Tuesday’s Tale: “Never Say Never”
“Never say never.” As a parent, you often encourage your children to avoid saying “never.” You want them to chase their dreams, to believe anything is possible, and to have the courage to overcome whatever obstacles they may face. But last May, my 20-year-old son, Billy, died in a car accident and “never” took on an entirely new meaning for our family.
Never will I be able to see his beautiful smile, hug him again, see his car pull into the driveway, or hear him laugh. I will never be able to go skiing with him or watch as he swims in the ocean. He will never be able to participate in our family holiday traditions and I will never be able to celebrate with him as he gets married, or has children of his own. “Never” has truly become our most heart-breaking word.
In Billy’s 20 short years he touched so many lives. For my wife, Nina, and I, for Billy’s brother, Rob, his wife Jeanne, and his niece & nephew, Ellie and Jack, Billy’s death has left a permanent hole in our hearts. But the impact of Billy’s life extended far beyond his family. He had many wonderful friends who have shared with us their special memories of time spent with Billy. He was a gentle, good-hearted person who loved life and was all about having fun. He laughed a lot and made others laugh too. Billy was an easy-going guy who made friends with everyone he met, young and old. It seems he left an impression on people he barely knew — and we received many letters and phone calls from these strangers telling us about how unique and special Billy was. Billy’s willingness to do anything for others extended beyond his life and into his death.
We had to make many excruciatingly difficult decisions the night Billy died, but the decision to donate Billy’s organs was not one of them. In fact, it was an easy decision. Billy had made it clear to us when he received his license that he wanted to be a donor and when we were able to honor his decision it became the “Gift of Life” for 4 people, but also the greatest gift he could have given to our family.
For us, the organ donation has been the one positive out of the whole horrific experience of our son’s death. As our world was spinning off into chaos in the hours after Billy died, our friend and neighbor, who is a hospital anesthesiologist stopped by our house and gave us our first true words of comfort. He shared with us that he had gone into the operating room where they were recovering Billy’s organs to say “Goodbye” and he told us that “Billy saved a lot of lives today.”
It was a moment I will never forget. It still seems like a miracle that the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas from my son were able to be used in someone else. Even though I often think of all of the things we will never be able to do or share with Billy, I know that there are four other families that are able to spend time with the people they love.
It means so much to know that even today he is helping others. We have been very blessed – we have heard from all four of Billy’s transplant recipients. They have shared the stories of their lives and how much this transplant has meant to them and to their families and friends. Knowing that Billy and his “Gift of Life” have not been forgotten and that others are able to go on with their lives has given us something positive to focus on.
There weren’t right or wrong things that could have been said in the letters – they were simply our proof that he continues to make a difference and we enjoy being able to share them with people who knew and loved Billy while he was alive.
We will always love and miss Billy. There are still days when it just doesn’t seem possible that he is gone, but through organ donation part of him does live on. Billy was a hero – knowing my son, he wouldn’t have called himself a hero, but we know better. Because when I hear about all of the people who die waiting for a transplant – I know that they were waiting for a hero, a hero like Billy.