thanked everyone for all they had done for dad.

That they had let me
be a part of dad’s care when most ICU staff would have sent me off to a waiting room filled me with gratitude.

Bracing myself, I left the room to tell a sweet kid in the other room that his dad was gone.

LifeSource began the process of getting recipients where they needed
to be as I sat outside & away of the view of everyone & began to write the last Father’s Day letter I would ever write. I’d managed to keep my composure that entire weekend until that moment.

Midnight came & as my emotionally spent brother nodded off in the uncomfortable
chairs, I quietly slipped into dad’s room to read my letter to him.

I thanked him for the good & bad. 17 years of battles between a stubborn daughter & an equally stubborn parent.

I thanked him for mistakes we both made over the years that taught me
humility & forgiveness & an acute awareness that people’s reactions are 1% about whatever external thing or person is concerned & 99% about the sum of one’s life experiences.

Perspective is everything.

He taught me to be kind & honor the experiences of others as equally
valid (if not more so sometimes) as my own experiences.

As I spoke I realized that the fuel for my fire - my one person who knew my entire journey & who was delighted every time I proved I could do whatever I set out to achieve was leaving me & it scared TF out of me.
With gratitude I thanked him for the 10 good years we had together after a painful & tumultuous initial 17.

Not everyone gets a do-over. We did & made the best of it.

I laid my head next to his & waited for word to come that the next leg of his journey was ready for him.
As the staff arrived & prepared to roll his bed to surgury my brother, uncle, grandmother & I took turns saying goodbye.

Once reassembled in his room, we agreed that after dad went to the OR we would go to the hotel & try to rest until our flight home when all the funeral
preparation craziness would begin.

I stood in the hall as dad & my roads diverged & knew my life wouldn’t ever be the same.

Back at the hotel I couldn’t sleep. Something was nagging at me.

Something important I’d forgotten.

A missed step,
but what TF had I missed???
I forgot the chocolates.

No matter who was in the hospital dad ALWAYS brought chocolates for the nurses for every single shift of every day. So, at 2am, I jump in the car & desperately look for an open store where I can take care of this last task.

Armed with a stack of chocolates that caused the cashier to look at me as if I were an addict. I return to the hospital.

I’m 10 feet in the door when I am hit HARD- suddenly face to face with the unexpected.

Dad was the only organ donor that afternoon & rolling towards me
was a dolly stacked with no fewer than half a dozen coolers marked clearly:


I feel sick. The transport team doesn’t know me. They don’t know what I know. They don’t know him.

I ask them to stop for a second.
I get one last moment to say goodbye.

I thank dad for letting me know his new journey has begun & that he’s doing what he loved best - giving selflessly to those in need.

Some hospital staff recognize me & the gravity of this moment & rush to my side to be there for me.
I explain about the chocolates & what they mean to me.

I thank them all for being there for me at the hardest moment of my life.

Months pass & I get a handwritten letter from a woman who received dad’s corneas.

She can see her grandkids now.
I have studied the curves of each carefully written cursive letter over & over and I feel connected to my dad.

How many moments is this one woman going to see and cherish because we chose to #GiveLife?

For a while I didn’t cope with the loss of my dad well.
I tend to bury my feelings in work. I am my father’s daughter after all.

I’ve always been light on outward displays of emotional highs & lows preferring to just live mindfully & with the understanding that I am just one small & impermanent cluster of
hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen & oxygen atoms among billions of others.

But for 27 years I knew at least one person whose brain worked like mine. Who I could bounce things off of & always get a consistent & well reasoned (& wickedly funny) responses.
I felt unmoored and like I had to rethink where I existed in relation to the world around me.

When I finally let myself do the hard (& inconvenient) work of grieving I realized that it at the end of the day all that matters is that you give what you can selflessly & often.
I’ve lived through significant traumas & could easily use that to define who I am, but every time I’ve been down I’ve been lifted up through selfless gifts of love, compassion & encouragement from others.

The least I can do is give one final time so others can continue to give.
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