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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Gift of Life

September 9, 2006, a day that will be forever etched in my memory.  A day that changed our lives, a day that was filled with so much pain, hope, fear, love, uncertainty, direction and every other contradiction you could possibly think of.  The day my daughter was involved in her fatal accident, the day we had to say good-bye.  

As many of you may already be aware from previous postings, Rachel was an organ donor.  She had chosen to register herself as an organ donor when she renewed her license earlier that year.  I still remember how happy she was not only to have renewed her license, but that if anything ever happened to her, she would be able to give the gift of life.  We had discussed what the gift meant to her and why she had chosen to be a donor.  

So when it came time to make that decision, we simply followed Rachel's wishes, giving the ultimate gift - life!  We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to discuss this wish with Rachel, and since then not only am I a registered donor, but have made sure my family knows my wishes as well.  

Why do I bring up this topic?  Today I was invited to share Rachel's story, my story with the physicians and staff of the very hospital Rachel had been taken to and cared for.  It is not the first time I had been invited to share the story, I had been there once before.  But today I was invited to speak to the doctors who are involved in the care of critical patients, as well as to share my gratitude with the staff of the unit Rachel had been transferred to.  

So what do you say to physicians?  What could they possibly want to hear?  They are not the ones who bring up the subject of organ donation to the families, their only task is to determine the prognosis and decide on the steps needed to help their patient, and the best course of action.  First let me explain, the doctor's role is to determine if there is any medical hope, if there is something that can be done to save the life of the person in their care.  If they determine that even with the most extreme of measures, nothing can change the outcome, they are in turn to notify the nearest organ bank that there may be a potential donor.  That is the extent of their involvement in the organ donation process.  

So why is it so hard to make that referral?  I have come to realize that they are afraid that this will have an adverse effect on the family, how can the family be subjected to this, aren't they in enough pain already.  I have spoken to many other donor families, and each one feels as I do, the worst that could have happened, has, anything further, really has no more tragic effect.  One common theme that I have heard over and over, is that most families were glad for the opportunity to help others live.  It is comforting to us to know that Rachel helped 3 individuals live a more productive life.  Rachel was able to donate both her kidneys and her liver, which helped three gentlemen, one of which had a young son and was engaged to be married the following spring.  

Is it an easy decision, not necessarily, but the hope it fills the families with is amazing.  It allows our loved ones to live on through others, helping them live their life to their full potential.  I have met many a recipient of organ donations since Rachel's death, and I have had the pleasure of co-speaking with many of them and learning how truly grateful they are for the gift of life.  It is funny how they consider my family and I to be heroes, I don't feel like a hero, I simply feel like someone who fulfilled my daughter's wishes; allowing her to do what she did best, giving selflessly to others.  

Visit with the Staff from BMC & NEOB (I'm on the fair right).
Rachel and so many like her, have given the gift of life to so many people who would not otherwise be able to live a more normal, healthy life.  There is also a tremendous comfort in knowing that Rachel lives on in others, not only through her life, but through her death as well.  I will be forever grateful to the staff of Boston Medical Center, the Emergency Room doctors, nurses and technicians, as well as the physicians, nurses, coordinators on the Critical Care Unit that was Rachel's home for the last hours of her life. There kindness, compassion, and their ability to share their own humanness with our family has meant so much to us.  As I told the staff today, I may not remember everything that was said to me and my family that fateful day, but I do remember how they made me feel.  

Even well after Rachel had been officially pronounced 'brain dead,' and we stayed until the moment Rachel was taken to the Operating Room for the removal of her organs; Rachel was treated with the utmost dignity and respect.  She was still a patient, their patient, and we were still a family in need of compassion and care; even to the point of being almost force-fed by one of the nurses, (thanks Odessa for making the soup); we mattered, we were important and they showed us that throughout the day and well into the evening hours.  It may take years before so many memories of that day are gently erased from my memory; but until then I remain indebted to all the hard work of all the medical staff, from EMT's, physicians, nurses, coordinators, technicians, and all others who performed their jobs, and went beyond what was required of them.  

A special gratitude goes to the staff of the NEOB (New England Organ Bank), who worked their magic to guide us through the donation process, and keeping us informed every step of the way.  And a very special thanks to all of you who have said yes! to organ donation in light of your own tragedies, giving the ultimate gift.  

