Dead End

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Dead End

The only home I ever remember growing up in was in a red brick house.  Our red brick house was at the very top of the street.  It was the only red brick house on the street.  There was also a red brick driveway that I used to skip and hop from one brick to the next.  Later on, the red bricks were removed and replaced with a black tarred and smooth pavement.  Although much easier to walk and drive on, there was nothing like that red bricked driveway that I do missed and loved.  At the very top of our street lane, there was a big yellow diamond-shaped sign that read “DEAD END.” 

As a child and teenager, I rarely ever walked all the way down the street lane because, after all, it was a “DEAD END.”  However, in my years as a college student and even more so in my adult years after recovering from two surgeries back to back in less than two years apart of each other, I spent my idle time walking up and down and up and down and up and down some more.  I walked with others.  I walked alone.  The crunch of the leaves under my feet.  The golden and crimson hues of the leaves.  The fresh air.  Being in the company of Mother Nature was the greatest gift I could ask for in my time of contemplation and reflections about my life.  I was helping myself.   This was my therapy.   This was my healing process. 

Always at the very end of the street lane was the dead end.  There was nowhere else for me to go but back up again to home.  In my walks down that street, though, I met neighbors I had never known.  I met a veteran who fought in World War II.  He had deep wrinkles etched in his sandpaper smooth skin and a gap toothed grin.  He proudly showed off his prized homegrown heirloom tomatoes to me.  I saw beauty I had never seen before.  The very last house on the right side was a whole band of bamboo shooting out; Bend, but not break.  In that house was a classmate two years younger than me who I had bonded with when I was in middle school and high school.  After high school, life continued on and we parted ways.  I would see the bamboo and I would see there was nowhere else to go, but I came to learn in my life that there are many people you meet along the way and a whole lot of magic that defies logic.  Most of all, there is always somewhere to eventually go and that ‘dead ends’ in life cannot stop us, but have the greatest power to restart us and force us to move due to a guttural and ingrained survival tactic and survivor that is in all of us. 

There have been many times (too many to count or possibly rehash to you) that I hit a dead end in my life.  I did not know how, where, or when to turn around.  I had been in situations where I saw it as trapped or a double-edged sword that no matter what I did, I would lose out and screw myself in the end.  That no matter how much I gave, it was never enough.  It would never be enough.  There are many times in all of our lives (too many to possibly share) that we are in a place of quiet, stillness and teeter precariously on ‘stuck’ and ‘dead ended’ after being burnt, hurt, OR even having it ‘too good’ –believe it or not.  We are too scared of changing and of change and then also too scared of not changing and no change at all.  These are very delicate and fragile times in our lives that have completely power to change us.  There are the times when we are about to turn the corner and are forced to have to break the ‘dead ends’ in our lives. 

By default and deep inside me, I am a doer.  It is who I am.  It is easy for anyone to say anything, but to actually do and take action is a whole other ballgame.  In fact, probably one of my downfalls is I lack patience to wait around and loathe the whole decision-making process that I have acted too quickly and rashly.  On the flip side of the coin, I have been a mere observer to others from the outside who seem to be on a tightrope of trying to heal and get past the past to move forward, but unable to just yet.  I have learned that you cannot force or change anyone to get out of their place of a rut, stuck, stillness, or quietness.  I have learned that you can be and do your best to support and be there and, most of all, everyone and everything in their own time.  Timing will speak volumes when the dead end must come to an end for a new beginning to begin.   Hope is necessity, for, without hope, there is nothing.  Timing is EVERYTHING in life. 

We have all experienced dead ends in our lives.  When have you felt that you hit a complete dead end?  Felt trapped?  Maybe even felt like there was not any hope?  Felt like whatever you ended up doing or deciding would screw you over and you would lose in the end? Wanted to change and move forward, but too scared to?   Felt like you were in a comfort zone that you could not and would not leave or that you were at an ending that you could not complete close for your new beginning?  What did you do when you hit your dead end and when did you take back your dead end to jumpstart your life again for the new chapter and turn that was calling out for and to you? 

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary 😉

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Warm

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My stepmom is a woman of few words.  This is not a line you often hear when it comes to women, but one out of the many admirations I have for my stepmom is how she speaks in volumes with her actions in humble ways rather than in loud spoken words. 

