I’ve been checking Facebook a little more eagerly these days. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the updates from all of my friends. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the videos of dogs singing and cats exacting revenge. But there’s something a little more important – no, a LOT more important going on these days.
I woke up one morning to the news that my friend was going in for a heart transplant. Since he’s a Welshman, I took it as a good sign that he got his new heart on St. David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. I’ve not known this person for a long time but to know him is to love him and appreciate him. He has met challenge after challenge with strength, resolution and an infectious grace. He speaks of the blessing he’s found in our faith community but I am quite sure that we have received from him far more than we’ve given.
According to the updates, so far so good. With a new heart, he has a new chance at life. And we have a renewed chance to be blessed by the gift of him in our midst.
But my friend’s story wasn’t the only big thing happening in the last week. Someone, somewhere had to reach through their own shock and grief and loss to give the okay. Someone made the unimaginable decision to give up the heart of their loved one so that my friend could have a chance at life. I’m sure it wasn’t only a heart. Chances are that a liver, kidneys, eyes, perhaps even lungs and pancreas were also harvested and sent off to be transplanted into the bodies of other people who were down to just this last hope.
My friend isn’t the only one I’ve known who’s received a transplant. Many years ago a kidney transplant enabled a friend to realize her dream of becoming a mother, allowing her to live to adopt a baby girl. A pancreatic transplant enabled my cousin, who’d battled severe and unpredictable diabetes since childhood, to have years of life without a constant shadow hanging over her head.
The joy of all of these transplants has been tempered by the realization that they are only possible through the death of another. That’s still the case. Maybe one day we’ll be able to grow organs, but we’re not there yet. There is only one hope for people who wait; that somewhere a family will be brave enough and selfless enough to give the word to go ahead, to share the physical body of their loved one with those in need. No greater gift can be imagined.
Some people decline because they cannot bear the thought of their loved one being cut open. But if you’ve ever gone to a viewing at a funeral home, you know that after death the body is but a shell. A shell to be treated with respect, to be sure, but a shell that no longer houses the true soul and spirit of the person you loved. Some people fear that if we agree, then our loved one somehow won’t be able to enter heaven without a functioning heart or kidney or liver. Really? It seems that this would be the least of God’s challenges. If God can handle the whole eternal life thing, I think God can handle the details.
The decision is hard because it is the first acknowledgement that your loved one is not coming back to you. It is the first of the final steps. But sometimes it is hard because you have not talked about it. You know how you feel – but what would they want?
As we move through the Lenten season, we journey towards remembering the gift of a life, a selfless and loving gift. What better time to have conversations with our own loved ones about our wishes in such a situation? Make it clear to them that your wish is that if anything can be used, then allow your body to be used to give life. With any luck, we’ll all live such long lives that our bodies will be quite used up by the end. But if that’s not the case, we have a chance to change someone else’s life – forever.