I must clarify here, that unfortunately, not everyone who dies, can donate.  Much depends on the manner of death, the health of the potential donor, and how quickly all the parties involved are notified.  Also, please do not feel as if this should be an automatic option for you or your loved one, not everyone is comfortable with such a gift.  There are also cultures, religious beliefs, or other personal factors, that may make donation difficult or unfavorable.  The important thing to remember, whether for yourself or a loved one, is to discuss the possibility of being a donor, making your wishes known.  This simple act lifts the burden off your loved ones, helping them fulfill your wishes.  

For more information about organ donation, what is means, who is helped; contact your nearest Organ Bank or local hospital.  There are thousands of people waiting for the gift of life.  In the New England area, you can contact the New England Organ Bank.  There are many networks nationally and internationally, that focus on the gift of life.  Many of these organizations have websites, which give you insight into the the entire process.  They also share with you the story of donor families and recipients.  And as I said earlier, the recurring theme is one of gratitude, not only from the recipients and their families, but from the donor families as well.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Understanding what the Heart already knows!

'When you are sorrowful look again into your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'  -- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet 

Look into your heart -- there resides love, it holds everything you hold dear, and with every heartbeat, we are reminded of the preciousness of life.  The heart holds so much, it sustains us in so many ways.  It pumps life-giving blood throughout our bodies, nourishing every inch; it allows us to feel and care, it leaps in our moments of joy, and breaks with each new sadness.  

Happy Easter!  It has been an amazing weekend, one filled with family and friends, and yes, beautiful memories of Rachel and everything she loved about this holiday.  My home was filled with laughter, loud conversations (at least 110 decibels, it's the Portuguese in us), and just the wonderfulness of being together.  If I had any doubt that Rachel would be present, that was quickly dispelled.  Rachel's name came up in many a conversation, and it became evident fairly early on, that she was part of the festivities.  

The first gentle reminder that Rachel was very much a part of the Easter celebration came right before the start of Mass on Sunday.  Those of us who help out in any ministry during the Mass generally stand near the doors greeting those who are entering the church.  Nothing out of the ordinary, and people look forward to the welcome and an opportunity to start the day off with a smile.  As I stood there with the other ministers, a friend came over, gave me a hug and asked if I was okay.  I said yes and then realized she had been reading my blog, and new that I was hurting, that I was really missing Rachel.  Through my smile, I could feel the tears threatening and I tried hard to fight them back and luckily my efforts resulted in keeping them in check.  

The experience, however, left me with a wonderful feeling.  I heard it said the other day, that when we are grieving we do not necessarily remember the words that people say to us in those moments, but rather, 'how they made us feel.'  Sunday was no exception, I felt cared for, I felt comforted, accepted for the person I am, even in my brokenness.  Even though it laid bare my inner turmoil and emotions, it also freed me to express them, letting me know that it was okay.  

Those of us who are grieving, regardless of the loss, often find it difficult to allow ourselves to express our feelings and emotions.  As a society, we often are told that we need to maintain composure, 'keep a stiff upper lip,' 'hold our head up,' and so on.  I am sure you all have heard these 'reassuring' words from some kindly soul who means well.  It's no wonder so many of us become 'basket cases,' we keeping shoving it all in, trying to keep a lid on it.  But eventually there is only so much a 'basket' can hold, now what! 

Luckily, you are able to find an outlet for those emotions and feelings.  For me, it is writing and sharing my story, for others, it is painting or other artistic venue, for some it is developing new interests and hobbies.  The key is to find ways to allow those emotions to be released in healthy, productive ways.  We are by no means pushing them aside, or trying to bury them in some mindless activity, we are freeing ourselves to experience them, to share them, and to acknowledge that we hurt, there is pain, and that we are after all human.   

Where there is love, there will also be pain.  Where we find acceptance, we may also know rejection.  Where we find comfort, we may also find distance.  The beauty is that we learn strength, courage and weakness.  No I'm not losing it --weakness, really!  I have learned that in allowing what others perceive to be weakness -tears, confusion and raw emotion- to be part of who I am, I have found true strength, the strength that comes from LOVE, that which has been our delight.  The measure of our nature is not in our height and stature, but the capacity to love, to nurture, to be what others' need us to be in their moments of need.  

