In January 2018, I lost my cousin to lung cancer. It was at stage 4 by the time he was diagnosed, and his decline was rapid and unexpected. One day, he was fine, and the next, he was gone. I had never lost someone so close to me, and it hit me hard.
I spent the following year experiencing milestones and holidays with his absence heavy on my mind. The last day I saw him alive had been my birthday, so on my birthday last year, I mourned. My husband took me out for a nice dinner to celebrate, and I sat in the parking lot and cried. Looking at advertisements for the county fair, which we’d always gone to together, made me sick. Family get-togethers felt empty and wrong.
My parents had to go through this grieving process while knowing that my mom could be dying from pulmonary fibrosis. They went to the hospital to say goodbye the day that my cousin died and saw him at his absolute sickest. I don’t know how that experience didn’t make them insane. I was too far away to get there in time; nevertheless, I grieved hard.
The fact that my mom got a second chance at life thanks to a lung transplant does not balance the scales or erase the pain of my cousin’s death. It does, however, give me a sense of profound gratitude as I come upon milestones and holidays.
I still miss my cousin extra on those days, but I am doubly grateful that my mom is still here to celebrate with me. I know how easily it could have been different. And how somewhere, someone with a direct relationship to my mom’s prolonged life is facing their own milestones with an absence.
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It has only been two months since my mom’s transplant, and the most important holidays and milestones are still to come. I’ve viewed the ones that have passed through a new lens.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, we admired her green “I’m celebrating a lung transplant!” button that a favorite respiratory therapist brought her from Disneyland.
My Easter was not spent crying over memories of dyeing eggs and hunting for Easter baskets with my parents. I wasn’t mourning as I watched the tulips bloom on May Day.
Most importantly, I didn’t spend Mother’s Day without my mother.
I woke up early on Mother’s Day to visit my mom in the hospital. She’d had some problems about a month after surgery and was readmitted so that the doctors could untangle the complicated knot of symptoms.
I sat with her while she ate breakfast. There were no mimosas or eggs Benedict. I couldn’t give her flowers. Those things all pose a risk to her health now that she’s immunosuppressed.
Instead, I presented her with two cards. I am a big fan of cards, anyway; written words are more valuable and less ephemeral than cut flowers.
The first card was for my mom. The second card was for our donor. My mom is made of two people now. Without the second, she would not be here. We know almost nothing about them, but they are one of the most important people in the world to us.
They may have been a mother. Their own mother may still be alive. They may have been a father whose wife didn’t get Mother’s Day flowers this year.
Their family members had the kind of Mother’s Day that I did not — one of those days that somehow feel tremendously heavy and simultaneously empty. I know this pain, and I weep for them. I send them all the love that I can while they grieve.
I wish I could tell them in person how sorry I am for their loss. I wish I could find a way to say “Thank you for your loved one’s gift” without it sounding like “I’m glad your loved one died so that mine did not.” I am only happy that they chose to be a donor so that when the inevitable happened, a byproduct of their death was a life-saving surgical union.
I hope that knowing their loved one saved at least one life comforts the family. It doesn’t justify their loss or make it fair, but I want them to know that our donor is our hero. I will always think about them as I celebrate the milestones that I would not have shared with my mom if they hadn’t been a match.
My family will honor their life by making the most of ours.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.