Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When a Kidney Calls

I got a call yesterday that I'd been waiting on for a long time.

They just didn't say what I'd hoped.

I was driving a car full of kids (and I do mean FULL) to the local indoor pool for a swim.  Since said kids were all spending the night at my house, I was doing what I could to tire them out.  My phone started ringing, which the Bluetooth in my car picked up, but unfortunately my phone was all the way in the back of the car, so I couldn't really see who was calling - just a phone number I didn't recognize.  I had that moment of indecision - should I pick up or not? - but worried it was one of the kids' moms I answered.

"Is this Catherine?"


"This is John from the Donor Alliance. Is this a good time?"

Again - moment of indecision.  Chances were they were calling to ask if I'd make a speech or something, but my gut wasn't so sure.

"I actually have kids in the car right now.  Can I call you right back?"

"Sure.  I'll be here for the next two hours."

After getting the kids settled in the pool area, I stepped out so I could watch them through the window.

"Donor Alliance, this is Ashley."

"Ashley - I'm returning John's call."

"John in PR or John in Aftercare?"

"Oh.  I don't know."  Yup.  Speech.

"One moment and I'll check with both."

Cue elevator music.

"Hi this is John in Aftercare."

My stomach flipped.  I'd written to Brad's organ donors twice, never hearing from any of them and part of me desperately wanted to.  The other part was worried about how emotional that might be; it could be the best thing that's ever happened to me, connecting me with a living piece of Brad.  Or it could send me spiraling back down a hole I've finally climbed out of.

But before I could really dwell on either scenario, John continued.

It seemed that I'd received a letter (for those of you who don't know, you have to correspond through the Donor Alliance until both parties agree to exchange personal information, protecting the privacy of both donors and recipients.) and John was calling to warn me before he sent it to me.

The letter was from the husband of one of Brad's kidney recipients; his wife had died from an illness unrelated to the transplant.  John just wanted to let me know before I found this letter in my mailbox.

After thanking him for his sensitivity, I ended the call.  I stood there, watching the kids play in the pool through through the window, and tried to process what I was feeling before I went in and tried to act human again.  And one word kept popping into my head.

I felt cheated.

I didn't realize it up until then, but I think a part of me expected all of the people who received Brad's organs to live forever.  They weren't supposed to die because he already did.  He gave them some perfectly healthy stuff and I think I was expecting them all to outlive me.  Or something.

I don't know.  Whatever has been going through my head since that call makes absolutely no sense.  But the quickest way I can sum it up is that I feel sad.  I feel like another part of him has died (which, technically it has).  I'm disappointed.  And, once again, I wish things could be different.

As I type this, it occurs to me that this isn't all bad news.  After all, this kidney recipient just passed last year.  Which means she had seven extra years she wouldn't have had without Brad.

In my mind, those years were filled with love, laughter, family, and friends.

Brad would have liked that.


  1. You have no idea what she was able to do in those extra years. She knew she had an incredible gift of life that most people take for granted. I believe she spread the word on organ donations, and while she may not be alive here in earth, there are hundreds more people that have the gift of life because of you.

  2. yep, felt the same way last year when i found out only one of the recipients of Chucks was still alive. on the other hand, six direct recipients, 9 years later... not really so bad and all of them had extra time with family... still makes my heart sad tho.

  3. My husband was unable to be a donor due to his systemic illness, but I can imagine what it would be like to get this kind of news. I agree that the quality of life the organs provided is more important than the quantity. The recipient may not have had a long life, but the life she has was made immeasurably better by your gift.

  4. I have found in the past (almost) 6 years that no matter what I think I might or should feel, a totally different emotion pops up when I least expect it. Your response makes total sense. Double-edged sword right there.

    We weren't able to donate organs, although my husband was a consistent blood donor and believed in organ donating. (He passed in an avalanche.) The lives we had planned were supposed to be normal - filled with fun and chaos and love and tears - what is this new normal? Completely not what I had bargained for ... and who knows what normal is anyway?? I can't help but feel that it would be nice to have an emotional response that actually makes sense to more people than just myself. I may still be a ways away from that ...

  5. So many thoughts were swirling through my head as I read this post. Mostly, I felt the pain of disappointment. But, then, a few other things occurred to me. A lot of things can happen to a person in seven years. That kidney bought her that time. Also, if other organs were donated, then perhaps there are others still alive enjoying a life your husband made possible. Even if you never hear from them, you could picture those people in the best way you can imagine. Sometimes, creating your own fairytale is the best way to go. I do wonder, though, why so few recipients go back to thank the donor families. Even if they didn't want to keep in touch, they could at least give them one note of gratitude. That's sad.

  6. Just finished your incredible memoir. What tremendous courage to share your story to give words to those newly widowed and their friends and family who want to comfort them. It is sad to learn that one of his recipients did not get to live a long life either. Also, I tried to reach out to you via email as both your name site and the Widdahood site are linking to some really bad stuff now that I am pretty sure is not your intention. Thought you would want a heads up. Warmly, AB

  7. I'm almost done with your memoir... I can't put it down! Told the kids to eat cereal for dinner tonight.

  8. I'm almost done with your memoir... I can't put it down! Told the kids to eat cereal for dinner tonight.

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