My father-in-law had a heart transplant on November 26, 2002. I think about it all the time, but especially around Thanksgiving. Grace was born on October 26, 2002. That was, needless to say, an emotional and scary time. I was in the deep dark hole of postpartum depression, Matt was at the hospital every evening after a horrible day at more-people-laid-off-every-day work, and Grace was screaming her head off 20 hours a day. Oh, and John was at MGH where he was basically going to leave with a heart or in a coffin. It was not a fun period.
He received a heart a dark, damp November night. There are many amazing things about that day. His surprise granddaughter who is named Grace for many reasons, not the least of which is her appearance being an act of grace for its correlation with his illness, was one month old. It was two days before Thanksgiving. It was also his and my mother-in-law’s wedding anniversary.
It is truly a miracle, the fact that someone else’s heart beats in his chest. All we know is that the donor was 28 years old (the age I was at the time of the transplant). And I imagine that the donor’s death was likely untimely and tragic. But oh what a gift they gave. I was always a organ donor but am now an evangelist for the cause. And please, everybody, know that just having it on your license is not enough. Your next of kin and family need to know your wishes, because it is they who will be in the situation of making that call should the worst case scenario occur.
It is an absolute miracle. I wish I had better words that didn’t sound trite, but I don’t. He was released from the hospital after two weeks, which shocked me at the time (seriously? four days for your c-section and two weeks for your heart transplant?). It was a slow road back to feeling good but honestly his quality of life has been excellent.
So excellent that I often forget to remember what tremendous good fortune we have had. I remember that first Thanksgiving, Matt, Grace and I drove to my family’s big (usually 30+ Meads around tables) celebration in Marion. We were both shell-shocked, from the transplant and the post partum and the sleeplessness and the sheer earthquake quality of the last month. Everybody was incredibly gentle, with kind and generous words about John (at that point he was not even out of anesthesia yet, and much remained uncertain). The theme, though, over and over, was “Wow, you have a lot to be thankful for.” And I’m not proud of this, but I remember thinking: No we don’t. Are you crazy? To be in this situation in the first place?
Oh how selfish those thoughts were, I see that now. Of course we were – and remain – wildly lucky, fortunate, and blessed. And , yes, yes, deeply, deeply grateful. I am only ashamed that I am not more actively thankful every single day of what a gift it is to wake up in the morning and have an able body and a sound mind. It is so easy to lose track of that good fortune, to dwell only on my anxieties and fears and issues and small pains. I try to remember, to bring myself back to the core of gratitude, to the awareness of how hugely blessed I am.
Today, I guess, is one of those days, where I am trying to tug myself back to the perspective I know I ought to have. One of those days that I am aware of how our everyday lives are absolutely laced with miracles. May I learn to remember this more often. As my father-in-law, with someone’s extraordinary gift beating in his chest should remind me.