There is a beautiful prayer, 'The Serenity Prayer' that I feel sums it all up: 

                          God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
                                       the courage to change the things I can, 
                                                      and the wisdom to know the difference.

May we all experience a deep and honest serenity in our own lives, as we learn to accept ourselves as we are.  

And remember:  'We all mold another's dreams.  We all hold each other's fragile hopes in our hands.  We all touch others' hearts.'  --Author Unknown.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What a Dream I Had Last Night!!!

'Let me tell you about the dream I had last night.'  How often have we heard someone say this exact sentiment, and then proceed to tell you about their dream.  

Today was just another day, get up to the alarm clock, shower and get ready for work; then head out the door, pick up a coffee and something to eat, and start my work day.  Pretty much the same as many of you.  However today, when I arrived at work, someone called me and proceeded to tell me they had had a dream and needed to tell me about it.  Okay, I game.

As she began to recount her dream, she told me she had dreamed about Rachel.  In her dream Rachel was posing for a painting.  Rachel proceeded to tell her that she was doing this for Lucas, her nephew, it was a painting for him.  She then asked Rachel, 'Have you been visiting your mom?' Rachel replied, 'No just visiting Lucas, I'm doing this for Lucas.'

Lucas is my grandson, he is just over a year old and has only met his Auntie Rachel through her photographs and the painting of her you see here on this blog.  So to say that this dream caught my attention, would be a major understatement to say the least.  The other amazing factor to all this, is that the individual who had the dream, never met Rachel and only knows her from a photo on my desk and my sharing of her through my story.  Lucas, on the other hand, has come to visit Grandma at work and has met many of the people I work with.  

Dreams, I am told, are often manifestations of our thoughts and ideas.  I have found many a time when my dreams have offered up solutions to things I have gone to bed worrying about, bringing them into a whole new light.  Yet other dreams have left me uncertain and even frightened at times, sometimes leaving me questioning if it actually was a dream or if it was reality.  According to Wikipedia the definition of dreams is: dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.  So according the the definition, anything can trigger a dream, from images we may have seen during our waking hours, to ideas that refuse to let go, or emotions that have left us in a particular state (whether happy or sad) and finally sensations that have reached into our psyche unlocking memories long forgotten. 

So thinking of my friend and co-worker, I wondered what may have triggered a dream about Rachel.  I hadn't seen her in a few days at work, her schedule kept her busy away from the office, so it wasn't me, or any conversation about Rachel, so what then.  Maybe there was no trigger, maybe Rachel just wanted me to know that she knew Lucas, that she spent time with him, that he knows her at a deeper level.  

But why this dream, why now?  Then it hit me, Lucas the other day reached out for Rachel's picture, to which I simply said, Auntie Rachel.  He smiled and sought out other pictures, pointed, waiting for me to say who the person was.  In this little game we were playing, he would point to a few pictures and then come back to Rachel's and smile, pointing and waiting for me to say Auntie Rachel again.  As I played this game, a thought came to mind, and silently I wondered if he truly knew his Auntie Rachel, if only they had met, they would both instantly have fallen in love with each other.  Then the words 'gama' brought me back to the moment at hand, and the thought forgotten as we continued the game. Forgotten, that is, until this morning.

Rachel and Lucas had met, and they know each other in ways none of us can imagine.  I have always been told that there is such a beautiful innocence and openness in children that allows them to perceive, see and understand things that too many adults pass off as nonsense.  I have shared before how my niece would have long conversations with Rachel, how she still visits with her, remaining connected.  As adults so many of us lose that innocent trust, we become less open to possibilities, refusing to see beyond what is perceived as reality.  I would like to believe that I am very much open to all possibilities, today being no exception.  

The other side to all this, is that Rachel has been on my mind, as I shared in an earlier post.  I have been missing her, and really feeling her absence, it has been an emotional roller coaster ride.  All along I was dreading another Easter without Rachel, but yet, here she is, communicating with me through someone else's dream.  Simply reminding me that she is near.  It was as if she knew I need reassurance that it was okay, that she's okay.  

