Kindness to strangers
I often take great pleasure in seeing how Katherine lives on in our daughter, Margot. As a 2-year-old, her ego state hasn’t even been developed yet. The sense of happiness and innocence is in free flow throughout her entire being. Nothing really phases her, she simply lives in the moment. The world is a happy and bright space to be in. It’s a beautiful thing to be around.
As adults, isn’t it strange how we see the world in our ego state? The entire pattern of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour is all we can process and understand. We have all these routine variables in life we must strive to accomplish or commit to. From my own perspective, this is just the way we’ve been programmed to see the world from a young age. Even when dealing with the concept and experience of bereavement and its trail of destruction = grief. My point being, that we’re never really shown or taught how to deal with a sudden life-changing event and the endless questions around it. We’re all just cast out into the wide world with big fat ‘figure it out for yourself’ sticker.
The past 12 months I think I’ve figured it out in my own way, I’ve tried to be more ‘Margot’ in my outlook. When I realised I could offer my insights as a widower and as a single parent to help others. I knew I could turn my negative energy into a positive. This is exactly what my wife Katherine did after she passed, she helped others!
Picture the scene if you will. A room, on a ward in Boardgreen Hospital, Liverpool. It’s May 2017 and I’m sitting next to my wife who was being kept on life-support. I’m holding her hand tightly as I’d already been told it’s over. We’d left our house that day a family of 3 and we had to return a family of 2. I was trying to absorb the concept of the unthinkable. A specialist nurse arrives and introduces herself as part of the Organ Donation Team. She opens a private conversation with me about my wishes for Katherine’s organs. This came as quite a shock, as it wasn’t something that we, as a married couple, had ever discussed in life, why would we? Things like this don’t happen to people like us, right?
I recall the Nurse reeling off a list of organs to me. My focus started to blur as the world around me started to collapse all over again, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. With my head in my hands, I replied to each organ in the slowest way you could possibly imagine, “I don’t know”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t know”, even to the important ones. Throughout my life, I’d never even considered my own body as a donor and here I am debating which parts of my wife’s body I’d like to give away. As the conversation continued, I’m not sure how, but in some form, I eventually found some mental courage. In my mind I knew I had to sharpen up, listen and ask the right questions to this specialist Nurse, she was only doing her job in the best way possible.
Having spent the last few days in an ICU ward surrounded by dying patients, I knew the importance of what was being asked of me. I recall the nurse also asking about Katherine’s eyes for a medical research purpose. At that moment and my current state of mind, I expressed great dissatisfaction. I wanted to explode into a ballistic rage. The thought of my wife’s eyes even being considered for lab work increased my blood pressure dramatically, even to this day. Those eyes were mine, they still are. Katherine had the most beautiful and distinguished eyes, they smiled and sparkled like stars from every angle, no matter her mood.
Towards the end of the conversation, the Nurse left the room and then suddenly returned 5 minutes later to inform me of some news she’d discovered. Katherine had already made my mind up, she had apparently made the decision online 3 months before she passed. To my surprise, it wasn’t even a new donor registration, she’d just renewed her 5-year-old membership. I had no idea.
From the initial feeling of shock, I strangely felt proud that she had made this generous and unselfish decision to donate her organs, and I was happy to respect her wishes. The fact that the decision had already been made for me relieved the stress and possible uncertainty this would have caused at what was a very difficult and traumatic time. It wasn’t long after when the Nurses told me that they had found recipients for her organs.
Eventually, during the early hours of the morning, the Transplant Team arrived, and Katherine’s life support would have to be withdrawn. It was time for me to say goodbye and leave. Being given a time allocation to say goodbye to a spouse is probably the heaviest feeling you can carry. I could hear every tick from the clock on the wall as the seconds and minutes flew by.
As the months went on, I received a letter which gave me some bittersweet ‘anonymous’ information about what had happened with Katherine’s organs and the recipients. Without going into a lot of detail she helped a 48-year-old man, a 35-year-old woman (the same age as Katherine) and 9-month old baby (the same age as our daughter). My wife, Katherine, had brought a better life for somebody else, a better quality of life, if not survival for them. As emotional as it all sounds for me, I had to remember why those decisions were made by Katherine. And effectively the whole process I’ve described in this post, apart from the circumstances, it was exactly what she wanted. To give life after death.
I’m at a stage in my life when I feel comfortable to write about these times, I want to remember them and the important details. I know other widowers will read them and take what they need from it. I know I did from the resources I discovered. But mostly I do it for my daughter, Margot. I want her to read them in years from now and understand what we went through together.
I’ve also become an organ donor.