Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Giving Life

Last week I had lunch with a friend who is also a widow with a story much like mine. I met her in a grief support group and we connected right away. She reached out to me one day and the bond was almost instant. It's crazy how our grief brought us so close so quickly and deeply, but she is a gift that Warren gave, even in death.

Speaking of gifts after death, she and I talked a lot about organ donation. Both our husbands were donors and saved several lives. Since her loss she has been an avid proponent of organ and tissue donation, speaking on behalf of the Iowa Donor Network for a little over three years. Doing so gave her a purpose, a message to share in relation to her tremendous loss. It was therapeutic for her to share the story, and in many ways, sharing that story was a gift from her husband that led to her healing.

As we talked, we agreed that all organs give life. People often think of hearts giving life, but even corneas can give new life to someone facing blindness. Sure, people can live with blindness and millions do. However, if you've ever talked to someone who was losing their sight and then was given the chance to see again, or see for the first time opens a new life for that person. We talked about how quality of life is as important as life itself. While being able to see may not sound like life or death, it adds to the quality of life and without it, some afflicted with new blindness go through deep depression that can lead to suicide. 

That has been on my mind lately because it is part of the plot of my new novel that I am working on while my other story is on submission. It keeps me busy while editors pass on my earlier writing, but it is also a story I feel emotionally attached to. The topics and themes are ripped from my life, that of my daughter's, and of other people who have endured a death of someone close to them. I wrote from incidents that happened the night Warren died, and took my feelings and explored them through a fictional widow and her daughter. Their relationship is a mosaic of many of the relationships I've had over the years with people who have offered support and understanding; as well as those who were at a loss and shied away; or who came into my life afterwards and have gotten to know me as the woman navigating life without her soulmate, the angry single mom, the frenzied MFA student, and the aspiring writer.

All these parts of me are coming together in this story and I get excited to work on it, even as I dread going to the places the story leads. There is darkness and confusion, hope and love, but most of all it is a story about relationships. Aside from relationships between characters, there is the relationship between a specific character and his future, which is threatened by blindness, revitalized by the gift of organ donation. But, like any relationship, it's not that simple. Donors often deal with the weight of the receiving such a life-changing gift, as does this character. Writing this story has given me a chance to look at life and death from a different perspective. It has taught me about the process and the need for organ donors. It has made me think about the gifts that Warren continues to give, to myself and to complete strangers, serving as a role model for a decision he made without hesitation for no reason other than to give. I am proud of him for that decision that is providing me the gift of story, based on one of my personal heroes.

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