Discover the Miracle of a Heart Donation
A Special Message from Jesse to the Family of His Donor
December 20, 2011
To the Family of My Donor:
I have no idea how to write a letter like this. It is something I never imagined I would do. I could sit here all day wondering what I should say and how I should say it without ever finding the right words. So, I guess Ill just begin.
It is quiet in my bedroom. My fianc is at the dentist. Her family is downstairs cleaning and making dinner. I hear the faint moan of the vacuum cleaner, some banging around of pots and pans, and the giggles and screams of little kids bouncing all around. My computer is humming softly. The room is dark, but the light streams in through tiny slits in the blinds, and outside it is bright white and beginning to snowthe biggest snowflakes I have seen in years.
Already I am crying. Im not sure why. It happens all the time now. For no apparent reason, I will be lying in bed at night with my hand on my chest, or sitting on the couch in the afternoon, or walking on the treadmill at the gym, or dangling my feet in the pool, or visiting with a friend on the phone?just doing any ordinary thing?and suddenly I am overcome with emotion. Its all mixed up. Happiness, sadness, gratitude, emptiness, fullness, fear, hope, wonder.
Its all there, all at once, and I dont know what to do with it except let it wash over me. My fianc will lie there with me quietly and share the silence. It is something sacred. I begin to imagine you. I try to distinguish something in the images that come to mind. I wonder who you are, who he was, what he was like, what you are doing right now, what you are feeling. I wonder if you ask similar things about me? I try not to focus on the details, telling myself that he might have been very different from how I imagine. Or maybe, in fact, he was very much the same. Maybe you wish to know something about me. Or maybe you prefer not to know anything. For now, at least, there is a simplicity, a beauty, in not knowing everything. I try not to think with my head but to just feel. It leaves more room for possibilities, more room for what the heart wants to say.
We are getting ready to celebrate the holiday. I am trying to remember whom all I should write or send a gift to. There are so many people to thank this year. I am scared I will forget someone. I read a Facebook message from my mother that she has sent to the whole family asking them to take time to think of you, to pray for you?this unknown family?and to please consider being an organ donor, truly the greatest of gifts, she says.
I am so happy for her, because I know how scared she was earlier this year thinking I might not be here at this time. She is, and always has been, a wonderful mother. But now, she is different. Everyone I know is different. They say things like, What you went through changed my life. Or, I realize what is really important now. Or, I dont want to waste another second now. Or You have so much to celebrate! We are so thankful for you. Etc. etc. Everyone around me seems to realize how fragile life is and that this could have happened to them or their family. It is like an endless stream of adoration and love and revelations about the meaning of life from my friends and family, a parade of optimism and hope for all that I might do with the rest of my life now that I have this second chance. Its heartwarming and full of expectations.
And, as much as I appreciate it, it gives me mixed feelings. Sometimes, it can make me feel strangely alone, maybe because no matter how hard I try I cant quite communicate to any of them what this really feels like, what this means to have another persons life beating inside me and to sense someone elses grief so far but at the same time so near, to have lost something of myself that was so vital, but gained so much from someone else, someone I dont even know. I feel like no matter how hard I try, I might never be able to completely share this feeling?this sense of connection to something or someone whom I cant quite locate, a person who had a life and hopes and dreams and family and friends like me.
For now, I just try to listen as best I can for the right words to come to me, words that might capture some of what I feel or something that this heart wants to say. Maybe something will come to me in the middle of the night, and I will write it down and someone will read it, and it will help them in a difficult time. I dont know.
Suddenly, my little nephew pounds on the door and brings me back to reality. He rushes in and jumps up and down on the bed. He is at that age when everything is wonderful (until he gets too tired, then everything is terrible). Little things bring such joy. I dont like to take naps! Its snowing! Look how strong I am!
My fianc has just come home, her mouth still numb and drooping from the dentist. She scoops him up in her arms and carries him downstairs to eat.
Im alone and crying again. But Im so happy. My heart feels so happy. It is a familiar feeling. Pure joy. I think it knows this feeling the exact same way my old heart did.
Something happened. I hear my nephew crying and screaming again at his sister downstairs. The shrill pitch of his voice is like an alarm. It wakes me up, and reminds me to enjoy this moment for what it is and nothing else, to see the world like a child again. It is perfect.