Just about every weekend that I visit her and my father, my Stepmother always has a bag of food prepared and packed for me to bring home.  She knows my favorite Chinese foods like sesame and taro balls that only SHE can pick out in a Chinese supermarket and have ready for me when I visit.  She was the one to make me ‘bone soup’ after my hip replacement surgery to fortify my weak bones and even weaker spirit into gaining strength back to learn to walk all over again.  Yet, the #1 way that my stepmom has shown and spoken her love and care for me is what she has known best: Coats to keep me warm.

Growing up, the only coat I remember having was a deep red velveteen coat with a furry Eskimo hood.  Lord knows what happened to this jacket, but I now have a walk in closet full of coats and jackets that my Stepmother (and my Stepmother alone) has given and gotten for me over the years.  There is the mint green rain coat she gave to me when it was pouring rain outside.  There is the neon down pink jacket that is fashionable and functional as the ‘in between jacket’ in Autumn and Spring seasons.  There is the long and thick Italian wool jacket with a rich green lining inside that I wear in subzero tundra temperatures; It is the ONLY jacket that keeps me warm in the coldest of winters.   In her quiet, thoughtful, and observant ways that speaks in acts and not words, my Stepmother is always making sure to literally keep me warm.   

Love is spoken and shown in different ways.  There are people who will say that they love you, but their actions will not match their words.  The words will lift you up and make you feel good only for a little while until you are crushed into questioning if that person really and truly knows you, cares about you, or, even, loves you.  There are people who will spend tons of money on materialistic things with the belief that money can solve problems and show and speak love.  A diamond ring.  A dozen stemmed roses.  The thing is that things are only things that mean absolutely nothing and are only a something when there is a meaning or message behind or inside them.  There are people who do not know how to say or speak “I Love You” verbally and who are closed off with their emotions, but will show and speak their love in what they do on the outside from their innermost feelings on the inside. 

No way am I a love expert.  I have yet to even experience love in the romantic sense or this supposed ‘falling in love’ that only seems existent to me in Hollywood movies, but I certainly have felt deep love and care for family and friends.  If you look up “Love” on the Internet, there are endless definitions that force you to keep on scrolling and skimming down the screen.  I think that there are many kinds of love: Love for ourselves (not in a selfish sense, but to respect and care for yourself) and Love between or among family, friends, and beyond.   I think love is something that cannot be explained or defined.  Love is something felt deep within that cannot really put into definitive words. Love is felt over time and in the seemingly littlest of ways and actions that mean the most and amount to growth in any and all relationships.   I think love grows, stretches, and spans over time and requires loads of ingredients like trust, laughter, care, nurturing, patience, faith, loyalty, and even more.  And Love is NOT always kind, but can be extremely hurtful and painful, but all the more worthwhile because, as I say and believe, it is better to feel something than nothing at all.  All in all, I believe that Love is like my Stepmother’s coats that have kept and continue to keep me warm and safe in the coldest and hardest of days. 

Love lies in the little acts of kindness that people show and not only say.  How do you know when someone loves you?  What kind acts or good deeds have people taken to show that they care about or even love you?  Is it important for you to HEAR words  of “I Love You” or to be the recipient of true actions of love and care?  What is love to you?  Who is keeping you warm?  

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary 😉

DONOR ID # 200083642

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In the last week of January 1987, a young 26-year-old male in Long Island was tragically in a hit and run car accident.  He had at least three siblings.  One was definitely a brother.  Another was definitely a sister.  The other sibling remains unknown.  His parents were told that their 26-year-old son had died.  His parents were also told about organ, eye, and tissue donation at a time of unimaginable grief.  No parent should experience their child’s death before their own.  It does not make sense.  It is not supposed to happen.  This is not how life and world is supposed to work.  But, it does.  But, it did.  His father consented that his son’s organs were removed and transplanted/donated to save lives. 

On January 30, 1987, I was the recipient of this young man’s kidney. 

This was my first kidney transplant.  At 26-year-old, he died.  At 4-years-old going on 5-years-old and after almost two years on dialysis, I lived.  I was given my childhood.  I was given my life.  His parents saved my life.  He saved my life. 

But this story is just the beginning.   

Fast forward to mid-November 2018.  After an emotional meeting at a transplant support organization of a father sharing how he connected with his daughter’s organ transplant recipients, I thought about my second kidney donor and how the most recent news about 3 years ago that my 4-year-old organ donor at the time of 1995 had sisters who wished to know about and connect with me.    I reached out to the OPO (organ procurement organization) to see if this wish still remained.  It did.  However, before I disconnected with the OPO family coordinator, I found myself asking something that I never thought I would ask and I thought someone else was asking for me: “Do you know if I can find my first organ donor and family?  It was back in 1987.  I was only 4 or 5-years-old.  I was told years ago that the organ donor was a young man from out of state, and that it would be impossible to find him.” 