This past Tuesday's class my professor talked about how our loved ones communicate with us.  How they let us know they are okay if we are open to hearing the messages that are sent our way.  I remember his asking me during the class if Rachel came to me in my dreams, if she communicated with me.  I have to chuckle at the timing of all this, it is as if others around me sensed my need for reassurance, for comforting words and that need somehow manifested itself into a dream from the most unlikely of sources.  Which I am learning in this grief journey of mine, that messages, reassurance and comfort can show up when we least expect them, but when we need them most.  

Grief is not easy, it holds on tight, occasionally loosening it's grip, but still reminding us that we hurt; and we hurt because we love, and because someone so very dear to us, has had to die.  Yes their body as we know it has died, but their spirit is very much alive, and very much a part of our lives, if we are only willing to be open to their presence, we will know that they are near.  

Blessings! And until we meet again.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Off to See the Wizard...

Why are some days so much easier than others?  Why do so many things bring back so many memories?  

Recently this seems to be the norm with me.  Maybe it is this time of year, spring, with its promise of warmer days, with flowers blooming, birds singing, reminding me of new beginnings, rebirths and so much promise.  It seems I am missing Rachel more and more these days, every little thing a strong reminder of what is gone from my life.  

Her photograph leaves me with tears streaming, simple joys bring pain, and I can feel myself losing patience with myself and others.  Easter is around the corner, and for me this is such a wonderful time.  We will again be hosting Easter dinner, inviting both my husband's brothers and sisters and mine.  I enjoy the cooking and preparing, looking forward to having everyone together, and watching the children hunt for Easter eggs, it is such a fun-filled day.  However, as the day nears, I keep being reminded that Rachel will once again not be seated at the table with the rest of us.  

Oh, I know she will be with us, its just that there is an aching, a longing, wanting so much for her to be here with us.  Just a few months ago, I really believed I was making progress, somehow keeping it all together, accepting that my baby girl was gone.  But today, I sit here crying as I type, hurting and hoping I can make it through the next few days, which I know I will.  I guess this is just part of the grieving and accepting as I near another important holiday in my life and that yet another year will come to pass since Rachel's death.

It seems that I have even put off writing in my blog for fear of what is actually happening right now.  Thinking, typing and crying, as I decide whether to share these words with you.  But then I realize, I need to, you need me to, after all this is 'Living with Grief,' this is part of the journey, this is part of my healing and your healing as well, knowing that there will be difficult times, there will be days when the pain seems so strong.  There is an uncertainty with grief.  In early posts I have written of of how simple things can trigger memories both happy and sad, and how this can happen when we least expect it.  

Not a bad thing really, it lets us know that they are near.  I recently commented on a friends blog and I shared this sentiment; 'all those who have held special places in our lives and hearts, are always with us, always near, and I find the tears, sudden longing, or that quiet ache, are gentle reminders that this is true…'  It is funny how our own words sometimes can bring us comfort, how writing what we feel, can somehow helps us later on.  When I started writing today, I felt a heaviness, and as always, just sharing my thoughts helps ease the pain.  

When we share our stories, we remind ourselves that someone truly meant a lot to us, they were someone we loved dearly, and our lives are so much more enriched because of them.  At this time in my grieving, it is harder to find people who are willing to listen, believing that I should not be hurting this much, that I should be 'moving on.'  Luckily I do have some loving souls who are patient with me, who let me vent, even if they don't quite understand.  And that's okay.  I also have my writing, which allows me to share what I am feeling, helping to unburden myself, by writing it down.  Trust me it truly helps, especially if there is no one around to hear me, to just listen.  

We are all at different places in our grieving, regardless of who or what we may be grieving for.  Finding a way to cope, finding what works, can really help you keep your sanity, and give you the strength and courage to go on.  At a recent recognition night for my fellow classmates and I, my professor shared his insights with all those gathered.  He likened our grief journey to the search for 'OZ.'  You see we are like the characters, we encounter similar wants and needs during our journey.  Like the Scarecrow, we seek a 'brain' to gain knowledge, understanding or more simply the 'smarts' to make it through our grief.  We then encounter the Tin Man who wants a 'heart' in order to be able to love and to feel human emotion, with the knowledge that it will sometimes break.  And finally, we, like the Cowardly Lion, seek 'courage' to face our fears, to live each day knowing we did our best.  But how can we forget Dorothy, who like so many in our lives; help us, take us along, picking us up when we fall, keeping us moving when we seem to be stuck; and holding our hand when we are afraid, even though they themselves feel lost, are afraid and are also searching, trying to find there way 'home.'  