Im here. And, for the first time in nearly a year, I feel almost normal again. I wake up each morning and realize that I am not in the hospital anymore, and that I get to live another day. A day without tubes and machines plugged into my body. I can get out of bed and brush my own teeth, walk downstairs and eat breakfast with the family. I am overwhelmed by an indescribable sense of gratitude. I think of the dozens of medical staff who committed years of their lives to learning their trade, who cut me open and put me back together again, who nursed me back to health little by little every day, bathed me, fed me, and got me out of bed when I could barely raise my arms, many of whom were convinced I would not make it.
I sit down and write another thank you card for one of my friends and family who emailed, called, sent cards, cooked meals, donated money, visited, or just lent an ear to my family when they needed it. So many people, many of whom Ive never even met, who took time out of their lives to reach out and show their love, their generosity, their humanity. So many cards to write and emails and voice mails to respond to. I may never finish.
And then I come to youthe Thank you of all thank yous, and I dont even know where to start. It feels so inadequate to even try to thank you or to console you or to pretend that I know anything about your life or his life and what you have gone through. The best I can do I think is to show you that life?his life?does continue, in some way at least, perhaps in a different body, with a different family, with a different future, but continuing nonetheless. And this heart?his heart?must feel some of the same things that he felt. If you believe that the heart is the seat of our emotions and of so many other things that make us human, then maybe the best I can do is to tell you what this heart says when I listen carefully. Maybe there is something it could say to comfort you, something I do not have the words yet to express.
It is late now. The house is quiet again. My fianc is asleep at my side. I try to listen.
It beats faster than my old heart but it feels so strong. It feels OK. It feels safe, hopeful. Soft. It is full of love. Yes, this is for sure?it feels so full of love. So much that I dont know what to do with it all.
I lie here in bed with my hand on my chest, feeling all this love that seems to surround me and fill me, and I feel a little bit scared. Im not scared of dying anymore. Im not even scared of getting sick again or not being totally normal again. Im actually scared of being normal again. Of returning to the ordinary existence I had before where I let so much of the beauty of life pass me by, where I didnt take time to look up and notice the leaves changing colors, or take in a deep breath and smell what autumn smells like, or notice what my food tastes like, or hear what the birds or the traffic or the crying baby on the airplane sounds like, to pay attention, to really pay attention, to what people around me are saying and whats going on in their lives. Im scared that I will forget all this and just go on with my life, not fully living, not noticing how inextricably interconnected it is with every other life on the planet.
As I lie here waiting to fall asleep, Im scared that maybe Ill begin to take for granted one day the amazing woman at my side, whom Im so madly in love with who never gave up on me, who waited for me at my bedside for months and months, while working full time, usually curled up in a little ball on a chair in the corner of the room, refusing to accept what the doctors told her, believing that somehow I would get better and come home one day and hold her and make love to her again.
Im scared that I will get angry and snap at my parents when I get impatient or not call my brother often enough or not spend enough time with my grandmother or forget my friends birthdays or not take time to just be with myself and listen to whats going on inside.
When I worry like this, the one thing that makes me feel better is to put my hand on my chest and remember what a miracle this is. Maybe its not all that miraculous, really, because it happens every day people all around the world die and, for some reason, others get more time. But, on the other hand, it is pretty miraculous because it happens every day. Perhaps your loss will never feel like a miracle. Perhaps you are processing this in a very different way. All I know right now is that Ive spent most of my life trying, like most of us, to build me?my career, my happiness, my success, and, finally, when I thought I had everything a guy could want, I discovered what true humility is. I found out what it means to lose control of your life completely, to regain it, and then to live for something greater than yourself.
I know you have suffered greatly this year, and today, especially, you carry a heavy burden, a pain that few of us could ever comprehend.
If I could give you one thing this season to make it better, a little easier, it would be so simple. Just love. It was love after all?your familys love, my familys love, his love?that kept this heart alive and somehow made it start beating again when they put it in my chest. And it is love that reminds me every night how alive I am, how alive he is in some way. It is only love that can eventually make sense of this tragedy and joy happening at the same time. It is love that is pouring out of every seam of our lives at every moment of the day and holding it all together.
I feel like this is what we are put here to discover and to expand, and because of his life and your love I have caught a glimpse of it. I hope I never lose it and can share it with the world because we know that tomorrow is not promised to us.
Thank you, and God bless you.