From The Guardian newspaper (UK)... a must read...A letter to...
...the recipient of my husband's liver
Saturday May 20, 2006
I know only that you are male; and that, one Christmas, several years ago, you almost died. You were in your 30s. I do not know why your liver failed, but it does not matter. Perhaps death was close enough that hope was whispering her goodbyes when the news came through of a possible transplant.
Could you only weep with relief at the last-minute salvation, or did a corner of your mind have space for us? Were you alone with only transient nurses to notice your confusion; or did lover, parents, children cluster by your bedside? Had they watched in horror as your disease destroyed the man they knew and loved? Did they embrace the transplant with relief? With disbelief? With fleeting hints of guilt at the price paid by another family?
Meanwhile, we were huddled in an ugly room, with mismatched chairs, a damp patch beneath the window that was the shape of Africa, a low table with scratches and a plate of rich tea biscuits. I was numb with coffee and lack of sleep. I trembled a signature, giving away all my husband's organs. It was an easy decision, taken pragmatically. Easy, not only because we had talked about it, but also because it felt right. His death was unjust, a mistake in the order of things that allowed a man to die when his children were small. Donating his organs was my way of trying to right that unbearable wrong.
Yes, it was an easy decision. The waiting was the hardest part. For 18 hours he was not there; his body longed to rest, but blood and precious oxygen was pumped through veins and arteries to keep his organs alive. I sat beside his bed, communication pointless as his core was gone, but needing to reassure his body that it was not alone. I longed for silence, but each machine beeped its insistence that this must go on. Gentle nurses came and went, mining his blood for test after test. There was a smell of sterility. And there was music, an unremarkable radio station; I can only assume that some researcher had decided that this soothed staff and families in this strange interface of the dead and the living.
Once in surgery, his liver was removed, meticulously but without ceremony, packed, wheeled through the bleak corridors of the hospital, flown across the wet December skies, and unpacked beside you just an hour later. I know you woke with life beneath your stitches. I know your body took a while to make friends with its new intruder.
I need to tell you about the man who gave you his liver. He was 46. He was a big man, a jovial, lusty man, with brown eyes lined with laughter. He was quick of temper, and quick to forgive. He found joy in music, in mountains, in his children. He raged against injustice; he found energy working for the disadvantaged. He was born into poverty, and could never quite believe the reality of a living wage, secreting money into corners for when the bailiff would come. He refused to embrace the indignities of middle age, continuing to career around on his motorbike as he had as a young man. (It was not the motorbike that killed him.)
We - his children and I - have made our lives into a different shape. We wept and raged, but we have also found unexpected delights. The mistle thrush still disturbs our sleep on summer mornings; we still light the fire and toast crumpets as the nights draw in. His children have his energy now. He would be proud of them.
He would not want you to grieve for him. He was not a backwards-looking man, nor should you be. Your second chance is precious. Embrace your life; find something to treasure in every moment. We hope you are vibrant, and can relish the challenge of each daily struggle. We hope you have someone to love.