Yesterday marked the 5 year anniversary of my heart transplant.
Yesterday also marked the 5 year anniversary of my donor’s death.
At 38 years of age through no fault of my own, my heart was broken and beyond repair by treatments that cured me of cancer when I was 8 years old; life-saving therapy had morphed into potentially life-ending late effects.
At 17 years of age through no fault of her own, my donor lost her life in a car accident on the way home from a party in the wee hours of a Monday morning.
Ours is a story of parallel lives colliding at the intersection where death gives rise to life; sorrow gives rise to joy; and loss gives rise to opportunity.
I read back through posts that I have written each of the last 4 years and each post stands alone, yet demonstrates milestones of a process still ongoing within my heart-soul:
- 2009: Struggling with the reality that a young life had been lost, incapable of embracing the heart of another as my own, and wondering how my donor’s family was given that one year had passed
- 2010: Physically continuing to improve, but struggling to step back into my roles, waiting for invitations to do so, self-isolating as a means of self-protection, wondering if it was safe to step back into LIFE
- 2011: Getting to know the one who carried my heart for 17 years through the eyes of her father; laying hold of my heart, ready to live and love again.
- 2012: So many questions answered after a year of relationship building with my donor’s dad who consistently encouraged my to live without guilt
My Heart Day was different this year as there was an almost audible exhalation on my part and a reveling in all of the moments shared and memories made over the last 5 years. It was a wonderfully ordinary day shared among the 3 of us bonded by the events of 5 years ago.
Our day began with worship followed by a scrumptious lunch out and the sharing of memories of the days and months surrounding the transplant and the expressing of our gratitude for my life, for my donor and her family followed by a capping off of the day with a movie before bed: again, wonderfully ordinary, yet extraordinary on so many levels.
There was, however, an element missing in our celebration this year: guilt, my guilt, survivor’s guilt over living when someone died, over being thankful that I did not die, over having 5 years of memory making, over rejoicing on a day when my donor’s family was confronting that their daughter, sister, or friend had been absent from their lives for 5 years now.
Rest assured that my donor was held close in my heart and never far from my thoughts throughout the day yesterday, but her dad sent me into this weekend giving thanks for the memories he has of his daughter, encouraging me to cast down any mixed emotions I may be having, and firmly instructing me to put a smile on my face as he considers me to be the good that came from the almost unbearable loss of his beloved princess.
Raising my glass to each and everyone who supported us through a most difficult and uncertain time in the life of our family, and as always, to my donor, her family, and most especially her dad.