I feel like I need to start by saying this: this story mostly isn’t about me– it is about a crisis my family is going through right now that has triggered some of my hard feelings from a long time ago. In other words, I understand that my feelings, while important (everyone’s feelings are important), are the least important right now. With that said…
One of the best, most complicated days I have ever experienced happened just a few months ago in a hospital room in Cleveland, Ohio, of all places.
My brand new husband and I had just driven about seven hours to visit his brother, Mark, who was hospitalized and awaiting a liver donation.
Talk about a whirlwind of a six months… after an untimely diagnosis of an aggressive form of liver cancer, and a subsequent surgery to remove part of his liver, there were complications. Thus we needed a liver ASAP.
It wasn’t possible for him to get a transplant in Kentucky, but thankfully a place in Ohio had agreed to do the surgery and he was promptly transported there by jet. It was stressful, scary, and hopeful all at once.
For those who have never had a loved one need an organ transplant, I can’t paint the picture of what that weird waiting game is like– desperately hoping someone will literally die so your VIP has a chance to live.
This was unfortunately familiar ground for me. When I was 10 years old my mom, a 29 year-old mother of five, needed a liver transplant. She needed one but she never got one. She died three days before her 30th birthday, after being on the organ waitlist for months.
When we got the news Mark needed a transplant, I had all of the anxiety that comes with knowing firsthand how the story could end, while hoping and hoping and hoping it would have a different outcome from my Mom’s.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since 2001; for example, it is now possible to donate half of one’s liver to a transplantee. Two people can live, perfectly healthy, each with half of the same, divied up liver that will continue to grow like the mutant super-organ it truly is.
Although many people (including one of my literal saintly friends) offered to undergo testing to see if they could be a potential match for a partial liver transplant, my brother-in-law really needed a whole liver because he needed a particular vein to be transplanted, too.
All of this brought us to the Cleveland Clinic, a fantastic hospital that took charge quickly.
Within AN HOUR of us arriving to Mark’s hospital room, he got the call on the landline in his room. They had a potential liver. He was getting the transplant, it was all happening the very next day. And we got to be there, Sean and their dad and I, when he got the call. We got to be in the freaking room when someone we love got a call that told him he had a fighting chance to live a long, happy, and healthy life.
We got to see a little more light zoom right back into his body.
The only thing I’ve ever experienced I could compare that day to is holding a niece or nephew after they were born. It felt like a beautiful freaking miracle of fresh, new life and it turned the world back into a place where good things happen.
We. Were. Ecstatic.
Grief is complicated. (Understatement of the century, I know).
When my Mom died I was 10 years old and I did not have a real chance to grieve. Instead, I had four younger sisters to help out with (the youngest being only 2 years old), and the impending obstacle of freaking middle school to endure.
When you have four younger sisters to change diapers for and fight over one bathroom with, a girl cannot get a single moment to herself to think about her complicated existential angst. Nope.
Instead, 19 years later all of the grief I never got a chance to really experience for my mom hit me when someone else I love got the great big miracle she didn’t get.
I was the happiest I have ever been, and the saddest I had ever been, and felt guilty for even thinking about myself and being sad at all.
That’s what grief can do to you.
It can hibernate and pop up when you least expect it. When you get the miracle you want, it can cause you to think about all of the miracles you didn’t get but really, really needed. Or the ones you still need and are worried will never come because– by definition– they usually don’t.
Watching Mark’s friends and family rally behind him and make sure he got the best possible care made me wish everyone in this crazy difficult situation could have a superstar team like his; in particular, it made me so incredibly sad my Mom didn’t have the same resources. Seeing him get a transplant he direly needed after a relatively short wait time brought back painful memories of the months she waited in agony in her own hospital bed for a liver she would never get.
Yes, God has granted major life-defining, death-defying miracles in front of your tear-filled and wonder-stricken eyes. But also, the rug has been pulled out from you a time or two, too, and you can’t forget or completely forgive that either.
Real talk: it makes it hard to be adequately thankful to God for giving you the thing you begged him for when you remember you are still a little pissed with him.
That’s how my husband and I (because I speak for him sometimes) have collectively felt since we heard about his brother’s diagnosis last New Years Eve, although he actively tries to not be angry. I don’t try that hard. I’m honest and I’m kind of fed up. I tried not to be for 29 years, but I’ve hit my upper limit for tragedy and I just can’t even.
Since the transplant, unfortunately, Mark has had more complications and recent biopsies found more cancer cells.
God undeniably sent magic. He sent a miracle– really a whole series of miracles for Mark to get a transplant. But before there was a miracle, there was a cancer diagnosis, and after the miracles, there was more cancer.
Our family is stuck in the WHY? Why did it have to be this way? (PS, this is rhetorical. Trite descriptions of the mysteriousness of God and his plan need not be sent to me right now because I honestly could not handle it, please please please and thank you so much).
We have to pray and we have to hold out hope that strong, brave Mark will be cured and kick cancer’s ass once and for all, but we don’t have to like that we have to hope so hard; we don’t have to like that we live in a world that needs so many miracles.
I will settle for one more though, and am thankful in advance for it.