Also see: Other articles on tissue/organ donation: April is Donate Life Month | Doug Zimmerman's Gift of Life | The Ultimate in Recycling - Organ Donation | Donor family gathering | Real people helped by Doug's gift | Where in the world is Doug Zimmerman?
Each year, LifeChoice and the CT Eye Bank hold a gathering to honor organ and tissue donors and their families.
I received an invitation, but was not sure whether I should attend. I knew it would be hard.
My family lives far away. My husband's family finds it too painful to go to these things. They have suffered enough, and do not wish to invite more pain. I can understand that.
I had gone to a ceremony in November alone. I was the only person there by myself. It was incredibly lonely.
This time, I asked Patrick to go with me. He lost his wife three years ago.
I'm glad we decided to go. We were profoundly affected by both the event and the speakers. I was surprised to learn that attendees were not just donor families and friends. Recipients of organs and tissues were also in attendance. I realized that someone around me in that very room might be carrying a part of Doug inside them.
Five recipients spoke. They were so grateful. They talked about how significantly the quality and length of their lives had been changed by such a precious gift. Several commented that they had considered writing to the donor families, but were concerned that contact might reopen old wounds, or they did not know how to express their gratitude. For my part, I would love to hear from someone who was able to benefit from Doug's gifts.
One woman had been tethered to a dialysis machine. After five long years of waiting, she received a kidney. Although embarrassed to admit it, she said she talked to her kidney regularly and promised to be good to it. She said she thanked her donor and their family every day.
Another man had a degenerative eye disease. The gift of sight returned his freedom to him.
A young firefighter suffered a knee injury that he thought would end his dream career. A tendon replacement enabled him to to continue to work.
The last speaker was a young boy. He looked to be about 10 years old. I had noticed him crying earlier and assumed he had lost a sibling. It turns out he received a heart. He read a short poem he had written called "A new me." In it, he thanked his donor for the chance to live and play and grow tall.
The event sponsors showed photos of each of our loved ones. There were babies, teenagers, people at proms and weddings, and photos of people fishing and gardening and living their lives. Many probably died unexpectedly and suddenly, perpahs in the peak of health. Even though I knew Doug's photo would be among them, when it did appear, I felt my breath catch and tears flowed.
At the end of the ceremony, the name of each donor was called out, one by one. The donor's family stood. Patrick asked if he could stand beside me, and I was glad he did. Then a recipient took a long stem rose, bowed to each family, and gently placed a rose in a vase in honor of the memory and the sacrifice each donor made. and the loss suffered by their loved ones.
Everyone was choked up. Mothers put their heads on the tables and wept. I realized that every person in that room - mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, uncles, fathers, sons, brothers, lovers, friends - felt the kind of pain I did. I was not alone.
It was emotionally exhausting. But it was beautiful, just the same.
I am so glad that Doug and I made the choice to enable others to live richer, healthier lives.
To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.
- Author unknown
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