Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Photo taken of the Sand Ceremony at the 
New England Organ & Tissue Bank Gathering April 3rd to commemorate the heroes of donations.

Sunday was a day of bittersweet memories, sadness, tears and a heart filled with joy as I attended the New England Organ Bank’s Gathering to commemorate and remember the gifts of life donated at the most sad time of all—the death of a loved one. I did not know what to expect and knew that I wanted to be present when Matty’s name was mentioned, his photo appeared on screen. A connection, a tie that binds, spoken out loud—his name. The hour and a half drive to West Lebanon brought back so many memories. Memories of the sad times I drove my Dad to Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital for cancer treatments and visits while in recovery. Listening to the breath leave his body—his body that had lived through extensive experimentation with the hope of helping others. Happy memories of Mom’s new life, started many years later as she married her very first boyfriend and settled in this town—her new home, a new town after 50 plus years. Memory of a panicked 6 year old Jason as he watched the news and rushed to find me “Mom, Mom quick we’ve got to get to Mams, I just heard they’re bombing Lebanon”. No more news for J-Bird for a very long time. We made a visit that day to assuage his fears. What a heart! The heart, one of many organs than can be donated upon death. I learned of the beauty of one heart beating in another. The gift of life. 

I remembered the confusion of that fateful day when Nikki received a phone call from the Donor Bank. Donation was the last thing on our minds as we were trying desperately to deal with the life changing trauma we had been dealt. Life changing. Death can bring a second chance to someone who has experienced a medical trauma. Life changing. One term, one phrase with meanings from both ends of the spectrum. At close to 11:00 pm that evening, Nikki in a state of gut-wrenching sorrow, gave the needed consents over the phone and Matthew’s tissues were harvested. She recognized the importance of Matty’s wishes and made sure they were carried out. The other half of that equation someone from the Organ Bank was holding on as well. Ready to take Nikki’s call, answer questions, do whatever was needed to take care of Matty with respect. Harvested. Odd word for the medical removal of body parts. Harvest brings visions of farms, cooler weather, bright moon-lit skies, bounties of food, a settling down and waiting for a change in season. Yet, harvesting organs and tissue is a different kind of life sustaining bounty. It gives the recipient the opportunity to experience many future harvests in their lifetime. It allows the donor to complete that one final act of giving through love and compassion. It allows the continuation of the life cycle that would otherwise be interrupted by death or the degradation of quality of life without the needed, revitalized tissue. Organ harvesting, tissue harvesting—needs a preceding identifier.

I remembered the first discussion I had with my teenage boys regarding organ donation. We were having breakfast at a local restaurant and I retrieved my driver’s license from my wallet. Back in the day, you simply had to pen in and sign that you were granting consent for organ and tissue donation. It is much easier to have a discussion about wishes while alive; taking time to understand the importance of donating the gift of life. The physical body, the garment we wear for our lifetime on earth serves no purpose to us after death. It can serve a much greater purpose if we acknowledge the lives that can be saved and made better through something you no longer have a need for. The boys pulled their licenses and filled in the backs. Times have changed and the State of NH now inquires at time of license application or renewal what your wishes are regarding organ and tissue donation. There is a special form that can be filled if you would like to change your status. No need to wait until “next time” if you have not yet made the decision. Please visit State of NH Division of Motor Vechicles and take action that will be appreciated by many donor recipients and their family members.

I listened to stories of recipients, captured their gratefulness and appreciation for a gift that cannot be defined by words yet eloquently described heart to heart. I heard from doctors who parlayed statistics, identifying the reality for the need of donations and the end result for those who cannot wait. I learned about the priority assigned to those on the “List”. Waiting is excruciating and uncertainty fills the soul as death for many is knocking at their door.

A Sand Ceremony commemorating all the heroes—the donors, was another highlight of the afternoon. A votive filled with colored sand is handed out to donor families. Every votive is emptied into a tall glass jar; layer upon layer signifying the unity, the joining, the intertwining that occurs between donor and recipient with organ and tissue transplants. The ceremony reminded me of the comfort I’d not thought of in a very long time as grief has pushed it into the background of my memories. Waiting for the weather to change to Spring and holding Matthew’s ashes for release, the waiting and holding are bringing forth many moments of disbelief. How can it be, such life, such love? No need to revisit the darkness, however remembering the gifts that Matty gave in a final act of love and compassion reminds me that his physicality lives on in others. Tremendous comfort can be derived from knowing that his corneas have opened the window of sight to someone in need. Will they be able to see the world through Matty’s eyes for a bit until their own tissue welcomes the gift? I want to tell the recipient that Paris was seen, the beauty of the mountains and lakes of Tahoe forever etched in memory. His sight absorbed the radiant smile from a woman that loved him deeply and the adoration of his tiny tots. The joy in creating, partaking and enjoying the ripple effect of laughter was Matthew’s specialty, seen through his beautiful eyes. His eyes saw hard work and the reward of a job well done. His eyes witnessed the strong bonds that tie when family and friends love from a place of honesty, loyalty, caring and kindness. They saw pain incurred when the last breath of a beloved little brother was taken and the blood and terror resulting from the Boston Marathon attacks. The beauty and the pain enlarged his heart with love and compassion. My hope is that you, the recipient, see life through Matty’s eyes—even if for just a brief moment in time.

I’ve read that up to 50 people can be helped through tissue donation. Perhaps a Grandmother has the agility and flexibility to now play with her grandchildren. Hiking and the outdoors may be enjoyed by others. A burn victim may have an extra chance at healing. Matty’s veins may carry much needed blood, necessary in this journey called life.

What I really would like the recipient to hear is that your story is important to me. Your health struggles are felt deeply in my heart and the joy of another chance is shared by both of us. I realize that anonymity plays a very big role in transplantation. I would like to say to you, in a letter or a conversation. “You are the person that keeps that one bit of the physical that remains of my son. It helps so much to know that a part of him lives on when my moments of disbelief surface, when the awareness comes crashing down—my beautiful son, filled with a lifeforce like no other is no longer with me on this physical plane. You are the gift that allows me to search my memory bank and retrieve the warm thoughts of comfort Matthew’s final act on this earth made possible. You, recipient, fill my heart with comfort. You, recipient, in accepting Matthew’s tissue create an atmosphere of uplift when I need it most. I want to tell you his name. I want to hear you speak it, write it. I want to wish you well. I want to ask you to carry my boy with love and if you feel a bit of recklessness, new found thoughts of risk taking rising, don’t let it frighten you. It’s Matthew’s way of living life to the fullest and he’s sharing that with you. Let go. Enjoy. Love. Laugh. Most importantly LIVE. Live with every cell of your body—you are doing it for two now”.

If you have not done so, please visit or revisit your thoughts on organ and tissue donation. It is truly the gift of life, the gift of a better life. For more information in New England (or referrals to other donor banks) please contact:

New England Organ Bank
60 First Avenue
Waltham, MA 02451


To learn more, visit: Organdonor.gov