None of us has to go it alone, nor should we try.  Finding others willing to listen, willing to walk with us, helps us during those difficult times, making the journey so much more easier to bear.  Besides, even though they maybe there to keep us going, we are also helping them as well.  Like Dorothy and her friends, we can all help each other.  

Thank you for walking with me, for listening to me, and for allowing me to share Rachel with you!

Blessings! and until we meet again.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thank Goodness, I don't have closure!

'That's wicked good!'  Who ever would have thought that wicked and good would mean that something was exceptional.  There are so many phrases, words and statements that we have come to accept as standard, and sometimes even as a truth.  There are a plethora of expressions, sayings and idioms that we have adopted and accepted as part of our day to day language, whether it is verbal or written.  

However, there are so many misconceptions that are created by these 'accepted' phrases and ideologies.  For so many of us who grieve, we often hear the expression: 'well, at least you had closure.'  What is closure?  According the Merriam-Webster, closure means: 1: archaic : means of enclosing : enclosure; 2: an act of closing: the condition of being closed (closure of the eyelids) (business closures); 3: something that closes (pocket with zipper closure); 4:[translation of French clĂ´ture]: cloture; 5: the property that a number system or a set has when it is mathematically closed under an operation; 6: a set that consists of a given set together with all the limit points of that set; 7: an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality (victims needing closure); also : something (as a satisfying ending) that provides such a sense.  Yet, do we who grieve, really have closure? 

I had accepted this phrase, thinking, yes! I got to say my good-byes, I witnessed my daughter's burial, so I must have definitely had this thing called 'closure.'  After all there are so many people out there who do not get the opportunity to say that final good-bye; who do not have the body of a loved one to bury; who were unable to attend a loved one's funeral.  I was definitely very fortunate to have had an opportunity to have 'closure.'  

Alas! my professor has once again, left me pondering this very notion.  The fact of the matter is, we never really experience a sense of closure when we have suffered a loss of any kind.  With grief there is no CLOSURE.  As I left class, I really gave this some serious thought.  Yes, there were many 'closures' surrounding Rachel's death.  I watched the hospital doors close as they whisked Rachel into the critical care unit; I watched the curtains close, as we stood by helpless, because yet another emergency procedure needed to be done.  I felt the world close in on me when they finally met with us to explain that our beautiful, young daughter was brain dead and there was nothing more that could be done.  I watched as this beautiful young woman was carried in a closed casket to her grave.  I stood over the ground, that now enclosed my child.  Oh, there were so, so many 'closures' that surrounded her death.  

But have I found closure? NO!  Will I ever find closure? NO!  I realized that there will always be unanswered questions, there will always be some doubts, there will always be a gaping whole in my heart.  There will always be that feeling that 'something is missing,' 'something is not quite right.'  It reminds me of that book, that one particular book that has such an impact, that even years later, when the final chapter has been read, the book closed, and it has been placed back on the shelf, we still remember the plot, the characters, and the outcome.  It stays with us for years.  Yes, we may have closed the book on yet another chapter in our lives, we may have said our good-byes, but we have not forgotten, we cannot forget, they have had a tremendous impact in our lives.  Nothing has been 'closed' but their eyes, their coffins, their urns, everything else remains very 'open.'   There very existence lends itself to our own open story, our own lives, to an inability to close that final chapter in their lives, why?, because we are a continuation of their lives.  We, in the 'living' of our own story, carry with us the plot of theirs, our storyline is affected by their very presence in our lives (even if only for a brief time), and who we are.  

We may close many doors, windows, and chapters in our lives, but there is always something that remains.  There is always love, there is always a part of us that remembers, that clings to the knowledge that they are ever present in our lives, that they are always close, and that we would not be who we are, if they had never come to be.  

It is funny that one of the definitions is that we feel a sense of comfort in knowing we had closure.  Yet, I feel more comfort in knowing that there is truly 'no closure,' that that chapter in my life, still exists, and that I will not forget, don't have to forget.  So in response to all those well meaning individuals who remind me that I at least had closure; I will now be answering them with: 'thank goodness, I do not have closure!'  (I can't wait to see the reactions.)

Blessings! and until we meet again!