The coordinator replied, “If you can get the ID # on him then we can track him and/or his family down.  Nothing is impossible.” 

Completely unexpectedly and unplanned, I began to do some research.  I looked through my massive box of old medical records only to find that these documents were from my second kidney transplant; No luck.  I reached out to my childhood nurses who I reunited with about 6+ years ago if they had any insight; No luck.  I called medical records at the hospital I received my first kidney transplant and the representative said to me: “We can’t help you.  The records are destroyed after 25 years.  This is more than 30 years ago.  Good luck.”  Finally, out of desperation, I sent an email to my pediatric nephrologist.  He responded to me right away and told me to contact the transplant center of my first kidney transplant.

It is always who you get.   I ended up getting Maria.

I explained to her: “I was only 5-years-old.  If there is anything at all and any morsel of information that you have on my first organ donor, I’ll take it.  I do not expect anything from anyone.  I only hope. “

To my complete shock and surprise, Maria said firmly: “I am not getting off this phone until I have you speak with someone who can help you.  I am going to help you.”

The majority of people will not go above and beyond for anyone.  The few who do will leave their imprint with you.  You will never forget them and what they did to change your life for the better.  They will completely change your life just by the one seemingly small act of kindness that amounts to the largest impact and ripple effects.  Maria was that person. 

Listening to classical music on the phone, I waited at least 15 minutes.  It felt like an eternity.  I heard a click and I thought I would cry that I was disconnected from this sweet and thoughtful woman who was trying to move heaven and earth to help me out.  On the contrary, I heard a friendly woman on the phone who identified herself as a transplant coordinator.   She confirmed, “There’s a record on you.”

“What?!  Really?  That was so many years ago, though!” I exclaimed.

“It does not matter.  It is always there.”

I held my breath and asked slowly, “Is there anything on my organ donor?”

I heard the clickety click of keyboard keys.   The pause seemed long and drawn out.  The transplant coordinator finally said, “He was 26-years-old.  Motor accident.  Long Island.  There’s a donor id # on him of 200083642.  That’s all I have, Mary.”

That’s all I needed.  I gave all the information to the OPO family coordinator.  It was out of my hands.

Two days ago, I received contact from the OPO family coordinator that my organ donor was found as well as his brother.  I tentatively asked: “Can you tell me my first organ donor’s name or are we still identifying him by the donor ID #200083642?”

“Brian,” she confirmed. 

“Brian,” I whispered.

I said the name.  I said it again and held it on my tongue as though it was sacred.   I said it again as if I was saying a prayer.  I tasted the name.   A name.  No longer a number.  No longer just a donor ID # of 200083642.  He would have been 58-years-old now if he was still alive.   What would he have been like?  What did he look like?  What did he wear?  How did he smell?  How did his laugh sound?  What were his hobbies?  What would his job have been?  Would he have been married and had children or grandchildren?  Was he looking down on me when I was a little girl?  Could he maybe have seen me as his daughter that he never had?  Donor ID #200083642. Brian. 

I do not know what called me to find my first organ donor.  I do not know why it took me 32 years to try to find Brian.  I do not know what I will say to his brother who is apparently eager to hear from me or hopes to contact me first.   I do not know if I can muster up the strength and courage to tell his brother that Brian’s kidney failed and I had to have a second kidney transplant.  I do know that I feel such a strong connection to them and to my second organ donor family, though I have never met them.  I do know that my childhood was given back to me because of Brian.  I do know that I am alive. 

I celebrate and honor my first organ donor on the anniversary of Brian’s death and my life with my first kidney transplant from him.  People have said to me that I should ‘leave well enough alone’ and that I have to be careful of scams and scam artists and move on with my life.  Just because I dug into the past to find my first organ donor and his family does not mean that I am living in or dwelling on the past.  Rather, it gives me closure or a peace of mind to understand my past better to move forward in life and be a better person.  I believe the point of the past is to live in the present and to move forward in the future.  What do you believe?  Do you think the past is important? Have you ever felt called upon finding out and understanding something much later on in your life?  Have you ever experienced that it was always about who you get in life who was willing to and had went the extra for you rather than the bare minimum?  Have you ever felt a connection with someone you never met?  How will I ever thank someone for saving my life? 

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary