We were still waiting in a hospital room two years ago at this time, unsure as to when Abby’s transplant would take place. Unsure as to what kind of future was in store.
My mind dwelt most heavily on Abby’s donor and donor family during those long hours of waiting. Abby had been to the operating room before. We were well acquainted with the “routine,” with her surgeon, with what to expect after surgery and what the days after transplant would hold. This was the most serious surgery she had had, but also strangely similar to her previous ones.
What wasn’t similar was the looming thought that after the impending transplant, her heart would no longer be hers. It is hard to contextualize the sorrow I experienced over knowing her heart, the one God made her with, was going to be taken from her. The sorrow was compounded with the stark realization that another child’s heart was to be placed inside her.
Learning to live with those emotions after transplant was difficult. It took getting used to. Sometimes people would ask me questions about our donor before we knew who he was, and I felt fiercely protective of him. Sometimes people seemed to take the transplant too lightly for me, not expressing the right emotion for me. I know it was a fault in my own perspective, and I can’t even describe what it was I wanted them to feel. They were happy for us. Happy for Abby. Happy that she looked healthier than she had ever looked before. Happy that she could walk up the stairs. But I wanted others to realize what sacrifice was made for her. I wanted to know that others really realized what transplant meant.
Along with some of those frustrations, our relationship with Abby’s donor grew as well. It sounds bizarre to some of you, I’m sure. Forming a relationship with someone who isn’t physically present sounds foreign–but for us it has happened in beautiful and often unexpected ways.
We had a connection with Jack before Abby even received her call. On April 11, 2012 Abby and I both “felt” him. Neither of us knew exactly what we were feeling. Abby had only been listed for three days and we weren’t expecting a call that soon. But we both had the distinct impression that a heart was coming for Abby. A feeling of complete and utter anguish filled the pit of my stomach that rainy afternoon. An overwhelming emotion I had never experienced before or after, which filled me completely out of the blue.
Jack began letting us know that he was there after transplant. I KNEW her donor was a young man, an athlete almost from the first time I saw Abby after the surgery. I could feel him guiding me as we began reaching out to his family. They sent us a letter a few months after transplant and when our return correspondence with them got lost, he was incessantly there, urging and encouraging me to do SOMETHING to make sure the letters from us were delivered. His family needed those letters–and he knew it.
On one particular transplant clinic visit a number of months after transplant, I was worried about some difficulties Abby was having. Jack’s mom mentioned that we could have faith in Jack, as Abby’s angel, to take care of her. She was right, the tests came back perfect that visit, and then, as if reinforcing the fact that we could indeed have faith in him, Abby received a small gift after her visit from the Echo lab–a white beanie baby bear covered in the British flag–named–JACK.
Maybe for many these seem like coincidences. For us they are so much more than that. I’ve had coincidences before, and I’ve had premonitions, and I now I’ve had Jack moments. They feel different, poignant, and they have what I have come to recognize as Jack’s spirit in them. We have learned to look forward to the moments when we get to forge that relationship with him even more.
On Abby’s Make-A-Wish trip, there were a few rides she wanted to go on that she was the only one in the family willing to tackle. Some of us get motion sickness, some of us find some of the roller coasters plain crazy, and some of us have unnatural fear of heights. Abby has none of those and begged to go on some wild roller coasters. I allowed her to, watching her as she disappeared into the line for single riders–feeling guilty and silly. On one particular ride I began to get a bit panicky–anxious. I think that for those of us who have experienced life in the world of Congenital Heart Defects, it is easy to have anxiety attacks over the safety and well-being of your child, especially during the day-to-day activities of normal living. Even though it is irrational, it is some psychological fear that something bad can happen at any time, anywhere.
In the midst of the anxiety filled moment, I felt Jack there, as if letting me know that he was with Abby and I had nothing to worry about. Jack was there, taking care of Abby, in ways that only he can. That is Jack’s legacy, still working miracles in Abby’s life, still a big part of our daily routines, still impacting this world in a beautiful way.
Jack’s mom sent us a beautiful angel she had made in honor of her sweet son. It hangs in our window, catching the sun and light in beautiful colors. It hangs there watching over us, reminding me of this beautiful quote:
“The guardian angels of life sometimes fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us.” Jean Paul Richter That is the legacy every donor leaves, a vibrant legacy of life, a vibrant legacy of love.